Do Eastern religious practices have a place in Christians' lives?

All spiritual practice in the West and the East is based on the desire to dip one's foot into the water of holiness and there is much we can teach and learn from one another about doing just that. ...

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Opening Our Ears to Different Voices

The call for Christians to look inward and outward

Written By Daniel P. Matthews

Take our minds and think through them.
Take my lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee,
through Christ our Lord, Amen.

The story goes like this: Moses was fed up, he’d had it. He’d been working with those people all this time, and they were just complaining endlessly; nothing was right for them. He finally threw up his hands and said, "God, I’ve had it, I’d rather be dead. I don’t want to do this anymore." God said to Moses, "Get seventy tribal leaders (probably seventy men who represented a clan, a group, a family, whatever) and bring them to the tent. I’ll fill those seventy people with My Presence and My Spirit." Moses brought them all together and, lo and behold, they were filled with the presence of Yahweh, right there.
Two people, however, didn’t get there, so there were technically only sixty-eight leaders in the tent. The two that didn’t get to the tent were off in the wilderness with the other folk, but the Spirit visited them just as much as it did the people in the tent. Those two were prophesying and all those kinds of things, out in the wilderness. Joshua rushed up to Moses and said, "Oh, my goodness, Moses, guess what’s happened? Two of the folks who were not in the tent are prophesying there way off in the wilderness with the other folks. Stop them, stop them, stop them. They’re not in the tent." Doesn’t that sound like you and me? He didn’t pass his Boards. He’s not certified—and they weren’t certified, but they still got the Spirit way off in the wilderness. Moses said, "No, no, let the prophecy bloom and flourish; let it happen."

Now, that’s theology. That’s a real Biblical understanding of the nature of the way God works. You and I live in a world where we all have to have the credentials to do whatever we do. The State Boards, all those things. We clergy have to pass all kinds of things in order for us to offer a blessing. The blessing doesn’t count unless you’ve been certified. It’s very true, and it’s true in the religion world as well. It’s very interesting.

The same thing happened in the New Testament. While in Capernaum, Jesus had sent out his disciples and told them to heal and bless, and they did. John came back and said, "There’s healing taking place, there’s blessing taking place; people are changed, it’s wonderful. However," said John to Jesus, "there’s some folks out there who don’t have our credentials. You haven’t certified them, and they are using your name without copyright. They are actually changing people’s lives by using your name. Can you imagine?" Jesus replied, "Those who are not against us are for us." Just like Moses.

We are in an interesting time, maybe one of the most interesting times in the history of the religions of the world. You see, we are beginning to have to deal with those folks who don’t have the same credentials we have. We are having to kind of handle it, work with them, face up to the fact that maybe the Spirit of God exists some place outside our own set of credentials. ....For today, right into your home, right onto your desks, can come all of the information about spiritual journeys that are absolutely alien to every one of us in this room. They come right there, right there on our desks. This strange phenomenon, brand new to all of us, just a few years old, found the whole world over is called the World Wide Web.

There it is, confronting you and me, traditions and different ways of expressing the spirit of the holy, all sorts of different things, and they are right there before us. Oh, they’ve been in the library, but we would have never gone to the library and checked out a book that tells us something about one of these strange and unique and different kinds of expressions of faith. Now they are right there in front of us. We just go click, click, and there they are.

You and I are in a real time of challenge to face up to the Eldads and the Medads of our world. It means a time when you and I need to center down and know what we really believe. This way when we begin to go out on that limb, if you will, and click, click, and open up that web site and see and hear some traditions that differ from our own, we’ll realize that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may, in fact, be speaking to us.

In New York I am a part of a small group of about fifteen that meet once a month for breakfast. There are three imams from Islam in that breakfast group, three rabbis from Jewish tradition, two Roman Catholic priests, and then an assortment of others from the more traditional Protestant groups. I never miss that breakfast. Nothing stands in the way of getting there. I learn more, grow more, hear more, develop more in that context than anywhere else all week, because I am listening to different voices about how God works. Part of the reason you’ve come today, I know, is a chance to hear a different voice about how God might be working in my life and in your life. That’s what happens when we all come together with different sorts of traditions.

Yet today, there is much fear about what is going on—not just on the Web, but in the whole world, as strange and different religions begin to move into our space. The fear gets so great that we begin to build walls higher and higher. You know the folks I am talking about. There’s just one way—our way or the highway, no other way. Those walls begin to be built up, and pretty soon the possibility of God working in the lives of those people in any unique and new and different way is prevented. It is a scary time. I don’t blame them. It’s a lot more comforting, isn’t it, to say, "They’re just wrong, that’s all. They’re just wrong. God is just not using them. They are part of the devil’s work shop." It’s very easy to do that. ...

It’s very important for God’s people, who are as rooted and as grounded as you are in the faith, to listen and to be sensitive to what is happening in our world today. We do that by putting ourselves in touch with those people who have always been strange and different and unacceptable to the likes of you and of me. I don’t always like what I hear from my Islamic friends at that breakfast group. There’s often some real genuine conflict over what they believe and what I believe, but in the spirit of acceptance of each other, magical things are happening to each of us. …

God is doing things in God’s world today that we’ve never seen before. There is nothing more exciting in America today than the spiritual awakening that is taking place, and the Web is full of it. You can sit there and find out all kinds of weird expressions of spiritual journeys—some of them pretty healthy, some of them not healthy at all. But they are coming into your world and they are coming into our world, now. …

Open a little more and a little more to how the Spirit is working. Bill Moyer said that the most exciting event of the last part of the twentieth century was the spiritual awakening in America. There is no question about it. …

Oh, it’s an exciting time. I hope you sense that. I trust you do, or you wouldn’t be here. It’s a thrilling time to be a believer and to so ground yourself in scripture and tradition that you are able to accept and be open to what other people are believing and where they are growing. To be open to what matters to them without the threat of the fact that you need to stop them or to destroy them, as Joshua and John wanted to do to the Spirit of the Lord.…

No, this isn’t a scary time; it is an exciting time. This isn’t a time to be afraid, this is a time to ground yourself more deeply in scripture and tradition so that you might hear how God might be using new voices, new ways of expressing spiritual realities to you and to me and to this nation. It’s a time to be alive and excited about the presence of God. Test the Web; test your neighbor’s faith. Test what God might be calling you to become. It is God’s world. It is God’s spirit. Rejoice and be thankful that you are living in such a time that you, too, might give thanks for the power of the Spirit of God in a time of genuine awakening. Amen.

Copyright © 2001 The Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Matthews. Excerpted from a sermon delivered March 30, 2001, at Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN, for the Lenten Preaching Series.