The Rev. Dianne O’Connell
June 26, 2011
God and the Human Spirit
Sermons are funny things. They take form in strange ways and morph into
entirely new messages as they flow along through the week. This morning’s message was no different, only
more so. I’ve changed the music, changed
the scripture readings, and even changed the order of service several times. I thought I had a respectable draft on
Wednesday night, but by Thursday night, had decided to pretty much start over.
Saturday, I did the same thing. I find that I have several thoughts I’d like to
convey, but I’m not certain that they flow one to the other. I’m offering a prize for those of you who
come out thinking that they might understand what I’m trying to say.
We’re talking the Holy
Spirit attempting to work with a rather worn out, maybe even uncooperative
Human Spirit, which in this case, is me. She is trying to speak to me, but I’m
not sure I’m hearing. The passage finally chosen as the sermon topic is the one
I just read:
Jesus is busy trying to heal the daughter of a ruler, who has just
died. There is a throng of people
milling around trying to see if he will be able to do it. Jesus is focused on
the task at hand, paying no attention to the crowd around him.
But Whoosh, he
feels somebody touch him. A woman has
reached out and touched his robe, in essence saying, “Me, too. I need you, too. And I’m important, too. Heal me.”
Jesus turns to
this stranger and almost off-handedly says, “Oh, okay, you’re healed. But you pretty much did it yourself. Your faith healed you. Can’t talk now,
though, I’m working.” Then Jesus turns
back to the little girl and awakens her from what appeared to be death.
The whole episode
with the uppity woman in the crowd takes two verses, period. Jesus was there,
serving as a source of power, but it was the woman herself who reached out and
connected with that source. Or to say it
another way, her Human Spirit connected with the Spirit of the Lord, and a
healing took place. Jesus wasn’t even paying attention. He was thinking about somebody else. Yet,
when she reached out and a powerful thing happened.
In Mark, chapter
10, verse 46, an uppity blind man does essentially the same thing
He calls out to Jesus to heal him –
and Jesus says, “Your faith has made you whole”, again something in the Human
Spirit connects with the Divine and a man sees again.
There is a song I just heard this week that I’d like Norm
and Larry and share with us. But please don’t applaud afterwards, even if you
like it. Just let the spirit of the song
linger a while.
Song: (IF I COULD BUT
TOUCH THE HEM OF HIS GARMENT)
For the past two
Sundays, we have talked about the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. We’ve gently explored the gender of the
Spirit and well as his/her essence and/or purpose. Well, the Spirit is still
among us, but, this week, She brings a friend for us to get to know and maybe
begin to understand: the Human Spirit. I don’t think the Holy Spirit can accomplish
too much without the cooperation of the Human Spirit, and sometimes, it’s the
Human Spirit that does all the heavy lifting.
Or at least, that’s my thesis this morning.
A while back, as
they were leaving the sanctuary, the Walkers handed me a book entitled Einstein’s
God: Conversations About Science
and the Human Spirit. That sounded
pretty impressive, but I wasn’t sure when I’d get a chance to read it, because
I needed to write a sermon. But I kept peeking at the book, nonetheless. It
contained a series of essays concerning the spiritual beliefs of several
important people in various scientific fields.
In fact, I was
sneaking another look at the Table of Contents when Kate telephoned me on
Monday and said, “We might have a problem.
Too much music for next Sunday. You
have a regular opening hymn. Ellen and I are going to sing a piece from WICKED,
and the people really like Fermen and the hymn sing, and you have Norm and
Larry down for another gospel song. It’s
up to you, but don’t you think that’s too much?”
“Not if I keep the
sermon short and to the point. So tell
me about the WICKED song?”
“It’s about the
power of friendship”.
"I know I'm who I am today because I
You know, The
Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the
West and the Good Witch of the East. They were friends and the Good Witch Glinda is
singing to the Wicked Witch,
"Whatever way our stories end, I know
you have rewritten mine by being my friend."
Fits right in with
the theme of the sermon, I said.
“What’s the sermon about?” asked Kate.
“I don’t know yet.
I’m reading this book about Einstein.”
“Ohhh,” she said.
Two friends change
each other’s lives by being friends, I thought to myself. Is that the work of the Holy Spirit, or the
Human Spirit? And which is which, or are
they both? And can two Human Spirits accomplish the same thing? And is the
song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus?” More profound than I’ve realized
before? And if being “healed” is
actually being “made whole”, that must include being healed in mind, body --
and spirit? And if one’s spirit were to
be healed or made whole, what would that look
like? And is any of this “scientific”, or just my
Going back to the
Einstein book, I found an essay entitled: “The
Biology of the Spirit.” It was written about a surgeon, a man steeped in
science, yet deeply interested in the human spirit and the role it plays in the
Healing comes from
within, the doctor says. I thought of
the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment – something within her, her
faith, had made her well. Jesus was the catalyst. But her faith made her well. Could
that also be her spirit?
purpose of medical treatment is to restore nature’s balance against
disease. There is no recovery unless it
comes from the force and fiber of one’s own tissues.” So a doctor’s job is to activate the healing
potential that is already present in the patient using all the medical and
spiritual resources available.
