Spit out the Trash!
Revelation 3:14-22 (KJV) "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Over the years, I heard many sermons about the church of Laodicea. Generally, those sermons were intended to cause church members to reform their lives, to support the church more and to live more godly lives, so they would no be part of the church of Laodicea. Those sermons left me feeling a little uncomfortable, because the sermons tended to portray God in a way the ministers might not have wanted. God, at times, was presented as anything but loving in some of the sermons. God seemed more angry than loving.
While I struggle to feature God being sick of God's own people, there are forms of religion and forms of spirituality, including Christian spirituality, that I think make God sick. In this passage of Revelations, the spirituality of the church of Laodicea makes God feel a tad sick, so God spits out that bad religion, that bad spirituality.
In areas of religious conviction, doctrine, faith and spirituality, we need to exercise discernment. As we reflect on church doctrine and on church position statements regarding gay rights, regarding forms of counselling and pastoral care that attempts to make gay people straight, regarding bullying that targets gay, bisexual and trans students, regarding same-sex marriages and regarding the protection of sexual minority people from discrimination and violence, we need to discern the ethics of what church denominations are saying.
There is an intellectual element of spiritual discernment. We can look at doctrinal positions and position statements to see if they appear to be on harmony with ancient creeds and with our personal understanding of the Bible. The intellectual process can be very time consuming and might involve the study of Bible commentaries and the positions of numerous Christians. Part of the intellectual process can be to determine if the doctrine shows people love, respect and grace. Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God to humanity, is key. Jesus' life was a life ruled by a passionately inclusive and a passionately loving approach. When church doctrine and position papers fail to show love, respect and grace to all members of society, including members of society who are relatively weak and powerless, the church's positions are failing to be Christian and are failing to show the spirit of the risen Christ.
Rumi, speaking from a Sufi spiritual perspective, talks about bodily senses and spiritual senses or spiritual perception. He mentions the reaction we have when we find trash in our mouth.(1) I found myself reflecting on his comments about eating. We can be perfectly happy eating wonderful food. But one bite out of an entire meal with a rock in it results in an almost immediate and instinctive reaction to get the rock out of our mouth. From a physical perspective the almost reflexive reaction to trash in our mouth helps protect our health.
In my opinion, there is a link between the physical and the spiritual. A physical reaction to spiritual and theological statements and concepts is often forgotten in our discernment process. The gut reaction is one that tends to be neglected, possibly because in a quest for scientific and technological knowledge we tend to dismiss what is not intellectual. A gut reaction to religious position papers and moral statements can be considered to be very much like a bodily reaction. Should a doctrine, a theological statement or a denominational position leave you feeling like there is trash in your mouth, spit out the trash!
God spit out the spiritual trash and you can do that too! Keep the good part of your spiritual meal, but for God's sake spit out the trash!
(1)Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski, translators and compilers. The Rumi Daybook. (Boston: Shambhala, 2012), 5.