Last week I was commanded by the Holy Spirit to share a word with someone. I knew through every fiber of my being that a book I was reading was speaking to me and to another but I knew not how to cross the river to get the word to them. In fact, on one level I tried to convince myself that God must be wrong in suggesting that it was I who was to try to reach them or had anything to say to them that they could hear. I had a little debate with God, actually, pushing back not as severely as Job has been doing in the readings this week, but pushing back nonetheless.
In the end, I did try to reach the person to no avail. And I’ve been sitting with this for over a week. Why would the Spirit encourage me to do something I knew couldn’t and wouldn’t be received?
What happens when we know the Spirit is commanding us to do something, to say something, to reach out to someone and we have no way of doing so? What are we to do with the whispers we receive from the Spirit that encourage us to encourage others if they can’t be found?
The readings from Acts this past week illustrated the dilemma, in part. Paul, Barnabas, Timothy – all of them traveling throughout the land of the Gentiles to share the good news at the behest of the Holy Spirit; speaking to people who, as today’s Psalm 61 describes, had not been “given…the heritage of those who feared God’s name”, some willing to listen, many not.
In the Acts passage I hear the Spirit saying that it is not enough to have the good news to share. It is not enough to seek the lost sheep, at least in terms of word getting to them – the Word, or others. Those sought have to want to be found. As here, in Paul’s vision, not until he saw the man from Macedonia inviting him was he able to cross over and share the word.
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We are all sought. From the beginning God seeks us all. But until we make it known we want to be found, the Word doesn’t have much chance of landing, or being heard or understood or relevant, let alone transforming.
In today’s story the Word is not shared with some. Even though at Pentecost the Spirit had commanded the good news be spread and the church was increasing in numbers daily as a result, that command was trumped by the second command to go only where invited. The Word could be shared only if no barrier to entry was erected, if the people desired to be found.
Barriers to entry. That is the lingering and lasting whisper from the Spirit today. We erect them to protect ourselves, our worlds, our borders, our beings, our marketplaces, our endeavors, our nations, our churches, and our hearts.
Barriers to entry are just that – barriers – with no breathing room for the Spirit. It may feel like a safe place for the time being. But the Spirit isn’t about barriers and in time – in God’s time – they will be broken, the Spirit will get access, the person will be found, the Word, or the words, delivered.