Provoke One Another

(Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Ps 113; Mark 13:1-8) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Nov 18, 2018 – St. Paul’s United – Maitland Bridge, Zion United – Liverpool

Driving across this part of the province today I easily think back to childhood, and my mother driving us three kids along the number 10 highway on a summer’s day, to Grampie’s cottage on Zwicker Lake.  It was only a 25 minute trip, but every time Mom had to pull the car over and stop, part way, to break up a fight and calm us down.  

What is it about kids that we loved to provoke one another?  Especially when excited, on the way to a special destination.  My brother and sister and I were good at bugging each other. We’re better behaved now!

The opposite of this is possible.  We can provoke someone to love and good deeds, as Hebrews 10:24 says.  Sometimes this is translated in to English, spur one another on.  Moment by moment we have the choice, to help prompt someone to do good, or ill.

I’ve been wondering about this, and the ways we get better at helping those we meet do well.  Help others do better. For instance, we spur one another on when we believe in them.  When we are on someone’s side, we naturally encourage.  

In today’s chapter from Hebrews, the writer speaks at length about how Jesus’ actions reconnect humans with God. 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. We have this New Testament teaching, over and over, that what’s good about Jesus is given to people.  What’s right about Christ is shared with us. What’s holy about the Son gets infused into us.

In so many ways, the New Testament proclaims that we people are accepted by God, loved by God, believed in by God.  God’s on our side. Shall we see others around us with the same vision?

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through your attitude: ‘You are beautiful.  You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’

We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”  (Shane Claiborne, et al, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 2010, p. 58)

Pay attention to how the Creator truly believes in people.  And be of the same mind.

We spur one another on when we ‘remember’ their sins and deeds no more.

The author of Hebrews tells us the Holy Spirit said, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (H 10:17)  Can we be like this? What do we remember about someone, if it is not their faults and failures?

A large Canadian survey of young adults who left church – or stayed in churches – gives quite a few personal examples.  Examples of the spiritual experience of the oncoming generations. Here are some quotations. (Penner et al, Hemorrhaging Faith, 2011, p. 65)

“Now that I’ve left church I don’t feel that burden of guilt every time I slip up and make mistakes.” Anna

“There was no specific negative experience, I guess, but it was just the feeling – that feeling all the time of never being good enough.”  Carol

“All these demands were made of me, of what I needed to do and how I needed to perform, and I said, ‘Forget it!’” Sandy

On the other hand, when someone experiences accepting forgiveness, there’s great power & healing.

In the midst of the brokenness and the things that were happening, God put people into my life to speak words of truth, and restoration, & healing.”  Jasmine

“That’s what I like, there was no judgment on us in our situation thought they knew that (my girlfriend) hasn’t known God for as long, but we still wanted to get married when we had the means and I never felt any judgement from them because of that.  And that’s why I really appreciate this church.” Samuel (p. 54)

We spur one another on when we approach God with confidence and hold fast to our hope.  When we are spiritually grounded.  Hebrews 10:23 says Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

I know I can give more when I am not trying to get.  When I am not so needy. When I am resting in God, and trusting the life I have been given.  

All our church language at this time of year about the Kingdom of God points to the bigger picture.  The reality that goodness and grace are big in this life, and don’t depend upon me. Jesus’ words in Mark 13 are pointing, with a future look, to the end of everything wrong and the realm of everything right.  

Sister M. T. Winter wrote this lyric 30 years ago:

O for a world preparing for
God’s glorious reign of peace,
where time and tears will be no more,
and all but love will cease.

There is a confidence we can have, in the kingdom of peace to which we march together.

We spur one another on when we believe in our mission to them.  This mission to encourage others, to provoke them to love and to do good deeds.  Is your calling in life to be a person who builds others up, instead of tearing them down?  For there is so much tearing down of others in our world today. Life is hard enough without attacking our neighbours.

Twenty five years ago, when I was at college, and Carol Smith was at college, there was an Amy Grant song popular at big youth events in the Annapolis Valley.  The clear honesty of the song rang true.

