Pastor’s Blog: By Which Spirit?

“16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26).

The human heart and the human mind have an amazing capacity for self-deception. By our very nature as humans, we occupy the center of our deepest concerns. Even the care for and protection of our loved ones is not naturally rooted in some kind of disinterest or altruism. As Ernest Becker wrote many years ago in The Denial of Death, having a child is the surest way to leave your mark on the world. Ironically, Becker won the Pulitzer Prize, posthumously, for describing how having children, serving one’s community, winning awards, and being philanthropic are all forms of a “hero project.” These are common ways to “survive” death, but, of course, sic transit gloria mundi (thus, passes the glory of the world). A lot of “heroes” have been tossed in the dustbin of revisionist history quite recently.

My brother was an excellent journalist and a good writer. He also drank himself to death at the age of 46. Before he departed this life in 1992, he fathered (that we know of) two sons out of wedlock and two sons and a daughter in wedlock. He step-fathered and abandoned two sons by one marriage and one son by another marriage. So, the Zumwalt name continued in two of seven sons. Doubtless, some of his nascent gifts were passed along both by nature and by nurture, but he was, in all of his raging alcoholism, a bad father and a worse husband, boyfriend, and lover. Yet, he was so charming in his earlier years, that several of the women he had abandoned actually showed up at his funeral to grieve. Go figure.

My brother was possessed by many spirits throughout his earthly life but not the Holy Spirit. He was a selfish man, whose desires ruled over his life. There were moments when, as an aging man, he so wanted to be good and godly. He did take a stepson and three legitimate children to the Roman Catholic church to be baptized and even to go to mass. In those times, the Holy Spirit was calling him out of himself, yes, to die to himself and to follow Jesus in a life of humble service. But the desires of the flesh always won out. In the last year of his life, when he was dying from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Norman didn’t drink. But he didn’t have to, because he was given opioids in hospice care. His drug of choice had been crystal meth back in the 60s, and so he avoided jail and an earlier death by drinking himself to death slowly.

Like all the oldest baby boomers born in 1945, Norman would have turned 74 this year. Many of his cohort changed the world all right but not for the better. They were captive to the zeitgeist that took over institutions of (so-called) higher learning and left an indelible mark on western culture through music, art, politics, and the destruction of the best institutions bequeathed to them by the previous generations. One wag said it will take 100 years to undo the damage. Of course, Roe v. Wade has already come back to haunt them, because there are 60 million fewer Americans to provide support for the baby boomers in their old age. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

As Paul the apostle parses the meaning of freedom for a world that largely did not (and still does not) understand, he lays out clearly that one will always demonstrate by which Spirit one is led. There is the Holy Spirit, whose fruits are evident. There is more commonly the zeitgeist, whose influence shouts loud its unholy etiology.

Norman’s birthday was 10/25. Would that he had heeded the call of Hebrews 10:25, “…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

By which Spirit will your life be guided, however imperfectly? Do not neglect to gather at the Lord’s Table to receive His true Body and most precious Blood with empty hands.

And, if you know the zeitgeist isn’t working for you anymore, then, if you find yourself in Wilmington, North Carolina, show up for worship at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. The Holy Spirit, and not the zeitgeist, will call, gather, enlighten, and even sanctify you through the Good News of Jesus Christ, read, preached, and enacted.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 44 years and in May 2020 celebrated the 39th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.