Fresh Oil

Today it is still Ascensiontide on the liturgical calendar, the day before Pentecost. Christians are remembering that period of waiting for the spiritual power Jesus promised would come upon about 120 persons, including the twelve disciples. During these few days, Judas was replaced with Matthias to complete the symbolic number for a new Israel, a community gathered to continue Jesus’ mission on Earth. It is a time of waiting, like the longer season of Advent.This waiting is not passive or private, like waiting in line to board a train. or buy groceries. It involves a clear focus, attentive prayer and community.

Yesterday I had an edifying experience preparing to conduct an Ascensiontide healing service. My mind was overflowing with sermon themes and illustrations. I felt like a guest at a banquet of rich ideas. I made three outlines; and each seemed suitable for the occasion. I thought, ” The Lord must be inspiring me with pre-Pentecostal fire!”  Yet, which was the right topic? I prayed the Lord would show me the right choice knowing the leftovers could be part of the overflow just for the preacher. The calling to represent Christ in any capacity often also blesses those who serve.

Then I noticed the oil stock to be used for anointing the sick. It surely needed refreshing. The brass was tarnished and dirty. The oil soaked cotton inside was hardened and green. Gross! Why hadn’t I noticed? It embarrasses me that I can’t remember when I last cleaned it. Of course the oil is a sacramental object the Lord would use to bring healing grace, however rancid the blessed contents, or negligent the vintage priest. I polished the brass to a velvety shine, and sniffed the myrrh laced olive oil soaking into fresh cotton. Careful preparation seemed to me a good part of spiritual waiting,  just as baking fresh bread and setting the table is a hidden but normal part of a fine feast.

Later, at the scheduled worship service, it came time for scripture readings -all about waiting in prayerful community for the promise of God, framed with Psalms of praise and expectation. Then came the time for the sermon. The discourse turned out to be entirely other than the three topics I had prepared. It was an impromptu  response to the concerns of a fellow worshipper at the service. The other ideas from just  hours before were no longer relevant. “New occasions teach new duties,” as the hymn puts it.

And then, as I consecrated the fresh healing unction with prayer, a thought came bubbling into my consciousness. It seemed like a burst of light. There were no sounds, still unmistakably, a communication from the Lord. I can try putting the message into words: “It isn’t the sacramental oil that needs most to be refreshed, or the familiar teachings rephrased. You need to be filled with fresh oil, a new anointing of the Spirit. Empty yourself of old habits, memories and expectations. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. This anointing will be for a new day and more effective work.” The words FRESH OIL flashed like neon on a dark street, urgent and inviting.

I share this personal experience from yesterday, because there may be some faithful person who will also sense God is speaking. If so, empty the old stuff, find some fresh oil, wait on the Lord, and ask that you may receive the Lord’s promise afresh. Then receive a new anointing of the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and giver of life. There is always more!

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Starting on Pentecost, May 15, I will begin a new series of posts entitled “PRAYING IN 3D” Deepening and maturing in Christian prayer is always the work of God the Spirit.

   “Come Holy Spirit by whose breath
life rises vibrant out of death.

Come to create, renew. inspire;
            come kindle in our hearts your fire”