(On the Spiritual Trail Series)
Sunday Worship from Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church-Nacogdoches, Texas
3 There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew,[a] it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
5 Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 God’s Spirit[b] blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One.[c] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One[d] be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” (John 3:1-21, Common English Bible)
Several years ago, before I went into ministry, Cindy and I decided we wanted to cook out on the grill. Then, I decided that I didn’t want to put any store bought barbecue sauce on the meat we were cooking. I’ve never been much of a fan of any of the off the shelf barbecue sauces. So I went into the kitchen and made some of my own. It was some of the best barbecue sauce that you have ever put in your mouth. It tasted wonderful.
I don’t say that to tell you that I make the greatest barbecue sauce in the world. I say that because I made the greatest barbecue sauce in the world once. A month or so passed and we wanted barbecue again. Back to the kitchen I went to recreate that wonderful barbecue sauce. There was only one problem, I created this really great sauce and I didn’t write down the recipe, not even the first ingredient. Even the ingredients I could remember, I didn’t remember anything of the quantities. That wasn’t the brightest thing I never did do .
Still I could recreate the sauce from memory, or so I thought. I started with tomato sauce. I added Brown sugar and honey. There was also garlic, oregano, pepper, and dried onion. I mixed all the ingredients together, let it simmer for about 1/2 hour and then tasted the result. Something was missing. I looked through all the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator. If memory serves me correctly, I tried a little bit of a lot of different things. I would pulled out a spoonful, tasted it, and add some salt. That wasn’t it. I washed off the spoon and repeat it again with some other spice or mustard or something.
No matter what I tried that night, I couldn’t recreate my special barbecue sauce period. To this day, I know something was missing. I still don’t know what it could have been. I know it had to be something minor. After all, it wouldn’t be like forgetting to put flour in a cake. If I had done that it wouldn’t have worked at all. You can’t make a cake without flower, can you?
I left out some important, but seemingly minor ingredient, leaving my barbecue sauce with less than the desired taste. It was so disappointing to look forward to a special tree and then get something less than what I had anticipated. As far as I can remember, I have never again tried to make barbecue sauce. I’ll just live store bought, it is just far less frustrating.
As I think back on that night, it seems clear to me now that those minor ingredients aren’t really that minor at all. When something is missing, it is important to the mix for taste, texture, or appearance or it wouldn’t be needed in the recipe.
When I was a kid and my mother would make pimento cheese. I always said that I didn’t like it because of the pimentos. Our response would be the pimentos were just there for looks. They had no taste, or so she wanted me to think. Now, as an adult, I think pimento cheese is OK. However, my mother still can’t convince me that pimientos have no taste. A pimento cheese sandwich taste different than a cheese sandwich. If they have no taste, why make pimento cheese.
Pimientos are necessary for making pimento cheese. Without them, something is missing. For many things to be whole and complete, you must have all the pieces of the puzzle in place. Flour is necessary to make a cake. Garlic is important to spaghetti. Pimentos are important or it wouldn’t be pimento cheese. And whatever was in my barbecue sauce was important too.
The Bible is necessary to a sermon. Without the Bible, a sermon is nothing more than an emotional speech, and may or may not have anything to do with God.
Today we’re continuing the sermon series, “On the Spiritual Trail.” Today is the second sermon in this series. We are looking at the tension existing between religion and spirituality, and the difference between the two.
Last week, our focus was on the idea of working and thinking and how if we are truly to be the spiritual beings God calls us to be, both are necessary. Thinking, at least for the most part, would fit on the spiritual side, while working, would fit on the religious side. We are spiritual when we pray and read our Bibles and even to share our faith with others. We are more religious, when we come down and spend time at a church meeting and that type of thing. Both of these are important. Both are necessary.
Today, we’re going to look more at the idea of being religious or spiritual. Some might ask, what is the difference? I think that’s a very easy to be religious without being Spiritual and opinion polls show that many believe you can be spiritual without being religious. I think it’s easy to see both positions.
