January 11, 2015

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.


Two Sundays ago I was at a church with my parents…

I have to tell you it was a challenging Sunday.  I had trouble sitting still.  The Christmas wreathes had Mardi Gras beads – which mom said she’s lived in Louisiana so long she doesn’t even notice them anymore.  That was the least of it.  There were large screens in the corners of the room.  They had the words to the songs, along with a cartoon drawing of a country church, which was strange in a huge auditorium that was anything but quaint or rural.  Speaking of the music, I didn’t know a single song.  Not one.  I didn’t feel too bad that I didn’t know them, because I really didn’t like any of them anyway.  They had the same words repeated over and over again.

It was fun sitting next to my sister and it was a good thing we were not next to my mother, because we giggled a little bit more than we should have. I did take notes on what the pastor was saying, but that was only to keep myself awake.

This was a challenging church experience for me.

But during the closing song, I looked around the room.  It was clear to me that there were people in that room who had had a spiritual experience.  They had met God there that day.  And I had just missed it.  I firmly believe they truly, authentically worshipped God that day. My first thought was skepticism – did they hear what that preacher said?  There was very little meat in the sermon.  Did they hear the praise band?

But I do not doubt their experience.  In fact, I was a bit envious.

We sat in the same room.  They went home with an experience of the Holy.  I went home with a headache – and with a mom who was very happy.


Perhaps you’ve had the same experience.  A worship service or worship experience that didn’t seem to “fit” right or at least not the same way it “fits” others.  Or maybe an experience you had was completely lost on a friend or family member.

I’ve occasionally asked people about when they felt closest to God.  I always get interesting answers.  Most common answer is some kind of experience – often on a mountain-top or at the beach.

What fascinates me is that the answers often sound the same, but then a little more probing finds some real differences.  What is it about the experience that makes them feel closer to God?

  • For some it is the quiet. The absolute alone time they have with their creator.  In some kind of almost mystical experience, they find God in the silence and beauty of the moment.  In the stillness they feel God.
  • For others it is the time on that mountain top or back porch spent in spiritual conversation with close friends. The intimacy of friendship is a way that they find God.
  • For others it is the book they read while they are there.  The clarity of the moment allows them to take in the words in a way that is fresh and new.

For you, the time you experience God most truly may be something different altogether.  Maybe you feel closest to God in the garden, at a peace march, at Habitat, in your Sunday school class, in this sanctuary, with your children, or maybe without your children.

We could ask ourselves which way is right or which way God prefers, but that is not really useful.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, there is “no greater mistake in spiritual matters than to force others to follow one’s own pattern.”

You see, when it comes to experiencing God, it’s not a one-size-fits-all.  God is so big and so amazing that there are more than one way to grow, to worship, to experience God.  My pattern is not your pattern, which is not the next person’s way.  God created us unique, with unique preferences and different ways to grow spiritually.

In today’s scripture, we read of Jesus’ teaching. We are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus gave us the goal —  Love God – with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength.  With all that you have and all that you are. Love those around you just as you love yourself.  But the means – the way that we love God is as unique as we are.

I think we get this when it comes to loving neighbor.  You might bake a casserole for a friend and I might give chocolate.  Another person might offer to watch their children, while another offers prayers.  All good ways to show love.  What fits you might not fit me.

The same is true of loving God.

Corine Ware wrote a book[1] that she based on a variety of people (Jung, etc.) that defines 4 different Spiritual types.  Four different ways of loving, worshipping, and growing with God.  We’re going to spend time in worship and SS exploring the spiritual types so hopefully both individually and corporately we can be challenged to both understand who we are and even challenge ourselves to grow in the ways that are not our strength.

I’m going to briefly describe the four types.  Please listen and see if you can find where you “fit” best.  No one fits completely in any one category, but there may be a place (or even two) where you feel most comfortable and natural.   Just like a person can be a different spiritual type, a congregation can fall into a category as well.  Not that they neglect the other forms of spirituality, but that they excel in one way or another.


There are surveys that you can take to help you figure this stuff out.  We will be asking people to identify their spiritual types in Sunday School today and there are additional surveys in the narthex.  But, if I had to guess, there are more of you who have the “head” spirituality than any other type.  That is because we Presbyterians tend to lean toward “head” spirituality.  NOT that we are smarter than anyone else – just that we value the life of the mind, the quest for knowledge.

