“Religion and Secularism: They Can Co-exist”

John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The past few weeks I have noticed a trend in which people are saying that their rights are being taken away. The right to work, the right to go where they want and to do as they please. Limits are being placed on group sizes. There is also a trend to claim that their right to worship is being taken away because the churches are not open. These people are gaining some momentum in the media both reported and social. Last weekend we saw a couple examples in Castle Rock and Greeley with restaurants and celebrating Mother’s Day. It’s becoming quite political in nature as well. The part about churches though really surprises me.

According to an article in Homiletics Online they reported a pew survey that published an article in which,

“the number of people who declare themselves to be religious “nones” (people who claim no religious faith) is on the rise. “Nones” represent 23.1 percent of the U.S. population in 2019, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. That means that “nones” are statistically tied with Roman Catholics as the largest religious — or non-religious — groups in the country.

We generally think of this shift as a rise in secularism, with people of faith increasingly feeling like they’re on a culturally endangered species list. But is this trend really a jettisoning of religion, or is it merely a shift toward secularity as a religion in and of itself?”

So, my first question is how many of these people who are saying their rights are being taken away actually got to church? How often do they attend? Or do they just want to jump on the bandwagon? Well maybe we should try to define religion a little. Back to the article,

“This is the thesis that David Zahl explores in his book Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do About It. Combining the word “secular” and “religiosity,” Zahl invents a new word that describes what might actually be happening in our culture: “the religious impulse is easier to rebrand than extinguish.”

Writer David Dark defines religion as “a controlling story” or “the question of how we dispose our energies, how we see fit to organize our own lives and, in many cases, the lives of others.” A person’s “religion” in that case is shorthand for the lens through which that person sets priorities, focuses desires and looks at the rest of the world. It’s religion as the ultimate pursuit of happiness or, as Zahl more accurately describes it, the pursuit of “enoughness”: the idea that if we were to just be successful enough, happy enough, thin enough, woke enough or good enough then we would actually be enough. As a result, we’ll religiously pursue those things that promise to help us get to that enoughness even if, in the end, they don’t satisfy our deepest needs.

To put it another way, people are seeking a religious faith that will help them feel like they are enough, but they’re looking in all the wrong places. The real God they seek is the one many have actually rejected or, increasingly, the God they have never known at all.”

It is pretty easy to see how we have become a society in which we look out for number one and fulfilling our personal needs. No one is going to tell us how to live our lives. But that is in direct opposition to being a Christian. In living the Christian life, we are to live in accordance or by obeying the scriptures. Christians do not live for themselves, but for their fellow human beings. It is pretty easy to see how this time in our history is directly related to our two passages today.

Paul was in Athens a Greek city that was very old and was filled with religious idols. Most of our Western thought has some sort of roots in this society. As Paul wandered the city, he realized that there were not only many temples built to the gods and goddesses but there was even one built to the “unknown god” just in case they missed any. We have built our own temples and shrines as well, here are the names of some of them:

Busyness – “Busyness remains attractive because it does double duty, allowing us to feel like we’re advancing on the path of life while distracting us from other, less pleasant realities, like doubt and uncertainty and death.” Ask someone how they are and they will respond, almost liturgically, “I’m very busy.”

Romance – “The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual.” Aphrodite is alive and well.

Parenting – The rise of “helicopter parenting” betrays the belief that there is no future for our kids, no enoughness, beyond that which parents can engineer for them. Parents are the saviors in this religious expression.

Food – “Food now expresses the symbolic values and absorbs the spiritual energies of the educated class,” says William Deresiewicz. “It has become invested with the meaning of life. It is seen as the path to salvation for the self and humanity, both.” In this cult, you are what you eat! Thus the need for restaurants to open less we die from our own cooking.

Technology – We bow to our screens as a way of distracting ourselves from reality. “We flee from boredom because of what we encounter there, namely, ourselves … Screens distract us from our core pain, which is the pain of not being enough.”

Politics – Political stances become religious claims. “Moral outrage fills a psychological need. It allows a person to feel like she matters, especially when she’s afraid she doesn’t.

Paul offers an alternative while he was at the Areopagus. There is a God that can be known who is living among us. The God that made the heavens and earth, the God who chose a people to be his has extended that promise to all people. But it is a God that wants to be known. I love how Paul says the people may even grope for this God. The God is not in a palace or a shrine or a restaurant or buildings that are built by human hands. For it is in “God that we move and have our being.” (v.28)

The gospel lesson also moves us to knowing of God in our midst.  On the heels of last weeks lesson, Jesus had explained that when he left, he would go and prepare a place for the disciples. They did not know where he was going. After explaining where he was going, he wanted them to know that he would send an Advocate to be with them. The word advocate is translated from the word known as paraclete, which could also be translated as helper, Spirit or comforter.

Jesus says in verse 18-19, 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” When we allow the Spirit to be a part of our lives, we move away from secularism towards God. Because we don’t get life so many times, we need the Spirit.  She moves us and shapes our decisions and choices whether they are about economics or about life. It is a life of sacrifice which is opposite of those who are crying their rights are being taken away. Jesus came to serve and not be served. The people who went to the restaurant wanted to be served. The people who are crying to get back into their churches want to be performed for, there is no ministry of service that can occur in these walls. It is great place to learn and be re-charged, but serving God’s people occurs out there in our communities. Not in any sanctuary, because it is a temple built with human hands and that is not where God resides.

God resides within us and within the people whom we are called to serve. And yes, sometimes we need to be served but not if it violates God’s will or even law. Love one another. Secularism and Religion can co-exist if we can follow the rule of service to others before service to self. It’s not easy and that is why we have the Advocate to help us along the way. Amen.

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