4-19-15, Easter 3 (PR) Do You Have a Summer or Winter Spirituality?

EASTER 3                                        1 John 3:1–7
APRIL 19, 2015-NEW DAY        Luke 24:36b–48
Do you have a Winter Spirituality or a Summer Spirituality, I wonder?

I have asked myself the same question many times.

Martin Marty, our premier American Lutheran historian, found himself asking that question of his own spirit more than 30 years ago when his wife at the time, Elsa Marty contracted cancer and died within the year.
Marty, as a pre-eminent author, chose to engage his grief, in part, by doing what he does best, and wrote the book, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart.

And it was there that he explored the comparison between what he called a Summer Spirituality and a Winter Spirituality.

Summer Spirituality is defined by optimism – it is positive and it sees good in everything.

Marty points to televangelists and too many churches that proclaim to you a mantra … repeatedly, and “mindlessly” in his own words that states again and again “God loves you … and I love you.”

It was an approach first made popular by Norman Vincent Peale in the 1940’s and 50’s with his belief in “the power of positive thinking.”

Summer Spirituality … the happy pill of the Christian life … a glass of bubbly champagne that tickles your throat as you swallow it … the feel good smile plastered to your face morning noon and night, no matter the circumstances.

Winter Spirituality was defined by Marty as that characterized by realism – it is built upon faith in God, but dares to fully face the mortality of the human creature along with all the pain and suffering that comes along with it.

This wintery faith mourns courageously, groans unabashedly, and suffers with integrity … and at times dares to go toe to toe with God, doing battle in the life of prayer.

This wintery faith knows at its core that God is good, but does not pretend to understand that goodness when standing in the face of experiences that are anything but good.

It flees to Paul’s timeless words in Romans 8, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” but does so acknowledging the landscape for that promise is one of “hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and death.”

Winter Spirituality … the dash of cold water in your face that wakes you up from a dream … the reality check as you read the morning paper … the recognition that life is messy … with God or without.
Although it is only April, the Easter season has a spirit of Summer Spirituality to it, right?

You can’t get much better news than the proclamation that Christ has Risen!

We talk about empty tombs … about graveyards going out of business … about death being defeated … and Christ walking the earth.

If that doesn’t define Good News than what does, I ask you.
And yet … and yet … as we stand at the door and breathe in the rich, loamy smell of our Summer Spirituality … as we stand at the door to the Upper Room and gaze out in the bright sunshine of Easter at work in the world … as we smile from ear to ear at this wonderful news that has been passed along for two millennia …

Yes, as we are just about ready to jump through this door into our Summer-like Spiritual existence … a cool breeze swirls down our spine and raises the short hairs on the back of our necks.

And the Winter Faith that we so desire to leave behind, reminds us that it is never quite out of reach.
Blame the disciples if you like.

After all, they were the ones who eventually first heard the news from the women who visited the empty tomb and were told that Jesus had been raised, and who then proceeded to do nothing with that news.

The disciples were the ones hiding in fear in the Upper Room fretting about their next move.

The disciples were the ones who even after Jesus came to them in today’s lesson from Luke, and greeted them with the gift of Peace, thought he was a ghost.

See what I mean? … go ahead and blame the disciples.

The disciples were the ones who when Jesus showed them the crucifixion wounds on his hands and feet, and invited them to touch him, still couldn’t believe.

Jesus then ate dinner with those same disciples and taught them that God’s Word has promised this very event from the very beginning of time … and they were still silent.

The frigid cold of their Wintery Faith just could not warm up to this message of new life that had come to the world.

Yes, blame the disciples for their lack of faith, for their frigid faith.

For they have ruined the Block Party of Summer Spirituality that began two Sundays ago.

But as you blame them, remember that you too are a sinful and broken disciple.

And remember that even in the height of the summer season, you occasionally get a chilly day … just as even in the coldest of winters, a day of warmth will often invade the barren landscape reminding you of the season of life that awaits you around the corner.

And know that the arrival of the Easter season in our church life along with its Summer Spirituality, cannot possibly be of help to us, if it does not speak to the brokenness of a world that is filled with all the seasons of life.

We are blessed in Pennsylvania, to experience a healthy mix of all four of our seasons.

The Spring season that is upon us reminds us of new life …

Summer promises abundance of crops and foliage …

Fall confronts us with the reality that every living thing has a life-cycle which identifies the inevitable slowing down of life and physical vibrancy …

And winter confronts us with the reality of death and its barrenness.

Should not your Christian faith, invite you into a relationship with God that speaks to you through the rhythm of earthly life, in ways that allow you to see the divine richness embedded in this human journey?
God does not leave you alone.

Remember the final verse of our Gospel Lesson … God promises you power from on high.

That power from on high gives you the courage to believe this word of life from the empty tomb.

That power reminds you that even though the world behaves badly at times, God’s Spirit is still embedded in the very fabric of these lives we live.

That power offers you eyes to see beyond the brokenness, and to hear the divine heartbeat whose Godly rhythm gives life to the world, and breathes into you, your very life and spirit.
This power of God does not promise only a Summer Spirituality.

Because a one-dimensional faith would be of no interest to you over the course of time.

It promises you a faith that is as deeply nuanced, as is the God that has blessed you with that faith.

I pray that faith upon you today … and always.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.