NAMC Worship Service 08092020. All people are welcome! Ch David Little participates, and guides you through “Spirituality,” with Jonah 3:6-9 as the Scripture. What is spirituality, and does it help you in your life? With a post-modern view thrown in, David takes you through a sermon that will get you to ponder whether spirituality is right for you, whatever your walk. Come and be blessed! Ch David Little and Ch Mike Adams hope that you and yours are well and safe.
NAMC Worship Service 08092020
Spiritual Side of Humans
I spent 1 year down in San Antonio doing a Chaplain Residency at the Audie Murphy VA Medical Center. There, the residents did CPE – or Clinical Pastoral Education, along with in-service training hours, where you are a Chaplain in the hospital. In the residency, I had the opportunity to meet with other residents, fellows, CPE Directors, and Chaplains as I entered the world of self-reflection and analysis. The idea was that you must get yourself out-of-the way to minister successfully to others; let me know how I’m doing with that!
But one of the things we studied was “spirituality,” and in that context, the whole person and holistical approaches to people. Holistic medicine was a part of that - which I will get to later - but spirituality in this post-modern age has a meaning that we will unpack during this sermon.
Let’s talk from a psychological perspective. In Psychology Today, an online site, they have this to say about spirituality:
Spirituality means different things to different people. For some,
it's primarily about a belief in God and active participation in
organized religion. For others, it's about non-religious
experiences that help them get in touch with their spiritual
selves through quiet reflection, time in nature, private prayer,
yoga, or meditation.
Many people identify as spiritual but not religious: With a few
exceptions, the percentage of adults who identify as religious in
many industrialized countries is declining, while remaining
generally high in less developed nations. Even as religious
affiliation decreases, though, a sense of spiritual identification
could remain steady or even increase.
It is said by some people that spirituality was coined in reference to describing Christians. Christian spirituality is generally described as a set of beliefs, values, and a way of life that reflects the teachings of the Bible. Another scholar has said that it is following the teaching of Christ or imitating His values. The main New Testament word for this is “discipleship.” Discipleship is a call to personal transformation and to continue the mission of Jesus to build the kingdom of God down here with love.
Benefits of being spiritual
In the same article in Psychology Today, entitled “Spirituality,” it says that research has consistently found that religious involvement is linked to better physical and mental health; that includes better sleep, lower blood pressure, and people live longer! Even more astonishing, higher levels of spirituality have also shown increased compassion, strengthened relationships, and improved self-esteem. Avoiding religion or spirituality altogether may alternatively lead to depression and the inability to experience pleasure.
I don’t suppose many of you have heard the name Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who focused on the areas of suicide and depression. He was born in 1905 and was a Jew. He rose in the ranks of doctors until he headed the neurological department in Rothschild Hospital in 1942, which was located in Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately, world events and the Nazis closed the Rothschild Hospital in 1943 and – during their reign over Germany – sent 6 million Jews to the concentration camps, Frankl’s family among them. Though he was a MD and PhD, he spent 3 years at several concentration camps, and lost his father, mother, wife, and brother all dying at different times and at different concentration camps. When Frankl’s camp was liberated in 1945, he learned of the death of all his family members except his sister, who had escaped to Australia.
Dr. Frankl used his experience in the camps to develop his theory of logotherapy. Frankl believed that in the midst of dehumanizing and atrocious conditions, life still had meaning, and that suffering had a purpose. It was during these extreme conditions that a person could escape through his “spiritual-self” because it cannot be affected by external forces; rather, to focus on positive memories, scenes, and thoughts. He wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946, which was a groundbreaking book that detailed his thoughts. The Library of Congress called it – in 1991 - one of the 10 most influential books in America. His logotherapy is based on the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning,” and argues that human being’s primary drive in life is the search for meaning.
This man, who had unimaginable things done to hurt him, his family, and Jews in general thought spirituality is the key to getting through it and coming out the other side. But not only did he think it, he lived it. He practiced until 1990 and died in 1997.
God pursues all
In Baptist thought, God pursues all, so all one has to do is seek and God will find you. In that vein, with spirituality in mind, let’s go to Jonah.
You probably know the story of Jonah as the person who got swallowed up by a fish, only to be thrown out three days later onto land. The story is the prophet Jonah got a word from the Lord - YHWH – that he was to go to Nineveh – a gentile city that was part of the Assyrian empire and enemies with Isreal – and Jonah ran the other way to Tarshish. On the sea, a great storm came up and the sailors found that Jonah was running away from his God – YHWH – and Jonah said throw Jonah overboard to save the sailors and ship. They did so, the giant fish or whale swallowed Jonah, and three days later coughed him up onto the land. Jonah survived, and correspondingly went to Nineveh and preached the word YHWH had for him: “Forty Days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4. This was because of the Ninevites wickedness.
The Ninevites humbled themselves, repented, and YHWH didn’t destroy them – relented because of compassion. This was what Jonah feared, and he was angry with God. “How could YHWH be just and even compassionate with the Gentiles – Assyrians who were enemies of Isreal?” he presumably thought. And that’s where we’ll start… -
Background of Jonah
Jonah was a prophet of Israel who prophesied for King Jeroboam II, who reigned in the Northern Kingdom of Israel from 793-753 B.C. The story was probably from 758 B.C, and the King of Assyria might have been King Aššur-dān III (773-756 B.C.). It is thought from the wording that the copy of Jonah that we have today was written or edited in the 6th to 4th centuries B.C., although oral editions of the story were thought to have occurred before. He was a minor prophet; in fact, the Book of Jonah is only 4 chapters long and remits one story.
