Instead, I have a few things to say in defense of religion. The word religion comes from the same root as the word “rule,” as in a ruler, something you measure with. Monastic life includes a rule of life, like a yardstick, alongside which we can structure of our day, our week, and our lives. Anyone can have a rule of life—you don’t have to be a monk. A rule of life is especially good for someone (ahem) who might otherwise have very little self-discipline.
To the best of my human ability I follow a rule of life that says I will pray the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer (you can, too! check out http://www.missionstclare.com/). My rule says that I share in the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and on major feasts, I make a sacramental confession in Advent and Lent, I always engage in some form of study, and that when my paycheck arrives, the first check I write is to my church for ten percent of the amount of the check. This rule, this religion, is necessary not because I’m such a spiritual person, but because I’m so human. Without some kind of rule of life, I’d be out there fighting my way to the head of the table every single time just like the dinner guests in Luke 14.
Jesus’ very favorite setting to teach us about true religion was surely the dinner party. Mealtime was Jesus’ teaching moment. Jesus has something to say to dinner guests, and something to say to dinner hosts.
To the guests he says: stop jockeying for position, and take the lowest place. You are not in charge of your station in life. In God’s eyes, everyone is equal. To dinner hosts, Jesus says: when you have a dinner party, do not invite the usual suspects; invite the uninvited. Jesus included among his inner circle of followers people who would not normally be on anyone’s guest list. Maybe this is the kind of community alive in God’s dream of the Kingdom.