Sending the Living Spirit
A Psalm Of Life – by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Let us Pray
God, please let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you and your children as we pray, glorify, and learn through worship to you.
After coming to seminary, I now understand why Jesus is my hero, because nonviolence and life was his path, a path I try to walk while struggling to discover healing and peace throughout our world. Yet, I must admit that I do have a guilty pleasure: I love Zombie flicks. The cheesier the better. I love the campiness, or the comedy, of the storytelling. Especially when the characters find themselves in Malls, surrounded by the spiritless / soulless walking dead; or, when the characters stride through the streets of London oblivious to the plague around them. It makes me laugh because the situations themselves seem utterly ridiculous; however, I stopped laughing when I realized these films are metaphors for our modern world.
People are broken / empty / lifeless all around us every day. There are human beings which advocate for hate / separation / discrimination; but in truth they are simply spreading their disease of brokenness orally and infecting our minds. We can see this brokenness in our political divisions. However, there are also people who separate themselves from society due to stress, pain, and survival. Sadly, these human beings escape into their 4×6 phone screens or by doing drugs. You can see these walking dead by just riding the T or by people watching at the Boston Common. Mind you, this is not everyone. There are bright spots all around us too. There are people alive and still struggling against the empty husks of flesh walking around us every day. These bright spots are people who are “act(ing) in the living Present” and full of the Living Spirit.
However, Friedrich Nietzsche who is the preeminent individualistic philosopher from Germany recognized this emptiness as well and created one solution. To explain, he defined people as a “herd” like the cattle from Longfellow’s poem or like the empty husks of flesh in zombie flicks. He believed the will to power, what he saw as the living spirit, was only in people he called the “Ubermench,” or the super men who took their power. Further, his philosophies of individualism have shaped and molded the United States extensively. Yet, Nietzsche also believed God was dead. He believed in the individual alone. His philosophies talk of separation and discrimination; but, when we separate and individualize devoid of community, devoid of community, we become empty husks of flesh. Therefore, I think Nietzsche was wrong, his will to power is the antithesis, the opposite, of the living spirit which descended on Jesus during his baptism and walked with him through his ministry.
The living spirit I speak of today is that which transformed the world as it resurrected Christ Jesus. The same Living Spirit which infused Christ during the forty days of Eastertide. This Living Spirit is also the one which breathed life into the creation of the universal church once again last week; and, the Living Spirit is part of the beautiful tradition we call the triune God, the trinity. Personally, I see the trinity as a complex mystery and I continue to labor and wait for a revelation which will explain God’s beingness to me. Until then, we have this concept from tradition, alone. In fact, the word trinity appears in the Bible officially, zero times. But, I do not believe we must fully understand the idea of trinity to grasp that the Living Spirit cannot exist in the individual alone like Nietzsche would suggest. Rather, to find the Living Spirit and become more than just flesh we must find the one thing we can truly conceive about the trinity. Our triune God is relational, a community and this is where we discover the Living Spirit.
That said, we can see this truth of the trinity and the living spirit in the Hebrew Bible, approximately seven hundred and thirty-eight years before Jesus’ birth about the time of King Uzziah’s death. The passage I am referring to is when Isaiah justifies himself as a prophet by recounting his vision of God, a common practice in the writings of the ancient world. This eloquent passage reveals an image of God sitting on the throne in Jerusalem with two Seraphs in attendance. The Seraphs, or winged serpents, and God reveal a triune state of a Godhead. The three in attendance plus the repetitive “holy, holy, holy” reveal this passage is speaking about a trinity. Although the Old Testament according to some theologians says the first trinity is that of Adam, Eve, and the Child, I could also see the first trinity understood as God, Adam, and Eve. Either way, the trinity is relational and familial, which the author of Isaiah is hinting at in both the description and the repetition.
