The Uninvited Spirit

A sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017 at St. John Lutheran Church in Alma, Wisconsin.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is Pentecost, the third great festival of the church year, along with Christmas and Easter.  But many people have not heard of it, and most of us don’t remember Pentecost being talked about a lot in our growing-up churches.

So what is this festival all about?  Back in the book of Genesis, chapter 11, you can read of a time when all the people had one common language. In other words, they could speak and listen and understand one another. Maybe not agree, but at least understand.

But then humans took that gift of common language and twisted it to work for their own gain. They decided to build a tower reaching up to heaven, so they could make a name for themselves. God acted to foil their self-aggrandizing plans by confusing their languages so they could no longer speak and listen and understand one another.

There is a sense in which we can think of Pentecost as a “reversal” of Babel.  One language became many, many languages shared one message.  But it’s also a reversal of focus.  The people in Old Testament times were motivated by their own status and reputation. But the wind and fire of Pentecost stirred the people up with a different kind of ambition:  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages about God’s deeds of power.

Pentecost is not just a “back then” occasion.  Every day, the Spirit gives to each of you gifts to be used to tell God’s story.  To some of you, the Spirit gives the gift of teaching, to others the gift of encouraging and comforting others, to others the gift of “telling it like it is” and speaking up about things that are unjust.  To some of you, the Spirit gives the gift of organizing people to get a big job done, to others the gift of study and knowledge, to still others the gift of remembering others in prayer.

To some of you, the Spirit has given the gift of being mothers or fathers or caregivers, nurturing the faith of your children and grandchildren by praying with them, teaching them the stories of God’s deeds of power and love, bringing them to worship every single week, even when they don’t want to get out of bed or would rather stay home.  And even when it seems that you and your children are speaking different languages – which may be most of the time – the Spirit gives you the unity that you could never create for yourself.

Whatever gifts the Spirit has given you, specifically you, they are to be used to continue telling and showing the story of God’s love and care for us as God’s children.  Now I could stand here and tell you to go out from here and continue to tell and show God’s love;  but I don’t need to do that.  You see, the Spirit has already taken care of that. The arrival of the Holy Spirit is a disruptive event in our lives – when we are touched by the Holy Spirit, nothing is ever the same for us.  Even if you’re not looking for it, the Spirit will come into your life, uninvited, and will put people in your path, people who need a word of hope, of encouragement, a word that tells them that God will never let go of them, no matter how far away they may feel.  The Spirit will put those people in your path at the bank, or the coffee shop, or the local pub.  And when you bump into these people, the Spirit will put words in your mouth, just as the Spirit put words in the mouths of the early disciples.  It may be a simple “I’ll pray for you” to someone who is struggling; it may be an invitation to have a cup of coffee and some conversation to someone who just needs to talk; it may be a compliment on playing a good baseball game or growing beautiful flowers to someone who doesn’t think they’re worth much.

In just a few minutes, we will be reminded again of the our unity in the Spirit.  As we gather around one table, as we share the one bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord, as we receive forgiveness and new life at the Lord’s table, we know that we are united with Christians of every time and place.  And as we leave the table and go to our homes, our schools, our work, our communities, we are united in our commitment to let our words and our actions share the news of God’s love to a world that needs what we have been given.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Book Review and Giveaway: Bible Sisters

Bible Sisters is a collection of 365 daily devotions about women in tBible Sisters Coverhe Bible. The author is The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks. She is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching and the director of the Styberg Preaching Institute, both at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

I received two copies of the book from Abingdon Press, one to use in my review, and one to give away. Here’s how you can be part of the giveaway: Simply leave a comment on this review. While you’re commenting, I’d love it if you’d tell me who is your favorite woman in the Bible. (That’s not required to enter the drawing; I’d just be curious which women get mentioned.) You may leave your comment on my blog (fireopalpastor.com) or on this review on Facebook. Please leave your comments by 5PM (Central) on Thursday, May 25. I’ll randomly select one person to receive the book and contact you to get your mailing address.

