Summary: Helping ourselves and others relate to Jesus not as one who started a new religion… nor who can be known merely through religious tradition… but who defies religious confines… and who seeks relationship.
Intro – One of the more interesting dynamics in my own process of having ‘holy conversation’ is when someone asks what I do. When they discover I’m a pastor… I’ve seen all sorts of things go off. Discomfort with their behavior, discomfort with what they then expect from me, or even just fascination. Not so different from what you experience if you are said to be a ‘Christian’… or even that you go to ‘church.’ Suddenly there is something on the table that defines you and defines you in relationship to them.
> At the heart of the matter is the nature of religion… religion as it’s generally experienced and related to in our current culture.
Religion is a term that in itself can be neutral. Religion in it’s most basic use simply refers to “an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine.” (Encarta) Our current cultural use has come to emphasize the outer form of such structures and the more negative cultural perception is that the outer form is empty inside.
“Religion” holds a strange dynamic – it’s both dangerous and safe. It is dangerous in that we may not trust what that religious person` thinks of us and what they should get us to adhere to. On the other hand it can be a safe way to frame a discussion because we can talk about things as externalized… as merely a cultural or traditional difference that should have no real implications for our lives. It is much safer to talk about Jesus in the context of religious traditions than to discuss who he really is and what he really said and did.
This challenge has always been at hand regarding Jesus…
Jesus is speaking to her deep spiritual need. Through the Spirit’s leading he helps her see the deeper thirst of her soul… not yet met through her many relationships. Just when you expect a transforming moment… she asks a safe religious question … and Jesus transcends being contained in religious traditions and differences. He ultimately makes clear that he is the hope she is waiting for.
> What a fascinating encounter…. fascinating because I think this conversation is still going on today. (We may want to talk about spiritual life but instead are asked where our church is… whether we saw the PBS show about some obscure asect of religion… or hear about the recent religious leader who’s been found in a scandel
> We need to keep Jesus lifted from the limitations of cultural religious understanding. After 2000 years of religious forms of “Christendom” that bears his name…. we stand as a testimony of a risen and relating Christ who transcends all that has been developed and done in his name.
Note: Also Jesus has also been co-opted into many ideas that deem themselves more about ‘spirituality’ than religion… which I hope to discuss in weeks ahead..
How do we help relate to Jesus outside of ‘religion’?
I. Recognizing the underlying aversion to ‘religion’
One of the most common sentiments heard today… is that “I’m not into organized religion.” Many will express valuing spirituality…. but not organized religion. We do well not only to try and understand what the aversion may involve… but also to become the best interpreters of religious aversion and re-presenters of Christ who transcends such religious nature.