Furthermore, the Biblical numerology relating to the Seraphs is very telling. To begin, the Seraphs are using two wings to cover their faces, that very part of the body which we use to interact with other bodies of flesh when we speak or listen. The number two in biblical numerology is also used to express that there are differences. Thus, the seraphs are covering the differences of their flesh and becoming the same face, or unified beings. They are also using two wings to cover their “feet” which in Biblical terms is a euphemism for genitals. This latter point is important as the “feet,” or genitals, is another way we interact as flesh bodies. Finally, the number six symbolizes humanity. So, the fact that the Seraphs are depicted with six wings reveals that they are the ones who interact with humans. This becomes clear when a Seraph takes a burning coal and touches it to Isiah’s lips which symbolically destroys his ability to speak of the flesh while cleansing his sins, so he could speak of the Living Spirit. It is only after this cleansing of the flesh that Isaiah is able to hear the lord God call, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
But, this passage is all written before Jesus walked the earth; so, let us turn to another author. In Romans we discover we are in debt to the Holy Spirit which descended on Jesus during his baptism. OK, this concept is our Christian theology. The author of Romans also says we should not live according to the flesh. Huh. Well, Paul did believe the flesh was a weakness which weakened the rabbinical law. Therefore, it makes sense that he would push this dichotomy of flesh and spirit. Yet, we are flesh and how could I – or you – die and live? This passage does not seem to make sense unless we look at this passage as both literal and metaphorical. Yes, when we die if we have accepted the Holy Spirit the author of Romans says we will become joint heirs with Christ and be glorified. Thus, we have a very literal translation which explains what happens in our afterlife.
However, let us look at this “put to death the things of the flesh” metaphorically as it relates to today. Actually, let us read this as do not worry about the things affecting our individual flesh. Now this does not mean you will not be thinking or concerned with the things your body needs; rather, do not worry, fret, or fixate on your personal needs. Instead, focus on the things affecting all of us through the relational Living Spirit. These may be the same concerns of food, companionship, and shelter; but, the way we view the world and these concerns changes when we stop looking through my flesh and instead through our Living Spirit. This metaphor is validated by the point that Paul calls us to “suffer” with Christ. Simply put, we cannot do this in a literal way-Jesus died roughly two thousand years ago. However, we can be empathic, live into the Living Spirit and feel the pain Jesus suffered so we can realize that life is about more than the individual. Life is about all of us whether we are suffering, hungry, lonely, happy, joyous, or fulfilled. This perceptional shift changes each person from the flesh or the walking dead to that of life and the Living Spirit. This shift in our way of thinking is like the burning coal being placed near each of your lips. Will you let it burn you of the sin of individualism devoid of community? Before you answer, remember, there was more to Isaiah’s vision. The Seraph had a reason for cleansing Isaiah of sin. They needed someone to send and Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”
Send me. We send us into the world each week through the benediction to carry forth the love of God, the peace of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the trinity. Not as an ending but as a beginning. So, we may embrace the world as children of God. In our perception we remember that God, our creator, created everything through love, that Christ Jesus taught of nonviolence and peace, and that the Holy Spirit, which is in all of us, is alive and a living fellowship with all people, not just Christians. This said, this perception of the Living Spirit is wonderful; but, it will not help the walking dead on the subway; and, it will not stop the divisions of empty political flesh, alone. A change in our perception, in the way we view things is only half the story. It will only take us to the literal solution which Paul spoke of in Romans. To send the Living Spirit, we need to be sent in action like Isaiah and participate in the world; for, through our actions, we will be able to plant the seeds of love and peace as our fellowship grows.
However, you all already know how to be alive in the world and carry the living spirit with you here in the Union Church. I see all of you do this each, and every, week when you walk in those doors. You smile, you smile and become alive no matter what stress or troubles you carry with you. You are alive as you enter those doors and engage with our community. Your living, breathing, welcoming quickly spreads the fellowship of the Living Spirit and it brightens this sanctuary with your love. That said, there are also random acts of kindness and larger acts like mission which you can engage in to share the Living Spirit within you. But the basic core, the core of what God calls of us to do through the Holy Living spirit is for us to perceive, consider, and regard all people as not the Other but as us, as our brothers and sisters. Therefore, start with a smile like you do when you come here to the welcoming fellowship of this place not out of guilt, regret, or an attempt to proselytize but do so out of love, peace, and fellowship for all humankind. Let your empathy guide you as you decide the best course of action for us, not you alone. This Living Spirit is the one we are sending forth today not as an ending but as another beginning until we can all be together again.
In your name and love we pray – Amen