As we know from many of the late George Carlin's comedy routines, coming into contact with organized religion is part of almost every person's experience.

There's nothing the matter with that, as long as the organized religion we encounter helps us accomplish what it supposedly was created to do: to have an experience of God working in our daily lives.

But problems arise, as Carlin frequently pointed out, when organized religion provides us only with an experience of organized religion.

Meeting God

Thankfully, we don't have that problem when we listen to Sunday's three readings. Each of the authors deftly cuts through organized religion and presents us with a picture of God acting in our lives -- for better or for worse.

Jeremiah begins the readings (Jeremiah 20: 7-9) by referring to Yahweh in the most insulting terms used in all Scripture. Though most translators render the passage's first words in rather innocuous terms like "You duped me," or "You tricked me," scholars have reminded us that this specific Hebrew verb is often employed in the context of rape.

Jeremiah is so angry and frustrated with Yahweh's treatment of him that he can only fall back on the warning all parents give their young children as they send them off to school alone: "Don't ever get into a car with a stranger!"

The prophet regrets not heeding that advice. He got into Yahweh's car, was overpowered and has never been the same again. Once he agreed to be Yahweh's prophet, Jeremiah's life turned into a nightmare.

The worst part of his experience was that he could not reverse the process: "I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in; I cannot endure it."

Entering a relationship with Yahweh entrapped him for the rest of his life.

Paul certainly identified with some of Jeremiah's God-experience, especially the part about it being an open, lifetime commitment (Romans 12:1-2). One's life was totally changed by it: "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God."

Making God's will our will every day of our lives is both the most rewarding and frustratingly painful experience of those lives.

Following Jesus

St. Paul was doing nothing but following the example of Matthew's Jesus (Matthew 16:21-27). No one reaches the life Jesus offered without going through the death He demanded.

Matthew copied Sunday's narrative from Mark, following his three-fold pattern of a prediction of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection, followed by a misunderstanding, and then a clarification.

In this series, Peter is granted the privilege of the misunderstanding. Along with the famous "Get behind me, Satan" command, he is also reminded, "You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do."

When one thinks as God, one accepts His value system, no matter how different and painful that is from our own.

It doesn't surprise me that many people prefer organized religion over actual experiences of God. There is a lot less pain and none of the pitfalls that come from a personal commitment to a real person.