There are about 250 women or groups of women represented in this book (some of the women are discussed on more than one day. You will find women who are likely familiar to you (Eve, Mary, Ruth, Naomi) along with quite a few women whose names may be unfamiliar (Meshullemeth, Euodia, Syntyche). Many of the women are not cited in Scripture by their names, so we meet them by their description (the wife of Jeroboam, the woman who married seven brothers). Each day’s devotional includes a scripture passage (usually one or two verses), a reflection on how this woman’s story might intersect with our lives, and a short prayer. Each page is titled with a day number (Day 1 through Day 365) rather than a specific date. The back of the book contains an index by scripture reference as well as an index by the women’s names.

As I sampled several of the daily devotionals, I found that the author’s reflections often took non-traditional approaches. Sometimes, she offered a counterpoint to our usual understanding. On Day 114, for instance, the reflection begins “Eve has been blamed often for the fall of humanity. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul wrote that it is through Adam that all die.” Sometimes, the author provides us with more information about who this woman is before offering a connection to our lives. There were times when this (Lutheran) reader was uncomfortable with the author’s language that seemed to describe God’s favor as being conditional, depending on our actions. Overall, a reader will find something in nearly every page that will inform you, inspire you, or challenge you.

Of course, you could use this book in the usual way, starting at Day 1 and reading one page each day for a year. Since the pages are numbered, not dated, you don’t need to wait until January to begin. Additionally, you could use the indexes to pull together several days around a specific theme, to use in a Bible study. Or it could serve as a reference, allowing you to look up the passage(s) that speak of a particular woman. In any case, you will almost certainly want to keep your favorite Bible close at hand; with only one or two verses printed on each page of Bible Sisters, you often won’t know the whole story of that woman. You may want to look up the quoted verse in your Bible, and then explore the passages before and after to set the verse in context.

Finally, I have a couple of observations about the physical book itself. The book’s compact size makes it easy to keep on a nightstand or end table, or even to tuck into a purse or bag. That same compact size, however, limits the nuance that can be included in each devotion and occasionally results in an oversimplified reading. The type face used in the printed book is just small enough to be troublesome for readers whose eyesight is failing. And somewhat more problematic is that the Bible verses are printed in even smaller type on a gray shaded background, leading to even less legibility. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the sample pages from the eBook version. While the size of the font can be adjusted, the gray shading behind the Bible verses may still present a problem for some readers (another reason to keep your favorite Bible nearby when using this book).

A final reminder: if you would like to be included in the drawing for the Bible Sisters giveaway, leave a comment on this review before 5PM (Central) on Thursday, May 25. I will contact the winner on Friday morning.

The Khaleesi Chronicles – Slow Progress

It has been a little more than a month since Khaleesi came to live with us. Because of her background, she is not following a typical path of settling in. The first two years of her life were spent in a setting where she had little or no interaction with humans, but was in the company of 40+ cats. When she finally met humans, she was being stuffed into a carrier, poked with needles, given medications – nothing that gave her any reason to trust humans or seek us out.

storage boxes furniture

Mostly, she still makes her home in the basement, among the furniture and moving boxes. She has explored the tunnels and passages from one end of the space to the other. She comes upstairs a few times a day for food and water, carefully choosing times when the rest of us are either asleep or gone. If she encounters Russell or Sadie, she stands her ground and has a loud and enthusiastic discussion with them. If she encounters me, she heads for a hiding place.

So we wait. We let Khaleesi set her own pace, get comfortable an inch at a time. I’ll look forward to the time when she is comfortable being in the same room with the rest of us. And I think it will happen. I just don’t know when.

 

The Khaleesi Chronicles – Finding Her Place

It’s been a few days since the last update on Khaleesi. She is still setting her own pace in settling into the rhythms of our household. She has the run of the house now; and she has discovered the basement, which provides lots of hiding places for a small cat among the furniture and boxes that are stored there.

Khaleesi still is far more comfortable with Sadie (the dog) and Russell (the resident cat) than she is with any humans, including me. That’s probably because the first two years of her life were spent in a house with numerous other cats and only one human who was unable to pay attention to the number of animals in the house. The other humans she has encountered were capturing her to go in a carrier, give her meds, or clean out her ears. So humans are a foreign species to her, and she has no reason to trust us. One of the “cat experts” at the shelter said that it could be up to a year before she is totally comfortable around people.

She seems to have developed a routine of spending her days in the basement and coming out to explore the rest of the house when Russell, Sadie, and I are sleeping. Last night I left some treats on the basement stairs, and they were all gone this morning. Once in a while she tries to explore the second floor during the night; that’s when I am awakened by a hissing contest, with a barking dog in the role of cheerleader. Given her history, I’m not sure how eager Khaleesi will be to expand those frontiers; but as long as she’s pushing the limits (despite protests from the resident cat), I think things are going well.

