February 1, 2023: Spiritual AND religious

Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.



“I am spiritual, but not religious,” I hear sometimes, when I share with folks that I am a Lutheran pastor. “I do believe in God, but I don’t go to church much.” It is often followed with an explanation of why that is, or sometimes even a sense of guilt. Sometimes people have had bad experiences with church. Sometimes, they have found life in religious institutions not to be very nurturing, or not to be very helpful for their spiritual growth, and they might have found other places or settings to be more meaningful in helping them nurture their connection with God. It has certainly made me think. If the church is not in the business of spiritual nurture, or if we have missed the mark in our attempt to do so, perhaps we need to do some self-reflection.

Paul talks about the mystery of God, and that it is less about human wisdom, and a lot more about the work of the Spirit, “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on the power of God,” Paul writes. Too often, I think we in the church get stuck in our doctrines and traditions and perhaps even thinking that we have “figured out God,” or at least how God should make sense to the church and those who proclaim to follow the Christian faith. I think there is great danger in that. It makes God too small. It is when we get stuck in our own ways of practicing  religion, and losing that sense of mystery, that perhaps we in our human ways, can turn our religious practices into a form of idolatry, that causes us to worship buildings, rites and humanly made traditions, instead of listening for, and being open to the mysterious ways God might show up, not just in our churches, but in the lives of many of those who are seeking a closer connection with God. Some find spiritual nurture in nature, some in music, some in yoga, prayer and meditation. Sometimes the Spirit shows up in meaningful ways when we come together to play and have fun. I am thinking about camp. My children usually didn’t get all that excited about church, but most of them really loved going to camp, growing up. And although it wasn’t “cool,” to admit that this was a place that helped nurture their faith life, listening to them sharing their experiences, it was quite obvious that it did. It was a place of grace, where they could be themselves for a week, and experience the love of Christ in fun and nurturing ways, that was meaningful for them.

Church as we know it, may not necessarily be the way of the future. My hope is, however, that we as followers of Jesus, will always seek to discern how the Spirit might be at work in our lives and our world, and that we seek to foster a sense of curiosity in doing so.

— Tormod Svensson  



Mysterious God; help us to open our hearts and minds to the voice of your Holy Spirit. Help us to not get stuck in our institutions, but instead seeking creative and nurturing ways to share your love with the world, for the sake of the world. May we always seek to pass on the love of Christ in ways that are faithful, meaningful and transformational, so that your unending love may be known to all generations to come.