Yet, what a story it is! The Israelite people were called the chosen ones of YHWH, and by the time of Jesus, thought they shouldn’t be around any other people, lest they defile themselves. But here in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) – and this is just one of many times, YHWH is compassionate towards others than the chosen people – even the enemies of Israel – and merciful.
The plight of Jonah has to be discussed for a time. Jonah thought he knew better than God, and so ran away from Nineveh to begin with, and even after he did as YHWH instructed, grew angry with God because YHWH was compassionate and merciful and didn’t destroy Nineveh. The plant in Ch 4 of Nineveh was God’s lesson – we are left to wonder with time if Jonah got the point.
But it is in Chapter 3 that I want to focus – the dealing with the Lord God (Elohim – not YHWH) with the Ninevites and his compassion on the enemies of YHWH’s Chosen People. Let’s read the scripture, first. It is the king’s decree, after the people had already humbled themselves upon Elohim’s warning through Jonah.
Jonah 3:6-9 English Standard Version (ESV)
The People of Nineveh Repent
6 The word reached[a] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Jonah 3:6 Or had reached
The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
Jonah had a relationship with God (Elohim), and apparently Nineveh didn’t or at least a dysfunctional relationship (which apparently Jonah had, too, in a different way). So, God takes Jonah – against his will and running away - and deposits him in Nineveh to start a relationship with the Ninevites. That is amazing – that God wants everyone, not just the “chosen” few. That is point one.
Let’s talk about the word Elohim . In the Hebrew, YHWH is referred to in English as “the Lord” because the Jews don’t want to say the word YHWH out of reverence. But the word Elohim is different, because it means God and is used for other gods, rulers, and kings. It also refers to the God of Creation, which Jews know as YHWH, but other religions know Him by a different name or names (Islam – Allah; Hindu – Supreme God such as Vishnu; Christian – Triune God (The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit)). It means that the Ninevites did not know YHWH, the Israelite deity, but YHWH knew them. Or, to put it more diversely, the Creator God knew them and wanted to show compassion for them if they would simply cry out to Elohim and do what he asked – be good. They had a relationship with Elohim, and it made the difference in how they acted.
They put on sackcloth, which was the ancient East’s mourning attire, and everyone took part – even the animals (which is silly for us but meaningful to the Ninevites when the King proclaims it – He was serious!). The response of the people in faith and penitence was city-wide in its scope.
And that is the other point that I want to make today. Elohim – the Creator God – wanted the people to stop their wickedness and pride and be good to one another. In other words, be compassionate towards each other and creation. The Ninevites hope was that God was merciful and good, and that’s just what YHWH was – much to Jonah’s dismay.
Could we say, then, that the Ninevites were “spiritual”?
Now, it must be said that a piece of this is not being addressed: what about the destruction that God wanted to put on the Ninevites that He relented because of their humility and turning from their wicked ways? That’s another sermon and about judgment for the wickedness of people; all I will say about that is the God of the Bible cares about the oppressed and marginalized, and hates the evil that people do to each other.
Marrying the two – what it means to have spirituality in your life
Should you and we be more spiritual, whatever that looks like for you? It caused the wickedness of the Ninevites to end, and peace to enter the city. But what about today?
In a recent study, Dr. Ryan Howell said that people are growing more spiritual today; the search for something sacred is an increasingly important topic today. People are getting into the realm of spirituality through religion, meditation, yoga, and even personal reflection. Research has shown religious or spiritual people are more likely to have these traits:
They are Gracious. Spiritual people are positive and express gratitude.
They are Compassionate. In fact, experiencing compassion toward others is typical with living a spiritual life. You have positive or pro-social emotions, including allowing one to feel good about the little things in life and look at the world through empathetic eyes.
They Flourish. Spiritual people have positive relationships, high self-esteem, are optimistic, and have meaning and purpose in life.
They Self-actualize. Spiritual individuals strive toward a better life and consider personal growth and fulfillment a central goal. It makes them become a better individual.
They Savor life experiences. They experience positive emotions associated with the smaller pleasures in life.
So, is spirituality for you in your walk? Whether a patient, family member, or staff at the Hospital?
Holistic Health – why Hospital Community should especially care about spirituality
I mentioned holistic health at the beginning of this sermon. Holistic Health is the idea that the mind, body, and spirit of a human being is tied together, and each has its effect on the other. So, you must be healthy in all 3 aspects of your being to be whole. Palliative Care is one method of care that relies on this holistic way of looking at humans and life. I think Chaplain falls into holistic care, too.
So, what about you in your walk? Do you have struggles to contend with? Problems that you cannot solve? Issues for yourself (body, mind, and spirit) or loved ones that bring you down or depress you?
It seems that spirituality might be worth trying, or focusing on… It worked for Dr. Frankl and the Ninevites; maybe it worked for Jonah… it worked for people in the research mentioned today, and it works for me. There are a number of spiritual avenues to take: Religion, non-religious meditation, yoga, or personal reflection, to name just a few. If you are Christian, try the Spiritual Disciplines or practice the Fruits of the Spirit.
Meditate on this talk, and see if it helps you in your struggles; and I or Ch Mike Adams are always here to walk with you on your journey.