You’ve seen several photos of Khaleesi; so today I’ll give you a glimpse of the other two actors in this drama. Sadie is an 8-year-old Lab/Beagle mix; and Russell is a dark gray 14-year-old cat. (The other cat in the photo is Liza, who died soon after we moved here.)

The Khaleesi Chronicles – Another Fail

In case there was any question about who is in charge, Khaleesi decided that she didn’t want to meet her new doctor today. Even in a not-so-big bedroom, there are a lot of places for a small cat to remain out of reach. Under the back corner of the dresser, under the very center of the  bed, both out of reach. And even if I could reach her, she has teeth and claws to emphasize her lack of interest in making a “road trip” today. This picture, taken while she was at the shelter, expresses her attitude perfectly.Khaleisi 3

So it was just three of us who visited Thompson Animal Care Center this afternoon. Sadie was so excited to ride in the car, she didn’t really care where we went. And she was all happy-dance when she met Dr. Gary. Russell, on the other hand, doesn’t like car rides; as usual, he expressed his opinion by using all of his bodily functions in the first ten minutes of the drive. So the staff had to practically give him a bath before anyone could look at him.

Both critters are doing just fine. We may try to reduce the dosage of some of the meds they take, to see how that goes. And as they settle into the routines of this new home, they will get even better. And some day, Khaleesi will consent to be picked up and put in her carrier. Then she too will get to meet our new vet.

The Khaleesi Chronicles – Field Trip Fail

Since she came home on Thursday, Khaleesi has been camping out in the bathroom. That has given her a measure of privacy from the resident cat, Russell, and the very enthusiastic dog, Sadie. It turns out, though, that she is more anxious about humans than about other animals. Because she had lived in a neglectful setting, with almost no human interaction, she was very skittish around me, but didn’t seem at all troubled by the other pets.

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Can you find Khaleesi? See that lump on the right side of the cushion? She’s under there.

This morning I discovered that Khaleesi had been exploring the bathroom. A washcloth had been pulled off the towel rack… right into her water dish. And she had opened the medicine cabinet and knocked a couple of bottles into the sink. I decided that she might need a little more space to play, so I planned a “field trip” into another room in the house. When I got home from church this morning, I was able to pick up her bed/cave, with Khaleesi tucked inside it, and took it into the bedroom. Sadie was eager to join the party; Russell preferred to nap in a sunny spot in the living room.

 

Russell was the smart one. For a while, Sadie and I watched Khaleesi; Sadie even stuck her entire head inside the opening, but was totally ignored. Remembering that she was active when the rest of us were sleeping, I decided to get in the bed. I read a book, I caught up on Facebook, I took a nap. Khaleesi never came out of her hiding place. From the time I brought her into the bedroom, the only movement she made was to squirm her way beneath the cushion that fits in the bed.

She will stay in a limited space tonight (bedroom or bathroom, I haven’t decided), mainly so that I can find her tomorrow when we have an appointment at the vet. After that, I think I’ll let her have access to the whole house, as much as she wants. And I’ll keep waiting for the day when she figures out that people aren’t so bad, after all.

The Khaleesi Chronicles – Getting Acquainted

20170415_092856Khaleesi came home from the Animal Shelter on Thursday, and hid in the far corner of her cat bed/cave for the first 24 hours.Scratch

On Friday, I visited her in her makeshift home several times. She allowed me to pet her, and perhaps I misjudged. I tried to pick her up. She let me know in no uncertain terms, with teeth and claws, that she was not ready to be friends just yet.

One of the things that surprised me is that neither Sadie nor Russell seemed to have any interest in the new creature who was living in the bathroom. That changed on Saturday morning. Russell especially was glued to the bathroom door, wanting to go in whenever I did. Finally I allowed him in, ready at any second to scoop him up and retreat. He poked around, didn’t come too close to Khaleesi, and then wandered out again, apparently not at all troubled that there was a new cat in the house.

I’m really hoping that their introductions continue to go well so I don’t have to keep Khaleesi confined in the bathroom. I’m eager for her to start to discover that life can be good, with good food, good cat and dog companions, and with a human companion who thinks she is very special.

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