This all is
particularly relevant to mental health, he adds, focusing on the power of
personal relationship: “If someone truly feels
that you understand them, an awful lot of neurotic behavior just disappears.”
I know that professional mental health practitioners would warn against
crossing boundaries and not abiding by all the rules of the patient/doctor
relationship, in other words, not becoming too friendly with the clients. True enough. But I’m not talking about professional
relationships with care-providers. I’m
talking about our friends. And the part that the Holy Spirit or the Human
Spirit plays in activating the healing power already embedded in our very
of us, I would guess, was born with the capability of being a pretty decent
friend, but until we have a friend, there is little way for us to BE a
friend. I might have been a decent
pastor in the past, but until I met you, how would I have ever known it. We have
the energy within us, but an additional power source can be very helpful – be
it human or divine – and a catalyst to set the process going. That catalyst is
Hot on the trail
of the Human Spirit, I happened upon the posting of a young Blogger, who it
turns out was a financial management student at Northwestern
University back in 2006. Mushir was also a Muslim.
exactly is the human spirit”, Mushir asks? “Call it the inner voice, or the part of you that urges you to
keep fighting no matter how bad the odds are stacked against you. It is what
makes you get back up, time and time again, after you have been dropped to your
Then the young man
begins to talk about a professor he had at college who had become a close
friend. His friend had cancer and had
exhausted all the known treatments and a few experimental ones, as well. Now the professor knew it was just a matter
of time, and he agreed to have lunch
with his former student.
He was cheerful and calm. “Mushir,” he said, “life is too short to worry about death. I am
spending time with my kids and enjoying every moment and frankly do not care
about what may come tomorrow.” Mushir recognized the Human Spirit at work The
prospect of death had not rattled the professor in the least. A few weeks later
he died, but he had left a lasting impact on Mushir: “His spirit is still alive in my mind …”
So this morning’s message is about
faith, it is about healing, it is about the Human Spirit within each of us and
the powerful work it can do in tandem with her cousin the Holy One. I’m equating some of the best aspects of love,
of friendship with the catalyst that sets this process all to work.
The Old Testament lesson this
morning gives us another possible name for this catalyst – the Angel of
God. Abraham has decided that God has
called him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
We’re told God was testing Abraham with this suggestion. I’ll say he was. But over the generations,
perhaps, we’ve misunderstood the purpose of the test. Since God apparently never did want Abraham
to kill Isaac, what did He want? Was He testing Abraham to see if he would open
to the ministrations of the Holy Spirit – in this case, in the person of an
Angel– who came with a different message, “Abraham, this is a very bad
idea. See that ram in the thicket? THAT’s a much better alternative. God appreciates your devotion and will return
that devotion to you many fold, but for heaven’s sake, if you must sacrifice
something, sacrifice the ram.”
The Angel of God was being a
wise friend; perhaps, the Holy Spirit again at work in the world.
But what about Einstein? You might
ask. Did you ever read the book? What did Einstein believe about God or about spirits,
for that matter?
“I am a deeply religious man,” Einstein
states, “(but) I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his
creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in
ourselves…enough for me is the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling
of the marvelous structure of reality…”
Einstein did not
believe in what we would call a personal God, one who was concerned about each
and every action of each and every creature. God, for Einstein, was the force
behind the mathematical perfection of the Universe.
‘”Morality is of
the highest importance,” he once said, “but for us, not God.”
scientist would acknowledge the importance of such concepts as morality, love, compassion,
but would place the development and exercise of such in the hands of humanity,
not God. But then again, there might be
Einstein wrote the
Queen of Belgium on the death of her husband:
“ …we should not
grieve for those who have gone from us in the primes of their lives after happy
and fruitful years of activity, and who have been privileged to accomplish in
full measure their task in life…there is, after all, something eternal that
lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions.”
Einstein experienced something eternal beyond that
which we know. Without this Something More, life becomes but a series of
eloquent numbers and equations, filled with Black Holes where time becomes
matter and matter becomes time. All
quite interesting and awesome, but not very comforting. Now I’m adding my own
interpretation here, but I think this is when the Spirit, be it Human or
Divine, enters the equation, maybe we can call the Spirit “Love”, since God is
Love. Not until Love enters the equation, does final transformation, or
healing, occur – and we become One with
Our Creator. Finally we become Whole.
Hymn of Commitment, “In the Sweet By and By.”
May God protect you,
May the love of Christ fill you, and
May the friendship of the Holy
Human-Spirit inspire, sustain, and
be with you always.
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