Old Joe lived out in the country and had a neighbor who’d been a close friend all his life. As their children grew older and moved away and spouses died, the two men relied on each other. All they had were their farms and their friendship. But one day, they had an argument — a silly one over a stray calf. The calf was found on Joe’s friend’s land and he had claimed it as his own. But Joe insisted that since it had the same markings as his own cow, it belonged to him.
Being stubborn men and full of pride, the two men stopped speaking to each other. A dark cloud had moved over their friendship and, even though they truly missed one another, neither was willing to give in. Months passed.
One morning there was a knock on Joe’s door. There stood a young man with a bag of tools. “Sir, I’m in need of work — is there anything I can do to help around your lovely farm?”
Joe couldn’t help but notice the new creek that his neighbor had dug along their property line the week before — just one more thorn in his side. “See that crick over yonder? My neighbor plowed that furrow and flooded it last week just to irritate me since he stole my calf. Tell you what. I’ll pay you to go out there and build me a fence — a big one — right along my side of that crick. I don’t want to lay eyes on my neighbor or his property anymore!”
So, the young carpenter set to work.
Joe had to go into town that day, but when he returned he was pleased to see that his new help had actually finished the job. He pulled up the truck. His eyes went wide and his mouth fell open . . . because there wasn’t a fence there at all. Instead, it was a bridge, going from one side of the creek to the other! It had handrails and all. And to Joe’s surprise, there was his neighbor, crossing the bridge with tear starting down his cheek and his hand stretched out. “Joe, you’re quite a fellow to build this bridge. I’d never been able to do that. I’m so glad we’re going to be friends again!”
Joe put his arms around his neighbor and said, “Well, maybe that calf is yours after all. I don’t know. But I’m glad we’re talking again!”
The young man put his tools in his bag, hoisted it up onto his shoulder, and started to walk away. Joe said, “Wait, come back here. I got lots of projects for you if you’d like to stay on.” The handyman just smiled and said, “I’d like to stay, Joe, but I can’t. I got more bridges to build.”
I heard that story years ago and always thought of it as a simple story about encouraging bridge building in our relationships, our work, and our world — that bridge-building is at the heart of who we are called to be as Christians.
But I’ve been thinking about spirit and the Holy Spirit and this idea that it’s a thing, right? That some people got it and some people don’t. Or that there’s something you have to do or ask or believe to get it. Or that it’s just a strange religious practice that some churches do and others don’t.
It seems to me that if reconciliation and redemption are at the heart of God’s being in the world, then maybe Spirit is more than a thing we name and get. Maybe Spirit is a way of being in a relationship with the world, a difficult way at times, but one which we practice and participate in daily, even moment by moment.
One of my favorite theologians and philosophers, Martin Buber, once wrote, “Our relationships live in the place between us, and that place between is sacred.”
This Sunday, in eleven:eleven I want to think with you some more about the Holy Spirit. Is it a thing, or no thing, or something else entirely? And I want to talk more with you about our upcoming move June 10. And speaking of spirit, I hope you’re as enthused about it as I am!
Sunday, May 27, in eleven:eleven
“spooky relations and delightful spirits”
rev. tom mcdermott
with vocalist lisa stoval back with us, brad thompson, the revolution band
and the music of paul simon, beth wood, and broken bells!
See you Sunday!
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven