Spirit Nudgings

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, July 24, 2016

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

I am going to try something a little different in the sermon this morning. I will invite you into a conversation, as we consider this passage from Galatians. It’s one of my favourite biblical passages: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control. It’s a tall order for us to live by, but if we can keep these 9 fruits of the Spirit always in the back of our consciences, we will do well.

The converse of these fruits is what Paul calls desires of the flesh. This passage has been used to pit the body against the spirit, but that’s not what Paul if after. Rather, he uses the term “flesh” as shorthand for self-centered living.[1] Human desires for food, sexual intimacy, companionship, work promotions are not bad—they’re God-given gifts. Where we get into trouble is when we indulge them to an excess. Usually this means that we’re more focused on ourselves than on others.

In contrast, Paul tells us that we have been set free for loving service that benefits others. We have a helper in this challenging calling. The Holy Spirit nudges our conscience and gives us courage and strength to step forward. That’s why these 9 traits are called the fruit of the Spirit.

I’m going to tell you a couple of stories about how people have lived out these fruits of the Spirit under difficult circumstances. As I tell you these stories, one of your own stories might come to mind. It may be your own experience or one that you’ve heard about. I invite you to consider briefly telling the rest of us this story right after mine.

There was a parishioner in a church (not this one) who said something in a huff that deeply hurt the feelings of another parishioner. The Spirit began to nudge him all week about this and he knew that he couldn’t brush it aside. And so, the next Sunday, he arrived early and waited outside for the other parishioner to arrive. When she did, he immediately offered an apology and she was able to accept it. Together, they walked inside, both relieved to find healing and a friendship that has lasted to this day.[i]

Two weeks ago, I found myself in an unusual position as an observer of a street altercation. I was mowing our lawn and heard yelling in the middle of the street. I looked up and saw a man fighting three young women. I dropped the mower and walked towards them, wondering how I could de-escalate the situation. My immediate reaction was sympathy for the women, but as I walked closer, I realized that the man was a neighbour I trust. In that moment, the three women suddenly walked away from the man towards me, laughing. I felt unsafe, but then felt a strong prodding to offer them my initial feelings of sympathy. I believe that the Spirit was nudging me into this reaction because it certainly wasn’t what I wanted to do. And so, I asked them if they were ok. One of them said how she had been hit. I then asked them with concern, “What happened?” They each began to mutter and then continued walking away. I later found out that they had stolen the man’s cell phone and he was struggling with them to get it back.

I learned something valuable in that incident. If I had responded with forceful directives, telling them to stop or leave, I would have escalated the situation, perhaps placing both myself and the man in greater danger. But a response of concern and compassion for those for whom I wasn’t feeling too compassionate immediately brought their emotional intensity down. I was amazed and can only credit this to the Spirit’s wisdom and nudgings.

Have any of you experienced the Spirit nudging you to do something?

Stan McKay believes that children are more susceptible to Spirit nudgings than adults, whether that be through dreams, visions or feelings. They haven’t yet built up defensive blocks; they’re more open to live and love. I saw an incredible demonstration of this on a youtube last week about a young Portuguese boy celebrating his country’s astounding win over France in the Eurocup when he saw one of the French soccer players racked in sobs. The little boy went over to him and touched his hand. When the player looked up, he was confused at first, but the boy kept talking to him. The player kissed the top of his head and walked away, but still the boy kept talking. This time, the player turned around and gave the boy a big hug while the boy patted him on the back. The player then walked away with his head help up. Not until the boy was sure that the player had gone did he then unfurl his own Portuguese flag and continue to celebrate.

(last chance for any other stories that have come to mind)

Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church was damaged through arson a couple of weeks ago. One of our congregants asked me if we could send them a message, so I emailed the church and said that we had just offered prayers in that Sunday’s service for them. I received a response back from the priest, Fr. Gene, who wrote: “May the Lord bless you and your compassionate congregation.  Please continue to pray that God guide our every step as we move forward.” I’m glad that our congregant listened to the Spirit nudgings.

The Spirit is continually calling us to compassion. As one commentator says, the Spirit calls us “to put up with the sandpaper of [other’s] wearisome ways against the rough edges of our own unholiness.”[2]

[1] Robert A. Bryant, “Exegetical Perspective: Galatians 5:1, 13-25,” Feasting on the Word, ed. by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, Vol. 3, 187.

[2] Carol E. Holtz-Martin, “Homiletical Perspective: Galatians 5:1,13-25,” Feasting on the Word, ed. by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, Vol. 3, 189.