People who fit into the “head spirituality” know God better by learning and studying.  There is much emphasis on the written word – the Bible, Calvin’s Institutes, books, worship with lots of words and liturgy.  Just look at our bulletin…

Often this is associated with a love of “order” – or as we Presbyterians like to say, “decently and in order.”

Jesus practiced head spiritualty when he taught in the temple and when he debated with the religious rulers.  The quest for knowledge, for truth, for the Source of Truth is important for this spiritual type.  You might also think of people like Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and most of my seminary professors.

If you think you fit into this category, I caution you that you don’t get too academic and forget the relationship with your Creator.  In your quest for knowledge, don’t forget that God is ultimately mystery!


Which brings me to the next Spiritual type.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from “Head spirituality” is “mystic” spirituality.  These are those who want to hear from God rather than speak to God.  Not concerned with having the right answers or seeking for knowledge, mystics are all about the wonder and mystery of God.

On Spring Break in my senior year of college, we spent half of the week at a monastery.  A far cry from my peers who were on the beaches of Florida, we were sitting on pews at 4:30 am joining the monks in chanting the Psalms.  We gathered for meals in silence. We spent time walking on the path by ourselves or occasionally with one other person. Contemplation and silence.  Lots of contemplation and lots of silence.  Not to ignore the world, but to have space to listen for God.

Think of Jesus when he went into the wilderness to be alone with God for 40 days.  That was a mystical experience.  There are many heroes to the “mystics” amongst us.  People like Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, our Quaker friends, and Warren Bock.

If this describes you, you might need permission to be alone – and you might need to be reminded to come back to the rest of us from time to time!


On that senior year spring break trip, as I mentioned we spent half of the week at the monastery.  The other half of the week was at the Open Door Community.  This is an intentional Christian community in Atlanta that works with and on behalf of the homeless.  They serve meals, provide medical care, and offer showers to the homeless.  They worship together and do a lot of advocacy – peace marches, sit-ins, education, etc.

This is the perfect example of those who practice “Kingdom” Spirituality.  People who engage God in this way are often known as Advocates.  They see God as active in helping the poor, the mistreated, and the disadvantaged. They want to participate with God to change the world.  Advocates desire to lead others into an experience of God by participating in God’s work in the world.  For them, service is prayer.  They are closest to God when swinging a hammer, working with a change-agency, or attending a rally.

Think of Jesus when he turned over the tables in the temple.  The merchants were selling animals for sacrifices at a huge profit so normal people couldn’t afford them.  It was unjust and Jesus wasn’t going to stand for it.  You probably know some people who practice “kingdom” spirituality – the ones that come to mind are Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ghandi.

This is the smallest group of the population.  These people are courageous and idealistic and work for change. The passion can sometimes be difficult for others to keep up with.  The challenge for these people is to continue to pay attention to their inner life and to not be discouraged.


The opposite of “Kingdom” Spirituality is “heart” spirituality.  While the Advocates are making the not-so-good world a better place, the “heart” spiritualist enjoy the beauty of God and the relationship with God.  They are stirred at deeply emotional levels, particularly by joy. Spontaneity and enthusiasm are the hallmarks of this type of spirituality.  Sharing faith is very important because they want everyone to have this same kind of warm emotional relationship with God.

Churches that fall into this spiritual type have emotional music and emphasize the personal relationship with Jesus as a means of spiritual expression.  Where we might have written prayers, for these churches prayers are always extemporaneous – speaking to God about what is on their heart at the moment.  They may not even have a bulletin!

Jesus practiced this kind of spirituality when he prayed, “Abba, Father” on the cross – talking to God on an emotional, relational basis.  Billy Graham is perhaps the best known current person who practices this “heart” spirituality.

The challenge for people in this category is to remember that it’s not just “me and Jesus.”  It’s also difficult to remember that the other forms of spiritual types are just as valid.


Did you hear yourself described?  Hopefully.  If not, don’t worry!  As I mentioned, there are surveys you can take in the Narthex or in SS.  For the next four weeks in worship we will be more fully unpacking these concepts.

Whether you experience God best through Head, Heart, Kingdom or Mystic Spirituality, I hope you will remember Jesus’ command – love God, love neighbor in whatever way God has created you.

[1] Corinne Ware, Discover Your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth. (Alban Institute: Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 1995).