The Problem With Being Spiritual But Not Religious

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We, unfortunately, live in a time when many people have rejected the church and preachers.  It is crucial, though, to keep in mind that there are cases in which individuals have left the church because of spiritual abuse. We must cry a thousand tears for these individuals and pray that they would receive healing of their souls and be reunited with a faithful preacher and congregation. However, I’m not focusing on these individuals today. Instead, we are considering a large segment of our population that states they are ‘spiritual but not religious.’  Perhaps you have not heard of this terminology before; however, the mindset of those who are ‘spiritual and not religious’ is quite prevalent and familiar.  

Those who are ‘spiritual and not religious’ tell themselves - and others - that they have not rejected faith but only the church. They have chosen to do their spirituality apart from a local preacher. Those who are ‘spiritual and not religious’ are not coldhearted atheists but want to be nice, friendly, and spiritual but, again, not religious. Churches, liturgy, preachers, doctrine, and so forth are all religious things they do not need and avoid.  

And so these ‘spiritual but not religious’ individuals tend to have several defining characteristics. First, their spirituality is very individualistic.  They rarely talk about their spirituality with others or practice their spirituality in a public setting. Their spirituality is very personal and private. Secondly, their spirituality is something that they do on their own.  They are very inward-looking. They develop their spiritual practices with meditation, silence, reflection, and even time in nature.  They believe that they can spiritually nourish themselves.  

Now, the reason why I mention this is because this kind of mindset is not only very prevalent in our society, but it is very seductive for those in the church.  Furthermore, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ mindset is also very naïve. I do not say this to be overly harsh or arrogant.  But instead, I say this because of what Jesus teaches us in the reading from the Gospel of Luke.  

In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we hear about seeds being planted in soil. Obviously, from this parable, we realize that the seed is the Word of God. And the soil? Well, the soil represents mankind –you, me, and our neighbors. But there’s more to the parable than just seeds being planted into calm soil. The parable also tells us that there are birds of prey looking to devour up seeds. The parable tells us that there are rocks in the soil and a lack of moisture that dry up seeds. The parable tells us that there are thorns that grow to choke.  That is to say: Jesus is showing us that the Word of God is cast into soil where the devil comes to steal the Word away, where trials will prevent the Word from taking root, and where the pleasures of life crush the soil. And so, spirituality is not some easy walk in the park.  It is not neutral and peaceful endeavor. The soil is not without threats and trials.   

This is why those who are ‘spiritual but not religious’ are naïve.  They assume that spirituality is calm, peaceful, and entertaining, not combative or a struggle.  If spirituality were easy – if there were no birds of prey, rocks, thorns, and plenty of moisture – then a person might be able to do this spirituality independently.  But that is simply not the case.  As already mentioned, the soil is not alone.  The soil can be trampled on and become hard.  Birds of prey, rocks, lack of moisture, and thorns all need to be accounted for.  

But this is not half of the problem.  There is something that is being drastically overlooked!  Dear friends, the greatest oversight and temptation to you and me is the failure to realize that the soil needs a sower.  Let me rephrase this as simply as possible. Christianity is tough, but it is even more difficult – no, it is impossible if you do not have a preacher constantly giving you the Gospel.  Everyone needs a preacher to sow the Word into their ears.

Think about it this way.  Imagine a North Dakota Farmer saying, 
“Well, the snow has just melted.  Good thing I don’t need to till the ground, plant any seeds, or spray for weeds.  Good thing that the soil has got everything under control and can do it on its own.”
This kind of thinking is insane, and so is the kind of thinking that leads people to believe that they do not need a preacher or a church.  For the soil to say, “I don’t need a sower, and I don’t need seeds,” or for the soil to say, “I can plant the seed myself,” is naïve.  It is dangerous.  It is crazy to think this way.  This is not the voice of the Christian, but it is the voice of the old Adam who looks for every excuse in the book to not be around the Word of God.  

Dear friends, repent!  You do not and cannot baptize yourself.  You do not sit at your own table and receive a supper done in your remembrance. You do not absolve yourself.  And you do not preach sermons to yourself.  Just as the soil needs a sower, the Christian always needs a preacher.  

Now, you may wonder if this sermon is an attempt to give me job security.  Nope. You see, Matt Richard, the sinner, needs a preacher too.  I have another pastor as a father-confessor.  Furthermore, we pastors meet every month for Winkel Meetings and church services to ensure that a preacher gives us the Word.  And when I am on vacation, my collar comes off, and I go directly to church because I need a preacher to cast the seed of the Gospel into my ears.  

But do we really need a preacher?  Isn’t there a way that we can do this on our own?  No, dear friends, we cannot. And here is the reason why.  Our hearts are hopelessly dark and deceitful.  They are like a bottomless pit, a black hole, endlessly sucking everything within it and crushing it.  And so, if we try to look inward and do spirituality on our own, we may be able – for a time – to conjure up the Word of God from our memory.  But as soon as we recite the words from memory, “My sins are forgiven,” well… our sinful heart gobbles up these words, and we begin to wonder, 
“Hmm, are all my sins really forgiven?  Have I repented enough?  Am I devoted enough?  Do I sincerely and truly believe enough?  Do I praise God enough?”
Over time our sinful heart swallows up these words, and we are left with uncertainty, doubt, and fear.  And to boot, the devil and the world do not encourage us to hear the Word but snatch it away from us and choke it out.  

As soil, you need a sower – you need a preacher.  You need the Word of God to come from outside of you into your ears so that you can hear clearly  that you are forgiven of all of your sins - in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Baptized Saints, the church is the one place in this world that seeds are cast into soil.  The church is not a place where you come to look for seeds hidden in canisters, but it is the place where the seed is cast into soil – cast in you - freely and boldly! 
Be of good cheer, dear child; your sins are forgiven! 
Fear not, little flock.  It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom! 
For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith in Jesus is] not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God! 
There is now, therefore, no condemnation for you, for you are in Christ Jesus!
You are baptized – snatched from darkness – in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Take, eat and drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith!  
Keep in mind, though, that God does not cast this seed into your ears, hearts, and minds just one time and then leaves you alone.  Heaven’s no!  God – the Holy Spirit – has called and gathered you to this holy ark (the Christian Church) and promises to keep you with Christ.  And as you are kept in the one true faith in the church, you daily and richly are forgiven of all of our sins.  From the church and through the pastor's office, the seed of the Gospel is generously scattered week after week after week, despite the devil's attempts.  From Christ’s church and through the office of pastor, you are reminded of your baptism, despite the scorching trials of life.  From Christ’s church and through the office of pastor, you are given the body and blood of Jesus so that your faith may be strengthened, despite the thorns and weeds of the world.   

Christianity is tough; it is indeed difficult.  It is even more difficult, though, if you do not have a preacher and a church.  However, you do have a preacher and a church – you have been placed into St. Paul’s.  You are in this church, not to be alone but because you have ears that need to hear.  You are soil that needs the seed.  You are a Christian; you live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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