The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

June 26, 2011

Genesis 22:1-14

Psalm 49:1-13

Matthew 9:18-26


God and the Human Spirit

Good morning, 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.


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”.

Lyrics: "I know I'm who I am today because I knew you."  

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 personal musings?

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 process.

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?

“Always the 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.”

            Now 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 beings.

            Each 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 Spirit.

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.

What 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 knees.”

             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.”

The great 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 More…

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.

Hallelujah,  Amen.


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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