Harrowing Of Hell
May 28, 2023

AI Sermon Series #4: Soul Sensates and the Coronation of the Royal Priesthood

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Click here to watch the sermon.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and the celebration of the coronation of Dean, Norah, and Jack into the caste of the Royal Priesthood. This is a ceremony which acknowledges the reality that their souls are replete with the living waters of God.

The prophet Jeremiah coined the term “a torrent of living water” as yet another name for God. And he prayed for the day when this living water would flood the hearts of all humanity. The feast of Pentecost marks that day, when, 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, there came a mighty wind, that left the followers of Jesus certain that the breath of God was in every single human being, equally and powerfully. 

“If there is breath, then there is soul.” (The Mind of God, pg. 65). And that is what we are going to talk about today, the soul, in this 4th sermon in our series on generative artificial intelligence and what it means to be human.

The soul is the defining characteristic of a person. This reality is captured dramatically in the movie Blade Runner 2049, when K, the protagonist, a replicant, is asked by his boss, police Lieutenant Joshi, to kill the replicant human hybrid. K pauses and says: “I’ve never retired (a euphemism for killed) something that was born.” Joshi snaps: “What’s the difference?”  To which K replies: “To be born is to have a soul.”

Only humans born are of the caste of the Royal Priesthood. That is the only qualification, because the soul comes from God, is sustained by God, and returns to God. These children before us today are souls that belong to God, and baptism is our promise to raise them in the full knowledge of this reality.

Last Sunday in this sermon series we focused on the metaphysics of the heart and how it is formed by the spiritual exercises we participate in at church. The heart is the home of human freedom and the throne of our character.

The soul, on the other hand, is completely different from the heart. Unlike the heart, which we manage, we have no influence whatsoever over our soul. At best, we can acknowledge it and give thanks for it, but the soul belongs singularly to God. It is generative from God. God is the well-spring, and we are only vessels into which the living waters are poured.

Let me share an example that I’ve shared before because it makes the point perfectly. 

The story is about Matthew Dyer. He was the adopted son of my mentor Bishop Mark Dyer at Virginia Theological Seminary. Matthew was born with only a tiny piece of his brain, enough to manage the involuntary beating of his heart and breathing of his lungs. It was believed by the medical professionals. that he would die soon after birth. Nonetheless, Bishop Mark and his wife brought Matthew home to care for him in the presence of their family. It turns out Matthew lived seventeen years, and so, he needed to be tended to all the time for all those years.

When Bishop Mark moved to the seminary, students stepped in to help with Matthew, taking shifts to care for him as needed. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to the seminary, he would take his shift with Matthew as well. Bishop Dyer, a close friend of the Archbishop’s, said to him one day that he didn’t need to add to his busy schedule with this duty.  To which Archbishop replied: “It is a chance for me to commune with Matthew, soul to soul.” Matthew could do nothing, not one thing, and yet, to Archbishop Tutu he was a soulmate, if you will full, complete and equal in all ways.

There is no hierarchy of souls. We can do nothing to change the soul. It is perfect because it is from God. Souls are simply a tributary awash with the living waters of God, within a torrent of love, willed and intended by God alone. Souls are, because they are linked to the source.

And this source is powerful, and it is unique.  The word “mighty” we hear from the Book of Acts today makes the point. It is a hepax legomena, which means a word used only one time in the Bible. Our translation reads “mighty,” but it is a “mighty” coated with determination and inevitability. We are souls determined by the mighty inevitability of God, uniquely, as a hepax legomena.

So, what does any of this have to do with generative artificial intelligence? Well, it is because of the emergence of artificial intelligence that we have been provoked to consider what it means to be human…which has caused us to examine our humanity, physical and metaphysical, including heart and soul. And in doing so to remember who we are, how we were made,and why we were made–to be priests and sovereigns upon the earth. And as such, to own our sovereignty as masters and managers of the generative artificial intelligence we are developing.

Which means AI must be functionally created to serve all humanity, and for no other reason. Not for profit. Not for power. Not for political gain. Not for war. But only for the benefit of every single soul upon earth. This will require breaking some of our current cultural habits. This will be uncomfortable, and create uncertainty, which is just fine, because, as I said last Sunday, as Epiphany Christians we are people of courage, trained in the habits of the hearts, which enable us to comfortably navigate uncertainty.

I’m hopefully optimistic about what we can do with generative artificial intelligence. It promises to take off our plate particular economic considerations. It promises to give insight into the secrets of health, science, and the environment. It will create new ways of being educated. It will help us feed all the world.

And what that will then mean for humanity is survival productivity will be replaced by the pursuit of things that are beautiful and interesting and captivating and connecting…linking the training of our heart with the overwhelming one-way torrent of love that fills each and every soul by the intentionality of God.

That is the point of being human; to align our choices, our heart, with God’s unmitigating, constant, and equitable love for all human souls. And so, we must not miss the moment to be people of great courage. To demand that this stunning new technology be used for the benefit of all people.

This is our duty. You and I have been chosen by God to be alive right now. God made us to lead as the Royal Priesthood. We know the score; we know our duties around heart formation and soul care.

What we do today will have an enormous impact on the world in 50 years. Who humanity is in 2070 has everything to do with how we act right now. Let us not miss the moment. What that requires from us as members of Epiphany is doubling down on the necessities of heart formation and soul care.

And what does soul care look like? Well, it looks like many things, more than we have time to explore today. But one aspect of soul care is worship. Worship is the priestly response to the unqualified torrent of God’s love. And since this torrent has nothing to do with who we are or what we have done, or how much brain we have; since the only qualification is breath in our lungs, and the beating of our heart; then the only response is — GRATITUDE.                 

Which is why we name our worship the Eucharist. It means thank you; and it is designed to refresh our souls. Here is how it works: Worship begins with the personal decision to set our body (brain and breath) in lock step with a community by standing, sitting, kneeling, singing, praying, reading, and eating, together, as one body, chosen by the intentions of our heart, so, our souls can be refreshed.

Worship is the most human activity we can participate in, and is something that will never be replicable by generative artificial intelligence. It is what makes us uniquely human and the masters of any machines that we make.

This is our sign +. It is who we are because of who our God is. And one of our sovereign duties is the coronation of these three new members into the caste of humanity. They will be dipped in water as a sign of the unstoppable, merciful love of God rushing through their souls; a torrent of life equally given to all people. And they will be marked with the cross, embossed upon their forehead with holy oil; a symbol of their Royal Priesthood; the vertical stroke representing their relationship with God as high priests made for worship. And the horizontal stroke, symbolizing their sovereign duty to care for one another and the world in which  God set them.

It is for them that we must invest in heart formation and soul care. It is for them that we must participate in it. It is for them that we must share the value of it with those who do not understand it. This is our common work, and a task made more urgent because of the presence of generative artificial intelligence. This work will require courage, but fear not, love wins, because it is the unstoppable love of God.

It is because we are satiated by this divine love that we qualify as human beings in the caste of the Royal Priesthood. And if we own our humanity, fully, heart and soul, right now, our children and our children’s children in 2070 will thank us. They are these children we baptized today.

And so, I will leave you with these questions: Are you willing to own your sovereign role in the Royal Priesthood? Are you willing to be obligated to this divine duty? Are you willing to master your own heart for the benefit of all souls? I invite you to contemplate these questions during the coronation of Dean and Nora and Jack today.