Going Deeper 11/18/18

From our Epistle reading, Hebrews 10: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
One of my favorite people I have ever known was Bob Drysdale.  Bob was a teacher and coach for quite a few years at Wellington Junior High School.  He was our son Jason’s science teacher, and football and wrestling coach, and it was through that connection that I started coaching in Wellington a little over 20 years ago after Bob hired me as his assistant coach in both sports.  Then, when Bob was killed in a tragic car accident the day before school started in the fall of 1999, I was asked to step in and I’ve been coaching ever since.
Bob’s death left a great big hole in this community, and his influence on students, adults, and fellow teachers and coaches is still being felt 16+ years after his death.  There is an award given to the best teacher—as judged by the students, given annually at Wellington Middle School, and the District Championship trophy for wrestling is named after Bob.  And what do people so fondly remember about Bob?  His positive impact on their/our lives! What an awesome legacy!  
Our text encourages us to provoke one another.  Bob had a way of “provoking” others in very positive ways, a touch for inspiring people to move toward their potential.  That is a very important task, and Bob did it quite effectively.
That just might be another one of those truly important goals for God’s children, to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”  And in the context of our Christian faith, it can be a very challenging thing to do, especially if we want to do it right.
Last week I preached a “stewardship” sermon.  One of the best Bible texts on stewardship comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 9: Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  
Please note that Paul does not try to move them toward doing every good work by telling them what they have to do, and evidently he avoided the temptation to try to move people into action by pressure or guilt, lest their actions be done reluctantly or under compulsion.
What really strikes me as I study that text is that this process of ‘provoking’ ought to be done in a very organic way.  Let me explain what I mean by organic. The Encarta Dictionary gives this as a second definition for organic: occurring or developing gradually and naturally, without being forced or contrived.  We are to provoke one another to love and good deeds without forcing or contriving, and in a gradual and natural way.
This fits very well with these words of Jesus recorded in John 15: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Can’t get much more organic than that, can you? … fruit borne naturally on a branch connected to the vine.
This is ideally how it all works, how we are moved (or provoked) to grow in loving and in good works: by abiding in Jesus.  It is through a growing connection, a growing relationship with Christ, that we find ourselves inspired and empowered to live more fully as children of God.  As we experience his love, we grow more loving.  As we experience his grace, we become more gracious.  As our gratitude for grace—and for all of the other blessings in our lives—grows, we become more and more committed to bearing the fruit of good works.
I have often said (and perhaps too often): it’s not about going to church, it’s about being the Church.  We are the Church, the very body of Christ.  We are his presence in this broken world, and it is through us that God seeks to bless others in every way, but especially to bless others with the experience of his healing grace.  Jesus, the head of the body, sets before us our purpose and mission: to be the means through which his Kingdom is…?  Strengthened and extended.
Please note the little phrase about not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some. While it’s not all about going to church, for us to be the Church in the healthiest way possible, gathering together around word and Sacrament is vital. Yet the truth is that church attendance is becoming less and less consistent for Christians all over the western world.  If we’re going to effectively provoke and encourage one another, we need to gather together on a much more regular basis.  
As people’s schedules get busier and busier, we need to figure out ways to continue to gather together on a regular basis.  While this could very well mean that churches are going to need to offer more and more opportunities, it is also true that many Christians are simply going to have to evaluate their priorities.  Should going to church, gathering with the other members of the body of Christ around Word and Sacrament, happen only when we have nothing else to do?  And, yes, I guess that is an example of provoking…  But I will admit that it isn’t the ideal way to provoke.  If we come reluctantly or under compulsion, that not the best motivation.
I would like us to consider what legacy we would like leave behind when we leave this life for eternal life.  How do we want to be remembered… individually and collectively?
Very few, if any, of us are going to be remembered for how much money we were able to make and spend. Some of us may perhaps be remembered for various successes and accomplishments.  But we are going to be remembered most for the positive contributions we have made to the lives of the people around us, starting with our families and extending from there.
As far as our legacy as a congregation, as people in the future look back and remember the mission and ministry of Zion during this period of time, what will be our collective legacy?  I really don’t know for sure.  But my hope and my prayer is that people will make note of how many lives were touched, near and far and in between.  
Whatever our direction might be in the next handful of years, let’s build a legacy as a people moved by grace to extraordinary levels of generosity, as a warm, loving family in Christ who managed their collective blessings of time, talent and treasure in such a way as to positively impact the lives of many people, especially in terms of sharing the good news of the Gospel in many effective ways.  May the Kingdom of God grow right here and from here as we continue to provoke and encourage one another to love and good deeds, all to the glory of God.  In his name, Amen.

 

   December 2018   
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