We believe in God And we all need Jesus
‘Cause life is hard And it might not get easier
But don’t be afraid
To know who you are
Don’t be afraid to show it

The twenty-year olds who sang it thought they knew then that Life is hard, and it might not get easier. Since then, we have learned more about this.

So I can believe in the simple mission, the purpose in my life, to encourage other people.  To build them up. To spur them on to love and good deeds. Back when I headed off to be trained as a minister, a retired pastor, wise and very down-to- earth, told me, “You will need to encourage church people.”  He saw it; he knew it; he was right.

It takes some attention and work on our part to be positive, not negative.  As it says in Hebrews 10: 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…  Consider how to do this. Take time to review how you are spurring people on for good, how you are encouraging others.

Of course, we spur one another on when we spend time together.  When we are humanly connected.  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...  

A preacher like me could easily take this verse and harp on about coming to services on Sundays.  “Don’t neglect to meet together!” 🙂 But I must admit it’s not necessarily about that. In the midst of all this ‘encouraging one another’ stuff, it is a matter of meeting together in every way.  Our one-on-one relationships are part of being church and our mission.

The church is wherever God’s people are helping,
caring for neighbours in sickness and need.  

Even our thank-you cards, little notes, and emails of substance, are part of our connection and building one another up. Consider the ways you meet others.

Let me end by quoting a note sent by a wonderful woman in my congregation a few years ago, who has since died.  Maureen. She had a way with words on paper, and many of the notes she gave, to many people, have been kept, I’m sure. Such as this one, sent to a couple other people in the congregation, one of whom was in the midst of cancer treatments.

Dear ____ & ____,

It was so good to see you in church yesterday, although I didn’t quite make it across the “crowded room” to speak with you.  But I’ve been Thinking of you ever since… praying that God’s love and will may guide you in peace.
In friendship —
Maureen

And then she wrote out in the card, at length, a prayer by John Henry Newman.  Here is part:
God has created me to do him some definite service… I have my mission; I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next… Therefore I will trust him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
…He may take away my friends, he may throw me among strangers, he may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me — still he knows what he is about.

Let’s you and me also know what God is about, and always speak the encouraging word.  

In Between Time

(1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37) J G White
1st Sunday of Advent, Dec 3, 2017, UBC Digby

It’s that time of year – time for me to get my gifts in order to send in the mail. So the annual family calendar is put together, with photos of family members and my own photos of scenery and birds from the year that is past.  Fifteen or twenty family and friends will get my calendar again this year.

Now, every Christmas gift that arrives at my door I like to keep wrapped up until December 25th, or later.  I don’t want to open anything early.  I like to have as many surprises as possible at Christmas. Do you?

Not everyone is like this.  My Aunt Jeannie, for instance. She is famous in the family for opening things early. Each year, when I drop off the calendar to her ahead of time – wrapped in Christmas paper – she soon would have it opened.  On Dec. 10th I read on facebook a note from Jeannie: “Thanks for the calendar, Jeff & Sharon.”  

Last year I decided to play at trick on Aunt Jeannie.  I wrapped up a pile of scrap paper as if it was the calendar, and that’s what I gave her before Christmas.  Only after the 25th did I drop off the real gift – the calendar.  

Wanting to sneak in and open the gifts… or wanting to save the surprise!  This is Advent. We are in tension: an in between time.  We start, today, preparing for the arrival of Jesus the Saviour.  We also know the whole story, and we have already started to decorate and have parties and sing the carols.  It was not always this way in history.

Friday evening we sang The Twelve Day of Christmas.  British hymnologist, Andrew Gant, suggests that
something of the generous spirit of the twelve-day holiday survives in this sprightly carol, even if nowadays we do Christmas in the wrong order.  We put our decorations up and file dutifully into our carol services during Advent, or even earlier.  Christmas effectively ends, rather than begins, on December 25th.   

Advent, for the Church, is billed as a season of preparation for the real celebrations.  Advent is also about the second advent of the Messiah, the second coming.

It has been many centuries now for Christians to be an in between people.  In between the arrival of Jesus born Bethlehem, and the second arrival, His future return.  For almost two millenia now the saints have waited.  

We remember the death of Jesus today, with shared bread and fruit of the vine.  I so often, at the table, quote the words of the Apostle Paul from scripture.  For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Until Jesus comes back.  

