Monday, November 15, 2021

Sermon: How to Provoke One Another (Hebrews 10:24)

preached Nov 14, 2021 in Ljubljana, Slovenia  

Photo by Digital Editz
Photo from Digital Editz

Sisters and brothers in Christ, as we just discussed in today’s conversation with our children, we find ourselves in a liminal space—between remembering and honoring those who have gone before us and anticipating and getting ourselves ready for a future that is free from heartbreak, hatred, and oppression. The themes that run throughout this and next week’s lectionary texts are a longing for a divine intervention that turns the world upside down, a questioning of when these things will finally happen, a defiant proclamation that Christ is the king of this kingdom that is at hand, and a discussion of the significance of Christ’s sacrifice and how to be prepared for the days that will come.

There are many ways to approach scriptural study, and one method that some Christian mystics use is called Lectio Divina. Instead of examining the passages with an semi-emotionally detached academic approach, those using Lectio Divina read and meditate on a passage, paying attention to what words or phrases resonate with them and pondering what insights can be gained from wrestling with what bubbles up. When I tried the exercise this time around, what stood out to me were the last lines of the Hebrews reading: Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. How to Provoke One Another. Now there’s a good sermon title. 

Most of us here aren’t entirely comfortable with provoking other people. The word has rather negative connotations—like internet trolls who enjoy provoking arguments. Bible translators have searched for alternative words in English. They’ve tried using to spur, to stir up, to rouse, to stimulate, to encourage, to motivate, but to provoke seems to be the nearest word we have to the original Greek. Provoking one another to love and good deeds involves an element of risk, asking to step out of our comfort zones, knowing that tensions and conflict could arise. Love that stretches beyond society’s expectations of us—that involves taking concrete actions—is by its very nature controversial. It breaks boundaries, it discomforts the comfortable, and it makes our tidy well-enclosed social lives messy. And complicated. Anyone who claims that following Christ will make one’s personal and financial problems disappear is either a con-artist or has been duped one.

I was re-reminded of God’s mischievous love of provocation recently when a seminary asked to teach an online evangelism course next semester. Welp, that’s one way to spur me to binge read on a topic I often find discomforting. There too in all those books I’ve been reading is that same question, asked in a myriad of ways: How precisely are we to share the Good News of Christ’s love and atonement? How do we, as a congregation, stir up one another to fully walk our talk? Such things are easier said than done, and yet, if we don’t earnestly make the effort, then what exactly are we doing here? 

Are we simply going through the motions of a familiar ritual because we find catharsis in it, or do we truly believe that there is more to reality than what modern science has found a way to detect and measure? Do we believe that there is an omnipotent omnipresent sentient entity that is beyond our limited comprehension—so we anglophones simply call it God—and that God cares so deeply about humanity, yearns so desperately to be in relationship with us, that approximately 2,000 years ago God reached out through a divine messenger to tell a young unwed woman from an oppressed working-class family living in a village under colonial occupation that God saw her and had chosen her and her cousin Elizabeth to miraculously conceive, give birth to, and raise up sons, one who would herald the arrival of the anointed one and one who would inherit the throne of David and be known as the Son of God? Do we affirm that these women enthusiastically consented to this conspiracy to make God’s kingdom manifest here on Earth? Do we believe that the man whose birthday we celebrate next month is worthy to be called Christ the King? That through his humble birth, life, teachings, and self-sacrificial death the world was turned upside down? That salvation and citizenship in the Kingdom of God is not just about what happens when we die, but about who we are, the values we live by, and whose we are today and every day? In the depths of our hearts, do we believe all this to be true?

Sisters and brothers, if the answer is “Yes,” then what more is needed to be provoked into full-time discipleship and sharing with others what following Christ has done to not just heal but transform us? And, if the answer is “No” or “I’m not sure,” then let us be a safe place to talk about that too, because if we don’t have the grace and courage to be open and vulnerable with each other in this little community of ours, how can we expect to be able to have these conversations with our neighbors, relatives, or colleagues? 

And, no, I’m not talking about wearing “I Love Jesus” shirts at the office or knocking on neighbors’ doors asking them if they’ve been born again. What I am suggesting isn’t about that sort of thing. What I would like to encourage, motivate, or rouse us all to do today and every day is to live a more integrated and liberated life. That person we are in those moments when we allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, overflowing with gratitude to God and unconditional love for all humanity—let us not confine them inside the walls of a church or to only our solitary time but introduce everyone we know and meet to that person because that person has life-changing power flowing through them. That person—we—can be the catalyst that transforms lives and—who knows?—even nations when we allow Christ to work through us.

The words of Apostle Paul:

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6 –New Living Translation


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