That We Might Live No Longer For Ourselves
Our next door neighbor in Connecticut, Emil Tramposch, was a nurseryman - a vinedresser. He propagated and raised ground covers. His hands worked steadily day in and day out creating and co-creating new life for the world. He sat at a bench to do his work. In the summers Emil would put the bench out of doors in a particular spot in a field where, on the hottest and stillest day of the summer, he could always feel a slight movement of air. A very still, but perceptible breeze – a breath of wind. Then, there are times when the wind is so fierce that trees bend over, rain blows in horizontal sheets, things once seemingly permanent are blown apart or away, like Dorothy being blown from Kansas to Oz! In Hebrew and in Greek, the words used for spirit in the Bible also mean breath or wind. Emil would abide, live, dwell in that breath or wind of Spirit.
It is easy to miss the fact that in Acts chapter 8, the compelling story of the apostle Philip and an Ethiopian Eunuch, the primary character in the story is The Spirit. It is the Spirit, the Ruach, the Pneuma of God, that urges Philip to go to the road to Gaza; the Spirit urges him to approach this Ethiopian Eunuch who is reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah; the Spirit that moves the Eunuch to seek baptism; and the Spirit that “snatches” Philip from the scene to more urgent business in Caesarea.
Caesarea in the fourth century was home to Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, whose treatise On The Holy Spirit urged the church to give the same honor, glory and worship to the Spirit as to the Father and the Son. Indeed, it is Basil who is credited with Eucharistic Prayer D in our Book of Common Prayer, the oldest Eucharistic prayer in our prayer book. Basil’s Eucharistic prayer says this about the Spirit: “And, that we might live no longer for 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.”
There is a video that depicts a woman named Linda who is alone in a church saying the Lord’s prayer when suddenly a voice, the voice of God, begins to answer her. When she says, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the voice responds, “Yes!” Later when she prays, “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,” writes the First Letter of John, “let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” That is, for those who are blown upon or breathed upon by the Spirit, what we do is more important than what we say or believe. We are “to live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us….to complete his work in the world, and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” No longer for ourselves but for the world.
Sometimes we need to abide, to dwell, to put ourselves in just the right place to sense and receive this spirit Jesus sends us and says abides in us. Sometimes it will sweep us away with hurricane and cyclonic force sending us where it wills, not where we will. Other times it will be like a breath, a barely perceptible movement of our spirit. Basil of Caesarea says this is Jesus’ first gift to us. God’s first gift is God’s love for us – we know love because God first loves us. We are God’s Beloved. We are to love others.
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 said, 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, holiness, 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 Spirit.
William Countryman, in his book The Good News of Jesus (Cowley:Boston, 1993) writes about the life of the Spirit. In Baptism, he writes, 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, considered odd and even ritually unclean by some. Philip does not naturally approach 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. What all of scripture is urging us to accept is that now is the only time we have to position ourselves to abide and dwell in this gift of the Spirit. Now is the time to prepare ourselves to be blown on by the wind, a wind more powerful than any we have ever experienced in this world, so we too can co-create new life for others.
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 awaits to see what we will do, being not at all interested in what we have to say or what we believe. Are we ready to allow the Spirit to move us beyond ourselves to “complete his work in the world and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all?” And, if not now, when?