Summary: Having a right attitude toward our possessions/being to give generously sets the soul free to grow and love.
True Spirituality Series
Freedom for Your Soul
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
A couple of months ago, the AARP magazine carried an interesting interview with Katie Couric. You know her as the host of the NBC Today Show. In 1998 Katie lost her 42-year old husband to a six-month battle with colon cancer. Four years later her sister died. The reporter asked her how these two losses affected her. Katie replied, “I’m very interested in exploring a more spiritual side of me, and I’m in the process of doing that, both formally and informally. I really envy those who have a steadfast, unwavering faith, because I think it’s probably so comforting and helpful during difficult times." (Cable Neuhaus, "Whatever Katie Wants," AARP (November/December 2005).
Katie speaks for a lot of Americans. We live in the freest, most prosperous nation on the earth. Even the poorest of us are better off than most of the world. We are far better off than our ancestors. We have unbelievable modern conveniences. Unlimited opportunities abound. Yet a spiritual vacuum lurks beneath that façade of prosperity. Many are looking for something more.
For a growing number of folk, that “something more” falls under the heading of “spirituality.” Spirituality can be a pretty slippery label. By spirituality, some folk mean any kind of emotional experience. The more bizarre the better. Others think of elaborate rituals and ceremonies involving lots of incense and chanting. For some, spirituality comes through self-denial. It requires a rejection of all the creature comforts that come with normal life. Spirituality is discovered by becoming a vegetarian or moving to a mountain top retreat. Almost always, spirituality means something totally apart from normal, daily life. There lies the problem! We are left wondering if spirituality can be experienced by regular folk.
That’s our theme for the first couple of months of the New Year. We are looking at True Spirituality: Finding the Life You’ve Always Wanted. We are searching for the path to that “steadfast, unwavering faith” that Katie says she yearns for.
I start with two assumptions. First, you want to be more spiritual. There is not a one of you that doesn’t want a deeper, closer relationship with God. Secondly, I am convinced this (Bible) is our starting place. The Lord hasn’t left us on our own. He provided a road map that points the way to a treasure of spiritual blessing.
Today our roadmap takes us back to the Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ classic instructions about living a life that pleases God. At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus outlines three important activities that are proven paths to a truly spiritual life—charity, praying, and fasting.
A lot of modern folk are surprised that Jesus even takes up these topics. For them, spirituality is private, internal, or emotional. In these paragraphs, Jesus moves spirituality into the realm of observable behavior. Jesus uses the Jewish term “acts of righteousness.” Everyone in his day understood that these were things that anyone interested in knowing God did. Jesus doesn’t question that.
If that weren’t enough, some of us are even more puzzled by what he includes in the list. Prayer we can understand. But we wonder about the other two. We will tackle “fasting” in a couple of weeks. That’s an almost unheard of topic in our day. Diets we understand. That’s about weight loss. But fasting for spiritual purposes leaves a lot of us scratching our heads.
Most disturbing of all, Jesus starts with money. A lot of folk think two topics should be off limits at church—money and politics. Politics is too controversial. Money is too personal. I would agree with the first, if you mean partisan politics. But the second is another matter.
If you have been around here for a while, you know that I don’t shy away from addressing financial matters. I preach about related topics at least a half-dozen times a year. We devoted three sermons to debt-free living in November.
A true story that illustrates what we talked about in that series. Rose’s mother recently sent us a clipping from the Bloomington, Illinois newspaper. It seems that Todd Parmenter of the Lincoln (IL) Christian Church recently spoke on that same theme of debt-free living. Rose and I used to attend that church when we at Lincoln Christian College. I suspect the church was probably using that same book we distributed in November. In his sermon, Parmenter noted a news item. The average American household spends 18 percent of its total income just servicing its credit card debt.
Parmenter suggested that if people paid off their debt, they would have 18 percent more income. They could give ten percent to the church and still have 8 percent left to give themselves a “raise.” He asked rhetorically, “How many of you got an 8 percent raise last year.”