The Spirit: That We Might Live No Longer For Ourselves, Easter 5 (B) – 2003
May 18, 2003
Consider a nurseryman. He propagates and raises ground covers. His hands work steadily, day in and day out, creating and co-creating new life for the world. He sits at a bench to do his work. In the still, humid heat of the summer he puts his bench out of doors in a particular spot where, on the hottest and stillest day of the summer, someone sitting there can always feel a slight movement of air: a very still, but perceptible breeze; only in that one place on ten acres of land.
Or, consider when a violent storm marches through, and you look out the back door to see the rain blowing in horizontal sheets and the trees bending to the earth, so powerful was the wind! In Hebrew and in Greek, the words used for “spirit” in the Bible mean “breath” or “wind.”
So Jesus promises God will send us the breath of Truth to dwell with us and in us. At the end of John’s Gospel we know that the resurrected Jesus breathes on the disciples, just as God breathes us into existence, to give them and us his spirit to carry on his work of shalom.
It is the same spirit that urges Philip to go up and join the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot. And the same spirit that after the eunuch’s baptism, sweeps up Philip on the wind like Dorothy leaving Kansas to drop him in Azotus; it is from Azotus that Philip continues on to Caesarea.
Caesarea, in the fourth century home to Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, whose treatise On The Holy Spirit urges the church to give the same honor, glory, and worship to the Holy Spirit as to the Father and the Son. Indeed, it is Basil who is credited with assembling Eucharistic Prayer D in our Book of Common Prayer, the oldest Eucharistic prayer in our Prayer Book.
And it is Prayer D where we find what is perhaps the most succinct description of why Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. “And that we might live no longer four ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.”
The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) has a video about a woman named Linda who is saying the Lord’s Prayer in an otherwise empty church, when God begins to talk to her. When she says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” the voice says, “Whoa, are you sure you want all of that? My kingdom coming and my will being done?”
“Well, yeah,” says Linda, “we could all use a little more heaven around here.”
“So what are you doing to make that happen?” asks God.
“I kind of thought you would do all that, you’re the king.”
“You can’t have a kingdom without subjects to do thy will.”
“Oh,” gulps Linda, along with all the rest of us.
“Little children,” it is written in the First Letter of John, “let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” That is, what we do is more important than what we say or believe. This is the urging of God’s Spirit breath and wind.
Note also, that when the Ethiopian eunuch asks, “What is to prevent my being baptized?” that Philip, acting in the power of this spirit wind or breath, offers no requirements whatsoever. As soon as they find water, the eunuch is baptized. And Philip is blown away to Azotus and Caesarea!
Sometimes we need to be still and alone and find just the right place to sit to sense and receive this spirit Jesus says dwells with us and in us. And sometimes it will sweep us away with hurricane and cyclonic force sending us where it wills, not where we will.
As Basil so rightly put it so many centuries ago, this is Jesus’ first gift to us. Whenever the Bible speaks of “first gifts,” it also speaks of the tithe. The spirit is God’s tithe, God’s first fruits for those of us open to receiving it.
People will know who we are and whose we are by what we do, not what we say and even less through what we believe. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said the Sermon on the Mount was an excellent guide to living a righteous life. The problem is he had never met anyone who was living out of that vision of the spirit-led life.
What we do must be a continuation of what Jesus was doing, bringing sanctity to everyone and every thing in God’s creation. It will be through completing Jesus’ vision of a world of shalom, a world of justice and peace for all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being, that people will know we are followers of the man from Nazareth, and people driven by the power of the Holy Spirit.
William Countryman, in his book The Good News of Jesus (Cowley: Boston, 1993) writes about the life of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we receive the good news of God’s unfailing love, and in Eucharist we experience the eternal newness of God’s unfailing love.
“The life of the community that celebrates these sacraments is a life of mutual giving and receiving. The early Christians were convinced that the Spirit has a particular care for the church, supplying the community with all it needs. She does so, however, in a peculiar way. The gifts you need she gives to someone else. The gifts you are given are meant for others. The Christian community can live only by the sharing of these gifts. The church at its best is a community that lives by this kind of sharing, exercising generosity not only within its own circle, but toward outsiders as well. Jesus, after all, came for the outsiders. None of us has any higher claim on God than the claim to God’s willing forgiveness. We are all of us outsiders, miraculously included within the community of the gospel of God’s call.” (p.105)
The Ethiopian eunuch represents the ultimate in outsiders from every possible viewpoint: racially, religiously, sexually, nationally — from nearly any viewpoint one can imagine. Basil of Caesarea puts it best: that we might live no longer for ourselves. Philip does not naturally go over to this outsider. The spirit must urge, push, coerce, and move Philip to go where he does not naturally want to go, and to be with someone he had been taught to avoid at all costs.
What all of Scripture is urging us to accept is that now is the only time we have to position ourselves to feel that breath. Now is the time to prepare ourselves to be blown by the winds, winds more powerful than any we have ever experienced in this world.
We have only here and now to complete Jesus’ work in the world and to sanctify everyone and everything in this world. Not some, not many, not a lot, but all. Everyone and everything waits to see what we will do, being not at all interested in what we have to say or what we believe, but what we will allow the spirit to move us to do, here and now.
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