Breaking out of the Shell


The Seventh Sunday in Easter
Will Bryant
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
May 17, 2015
Paul was a skeptical, suspicious little brat!
And I’m not talking about St. Paul. No, I am talking about my camper and my friend Paul, one of the students I took hiking for a week during my time as a counselor at an Outdoor School in Asheville, North Carolina.Tall, lanky and too cool for school, 14-year-old Paul did not want to be spending his week hiking in the mountains talking about bible stories.

He didn’t care about Jesus.

He didn’t listen to the lessons.

Often times he remained silent during the group’s dinner time conversations.

Slight eyed and suspicious, Paul would just sit and listen as if he knew the answers to all the world’s secrets.

Silently he sat, that is until the topic of whether human beings have souls came up in conversation.

“People don’t have souls, Paul exclaimed!” That’s just something made up. How could we ever prove it, he asked.

A hush fell over the whole group of students and no one really had an answer.

Do we have souls? Don’t we have a spirit inside of us? How can we prove it?

If you have ever been hiking for an extended period of time, then you know that everything – and I mean everything – tastes better out in the woods.

Snickers chocolate bars are especially valuable to young, hungry teenagers out on the trail.

Paul constantly bartered with me to sell my two candy bars that I had brought with me.

I always said no.

But that night I parried Paul’s outburst about the human soul with a question and then a proposition.

“Paul, you don’t think we have souls?”

“No, he smiled.”

The group stared quietly with quizzical looks.

Then I ripped a piece of paper out of the back end of my cheap paperback novel, and drew up a small contract for Paul which read:

“I, Paul, hereby give my soul to Will Bryant for two snickers bars.” There was space at the bottom for his signature and the date.

The smile disappeared from Paul’s face as I placed the contract and two snickers bars in front of him.

The eyes of the all the campers in our group focused on Paul.

And for a moment, time stood still.

What would he do? Would he “sell his soul” for snickers bars?

Paul turned down the chocolate, and refused to sign the contract.

He kept his soul, if indeed, he ever stood to actually lose it.

In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus on the eve of his arrest speaking to the Father about what is to happen to us after He has been taken away.

And in the midst of this monologue, Jesus acknowledges the spirit, the inhuman energy that we all possess but cannot prove that we actually have.

He acknowledges our souls.

“Father, protect them.”

“They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

And in this Jesus seems to be saying to the world that we are not human beings seeking a spiritual experience. We are instead, spiritual beings struggling to comprehend this human experience.

C.S. Lewis says it even better: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

We are grappling with the difficulty of living on this place called Earth.What is this?

What is this shell that we live in?

Jesus calls out to us today, reminding us to wake up. To remember that this shell.

This flesh.

This place.

Isn’t actually important at all.

What is important, is actually going on in here. (Points to chest)

In our hearts, and in our souls.

Instead it is the love within in our souls that is important. And even more important still,

it is what we are doing to reflect that love out into the world.

In today’s Gospel Jesus also says, “as I was sent me into the world, so I have sent you into the world. And for your sake I sanctify myself, so that you may be sanctified in truth.”

On the Sunday after the Ascension and the week before the beginning of this Pentecostal season, I ask you today to start thinking about how you will reflect the love within your soul out into the world.

Jesus is sending us to spread His Good news.

Is your soul ready for the task at hand?

It is a hard question to ask if your soul is ready to do the work required of a Christian.

The answer is something that only you can know.

You can only feel the health of your spirit, the condition of your soul in those moments that you both love and dread.

Sober self-reflection.

A long, look into the mirror.

Your souls and its state makes itself known in the lump that sits in your throat when you know you didn’t do the right thing. The squeamish feeling you get in your stomach when you should have spoken up for a friend, but you didn’t.

It speaks loudest at the moments when you sign contracts for things that deep, deep down you know to be false.

In those difficult, solitary moments, our souls are asking for self-correction.

They are asking to get back on course.

This Pentecost, let’s do something about it.

Let your soul break out of the shell that that this world has cast upon you. Listen to the words and let the cleansing flames of Pentecost enclose your hearts and souls, and then set them on fire for the rest of the world to see.

Jesus is sending us to spread His Good news.

How will you do it? Where is your light needed the most?

Today, before the offertory anthem, you will hear from Helen Pope who is speaking on behalf of Churches Together in Rome’s Rice Bowl Project.

This year the Protestant churches in Rome are pooling their funding together to support the Ain Dara Refugee camp in Syria.

This money will directly fund the welfare, education and basic needs of refugees that have been displaced by rise of the Islamic State.

Projects like these, where you can donate your time, energy or money is how we can spread the Gospel here on Earth. It is one small way that we can show forth the light of our souls into the darkness that is this world.

But there are other ways, more subtle ways to show your soul.

But only you know what those are.

Rebuild the bridges you have burned in your life.

Cast down the grudges that you have built up.

Let your soul break out of the shell that was built for this human world, and let’s start working on behalf of the heavenly kingdom. That kingdom which, like our souls, we can’t prove to be real but which we know in our very bones to exist.

It’s time to go to work, people.

For this world’s sake.

For God’s sake.

For your soul’s sake.


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