February 18, 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

Lent 1B

February 18, 2024

All Saints, Boise

          Last Thursday, we had the first meeting of our RenewalWorks leadership team (speaking of which, did you fill out your spiritual life inventory?? Today is the last day. If you haven’t filled it out, you can get a paper copy from me and I will manually enter it in. But you have to do it today!)

          The first meeting the group discussed their own spiritual journeys and what contributed to their spiritual growth. We talked about “catalysts” for spiritual growth – stuff that helps us to grow in our relationship with God. Things like being part of worship, praying at home, works of service, reading the Bible, all of that can help us grow in our relationship with God.

          Something that popped up in the conversation, though, was the tension between individual spirituality and communal spirituality. Is the primary focus of spirituality what we do individually, or is the primary focus what we do as a community, as the church?

          How do we think about spirituality? And what is the church’s role in all of it?

          In our very individualistic culture, it can feel like the church is more like a store for spirituality. You go to the right church to get the right spiritual product for yourself. It can feel awfully transactional. I go, put my money in the plate, get fed a sermon, maybe go to a class, maybe help out with a ministry for the good feelings it gives me. We learn something, we take it home and practice it.

          From this perspective, the church is competing with the spirituality aisle at the bookstore, competing with the gym, competing with endless options for spirituality. The church has to have the right product to sell, and it has to sell that product well. If the product doesn’t sell, then either we need to advertise it better or we need to change the product.

          Makes it awfully hard to sell the season of Lent, you know. “Go off into the desert with Jesus! Have a fight with Satan! Walk the way of the Cross!” Those are very, very hard sells. No wonder a lot of your megachurches will sell you a happier message – and literally sell it to you. In that case, we’re not so much congregants as consumers of spirituality.

          Spirituality is hard work, and it cannot be bought.

          What makes the spirituality of the church different is that it’s not the church selling a product to a consumer. The church is not the hierarchy, the official organization on paper. The Church is the community gathered in the name of Christ.

          We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ.

          We as individuals gathered in one body. Many grains of wheat mixed into bread. Many grapes fermented together into wine. And yet, we do not lose our individuality in the process. Each person brings their personhood to the work of the community in this place.

          Our spirituality is profoundly individual – my spiritual life with God is different from yours because I have a different personality, a different way of life, a different history than you. Differences show that Christ shows up in different ways throughout the world.

          And our spirituality is profoundly communal – we gather as a community to pray together, and we gather to share a pattern of worship with other Christians in the world today and with other Christians throughout history, and we learn from one another, too. We grow together.

          Our spirituality is baptismal, and our spirituality is Eucharistic.

          When a person is baptized, they are the center of the action. This person, as they are, this person as they will grow to be, this person with their personality – this person is baptized. The Church gathers and rejoices and prays over this person. The Church celebrates that baptism has united this person with the Body of Christ. This person incorporated into Christ’s body.

          They are individual, brought into the whole. Wherever that one person goes, so goes the Body of Christ. We always, always represent Christ and the Church. And so we each should work hard to do a really good job of that. All for one, and one for all.

          When we gather for the Eucharist, we are bringing ourselves together in union with Christ to give thanks to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We make a great offering of ourselves, our work, our bread and wine to God. And then this consecrated offering of bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, is given back to us. A morsel of bread, a sip of wine – but each of us are invited to eat and to be transformed inwardly.

          Our spirituality is individual, and it is communal. It is baptismal, and it is Eucharistic.

          What you do individually to grow in love with God – it matters. It matters not just to you, but to the whole Church, too. Your gifts and graces strengthen and nourish the Church.

          And what we do together to grow in love with God – it matters. It matters not just to the Church, but to you, too. We learn that we are loved, that we belong, and we learn how to love others more deeply, and we discover how much prayer matters.

          When you are missing from worship or from our work together, it is deeply felt. It feels different. No one can take your place. You matter. And our community matters. It is a blessed, wonderful thing to be with such wonderful people: resilient, welcoming, compassionate, curious, occasionally silly in the best way.  It is the work of God in you and me, and it is the work of God in us together.

Thanks be to God! Amen.