That’s what our two scripture readings are all about this morning.  Words of Paul from that same letter; words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel, his little apocalypse, chapter 13.

We are between advents.  We are  between things being hidden and things being revealed.  We are between guilt and total forgiveness.  We know about Jesus’ first arrival. We don’t know as much about the second.  There are quite a few approaches to the Second Coming of Christ, the Day of the Lord, the Apocalypse, the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Second Advent, the Rapture, etc.  As many names as the Bible experts have for it, there are as many theories about how it will happen.  

Many Christians are quite keen on there being a real date in the future – maybe the near future – when Jesus will come back and we’ll go up.

Other believers are not quite expecting a literal moment in the future when this happens, but rather look for Jesus’ return to break into history at many times and places all through the present and the future.  

Some of the faithful have the idea that the Kingdom of God is growing or being built now, and all the words about the return of Jesus are being realized bit by bit.  

And maybe some of Jesus’ present day disciples think of His return being very close all the time, but never really quite happening; it will always be in the future.

So we are a people in between all these theories about the second Advent of Christ.  Somehow, it is to be my proclamation to you that God is faithful, no matter what all these Bible promises mean. As Paul wrote: you are not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end.  God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is the God of the in between times.  All the in between times of life, I’m sure.  And that’s good news.  For being stuck in the middle of where we were and where we want to be is often uncomfortable and hard.  

I’ve reflected on this when I remember the different people I have met this week who are in between – between one part of life and another.  And I have seen so many others in similar situations.  God has got to be there, in the long times of waiting.    

I think of people I have seen this week who are like so many others.  People between having faith in Christ and having no commitment.  I remember back to a dear church friend in another town. I’ll call her Beth.  She and her husband grew up in the same downtown Baptist Church.   They married and settled in a different town – both serving as busy volunteers, taking turns as deacon, trustee, small group leader, all that.  But regularly, in prayer times, Beth would have us pray for her father, a man who had never become a churchgoer, never made a commitment to Jesus Christ, as all the women in Beth’s family had done.   

How many people are in between – between faith and no faith, joining a spiritual path and not joining?  They remain in the hopes and prayers of you, their loved ones.

This week I have also thought of people who have been hanging in that place in between life and death.  For Sharon and I got called in to visit with an elderly woman in palliative care, and her family.  Like others I’ve known, the tiny body, under the covers, is quietly carrying on.  After ten days of no food or water, her heart is still beating, lungs still breathing.  Her mind, ravaged by alzheimer’s, is quiet under the morphine, but perhaps still aware of loved ones in the room, hearing their voices, feeling the touch of their hands, hour by hour.  It is a long wait, that in between time.  

The in between of life and death comes in many other forms, and in it all, the God of in betweens is there.  It is a special time, a hard time, a sacred time.  Jesus on the cross is God in between life and death. Remember God there.

And this week I have been aware again of the many in between people who are between home and home.  The  refugees in our world.  I think Christmas will now always make me think of refugees, for it was two years ago on Decemeber 22 that Syrians Rema and Shekrallah Kenaan and their six children arrived in Digby from Lebanon.

I think of the transient people I have met in my towns, people who came for a while but did not get to stay.  Like that thin young man in dark clothing who sat in a back pew one summer Sunday.  He thought we were so fearful.  These in between people have a life, and often rely upon the grace and goodness of us who are settled, but often too scared and skeptical to help.  What does the God of in between times do in the lives of people who are so often between home and home?  Remember Mary and Joseph and their little baby, fleeing to Egypt for a while, when Herod the ruler was having children executed.  God knows.

And I see every week people who are doing their best at buying and selling their home – trying to make a move.  Sometimes the waiting is long and confusing.  Sometimes the deal is messy.  Sometimes the move comes quickly and smoothly.  Some of you are in this in between chapter.  God is the God of these in between times, the in between people.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  So said Jesus about His Day.  So His Spirit might say to us in our in between times.  

We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only the end of time, as we know it; the end of the situation we are in now.  Look at how the Divine One is appearing in between, now.  This is our Hope.  AMEN.