A couple of weeks ago, NPR carried a brief story about some research which found that people who use social networking sites, like facebook or twitter, have deeper relationship with the folks around them than people who don’t.* Maybe you’re surprised; after all, a quick google search landed me on pages of blogs worrying that social media would trivialize our relationships, would do the opposite of deepen our understanding of and commitment to one another. But in another way, it makes sense that the wider our nets are cast, the more stories we hear from one another, the more experiences we share and vicariously suffer from and celebrate, the more understanding we will have of the human condition, of one another, of ourselves.
I am reminded of the Spirit of Pentecost, which blew open the minds, ears and hearts of so many people, allowing them to understand the words of the Gospel, to understand others who spoke differently from them, to hear nad share the experience of God’s love for God’s own people.
“You are in the Spirit,” Paul tells the early Roman Christians, “since the Spirit of God dwells in you,”
Paul describes to the Roman Christians how their new life in the Spirit is different from their old life in the flesh. One leads to life and peace; the other to death. One fulfills the law of God; the other is incapable of doing so. One brings people into closer relationship with God, indeed to the mutual indwelling of God’s Spirit in and among them; the other is hostile to God.
The life of the flesh which Paul talks about is not simply the life of the body. This is not a dualism of body and spirit; it is not a condemnation of creatureliness or of creature comforts. Far from condemning them, at the end of the portion of this letter that we read today, Paul promises that God gives life to our mortal bodies.
So what does it mean to live in the Spirit and not in the flesh?
Living in the Spirit instead of in the flesh doesn’t have to be about denying our bodies. We have bodily needs, legitimate physical desires, and the Gospels tell us that our heavenly Father nows that we need all these things. But living in the flesh means being absorbed by our own wants, cravings, lusts. Life in the flesh is selfish. It is self-centred.
The result of the Pentecost event, the gift of life in the Spirit, was that people heard the Gospel in their own language. They were brought into relationship with the Gospel. They were brought into relationship with the disciples, with each other, with Christ. Living in the Spirit is about living in relationship with God and with one another.
Living in the Spirit rather than the flesh, then, might be like the difference between satiating hunger and indulging in greed. It is the difference between passion for your partners, and lust or lechery. It is the difference between resting our souls and bodies, and that seductive-sounding deadly sin: sloth. It is the difference between living for ourselves only, and living as though we love God and our neighbours.
When Jesus dealt with sin in the flesh, as Paul puts it, he freed us to live openly with one another and with God. By breaking bread with all and sundry, he opened our eyes to see the hunger of those around us, so that we might share our daily bread. By his mercy, he opened our hearts to feel the pain of the suffering, the sorrowful, the oppressed and the neglected, so that we might act out of compassion. Through his words, he opened our ears to hear and our mouths to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of God’s love for all of God’s people.
As people of God, living in the Spirit, we have been inspired – given the Spirit to live in us and to breathe through us. We have been given the Spirit to enable us to live as people whose minds and hearts have been blown open, whose care extends beyond their own flesh, beyond our own bodies, to love and to care for our neighbours.
As a people of God together, we have been given the network of relationships we need to reach out to our neighbours, to see their hunger and to offer our bread and our bodies to meet their needs. Instead of struggling for survival, lie those condemned in the flesh, we are given life to share, we who live in the Spirit.
Whether we do it through facebook and twitter, through prayerful engagement with the local newspapers and community meetings, through attentiveness to those we meet at the bus stop or the grocery store – however we do it, when we look to the needs of the city around us and ask how we can share our life with those living in the valley of the shadow of death, we deepen our relationships with our neighbours as we learn their stories; we deepen our relationships with one another as we work together to share the life and the bread we have been given; and we deepen our relationship with God as we live in the Spirit and the Spirit of God lives in us,
we who live in the Spirit, since the Spirit blew into the heart of the church and set it on fire.