Religion, to my way of thinking, is the rules and structure that govern our life with God. Our religion helps us see and understand God. On the other hand, spirituality is our relationship with God. Some might argue that I am splitting hairs, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think those who believe they are spiritual without being religious are just plain wrong. I think everyone has a religion, even if it is a religion of his or her own personal creation. They make their own religious rules and structure. They have their own way of seeing and understanding God. These things govern their relationship with God and therefore become their religion. The biggest difference is, their religion lacks formality and fellowship with others and so, lacks full spiritual meaning.
On the other side of the coin, I can easilly see how one could be a religious person without being spiritual. A person who shows up for Sunday school and/or church on Sunday morning, who prepares meals when needed for funerals or for fellowships, who comes down and lends a hand when people are doing work around the building, but at the same time has no personal relationship with God is religious without being spiritual. They’re dotting all the “I’s” crossing all the “T’s,” they are following all the rules, but their lives fall short of being whole and complete. Something is missing and it is something of great importance.
There was a term in Jesus’ day for those who were religious without being spiritual. We actually have the same term today, a hypocrite, a person who goes through the motions of living the faith, claims the faith, but God isn’t really part of their life.
That, however, is not the term I was thinking of. I was thinking more of the term Pharisee. In its day, this wasn’t a bad term for most of the folks around Jesus. The Pharisees were men of great importance to the Jewish faith. They were very religious and pious men who lived their lives by the letter of the law. They knew what was important and it was the law of Moses and everyone was expected to live by the letter of that law. This was especially true of one called a Pharisee. And, for the most of them, they lived by that law or at least thet tried. Further, because they were not and could never be successful, there was always something missing from their lives . The only thing was, most of them had no idea what it was or where to find it. The worst part was, most never realized anything was missing and if yhey did, more often than not, they just didn’t care.
This wasn’t always true. In our lesson this morning, is one Pharisee who seemed to know something was missing from his life. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, wanting to know how Jesus could perform so many great miracles.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, no one can understand what he is doing without being born again. As the conversation continues we can see that Jesus means by being born again is to be born of the spirit, unless you become spiritual, and not religious only, you will never understand the things Jesus is doing.
As I read this story, it seems to me, Nicodemus is struggling. I think he realises something is missing from his life and now he is searching for the missing ingredient. The only trouble is, he doesn’t understand. I think he has too much religion in him, too many rules, to see through them and find what he searches for, to find the missing ingredient for his life.
Like all of those who are religious and not spiritual, and even some who are spiritual but not religious, those who are of faiths other than Christian, Nicodemus needed to hear Jesus words both here in our lesson this morning and in other sayings. If Nicodemus was looking for meaning and wholeness, if Nicodemus was looking for spirituality, he needed to hear the words that are now the most famous verse in all of scripture, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him wouldn’t die, but would have eternal life.” Nicodemus needed to hear Jesus’ words from later, in the 14th chapter of John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through Me.” to be spiritual means to hear these words and live them out in everyday life.
I also think there is a tone of Christian faith and religion in this beyond Jesus’ famous words. This tone is for those who are spiritual without being religious. Even Nicodemus, I think recognized its importance. No one is an island unto himself or herself. God did not intend that we should be alone in most any aspect of our lives. Sure, we should have some private time, but being with others to teach us, guide us, and fellowship with us, is also important. Nicodemus came to Jesus for guidance. As United Methodist Christians, we are religious because we believe that God calls on us to be together for precisely this reason.
I think when we are religious without being spiritual, we are like that cake without flour. Something important is missing. The most important ingredient is not part of our lives. Just like you can’t make a cake without flour, we cannot have faith without God. Rules and structure will not save us. Only through the grace of God, in our lives, can we find forgiveness and reconciliation with our maker.
Also true, however, when we are spiritual without being religious, we are much like my barbecue sauce. The stuff may be edible, it may even taste good, but it isn’t as good as it could be. Something important is missing. It may seem like a small thing, but it is still vital for a whole and complete life in the faith.
If we are to be the whole and complete creature God intends us and calls us to be something can’t be missing. It takes both the religious, a guide to understanding God and it takes the spiritual, a relationship with the one who gave us life and promises us eternal life.
Next Sunday we will continue our series on the spiritual trail as we look at how we communicate with God, next week will be about prayer .
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved