Provoked to love and good deeds

Psalm 63:1-8, (9-11), 98 (Morning)

Psalm 103 (Evening)

Isaiah 47:1-15

Hebrews 10:19-31

John 5:2-18

Hebrews 10:19-31 NRSV: Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And 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.

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The line in today’s Epistle that jumps out for me has to do with the business of “considering how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Oh, yes, “encouraging” come later, but what an interesting word choice–to provoke one another.

How many times does it seem that some of the most beloved characters in our congregations have that annoying quality of always being in our faces about one thing or another? I would have never found my way to the Episcopal Church had it not been for two people in my office who refused to leave me alone for five years, until I finally walked through my home parish’s big red doors. Chances are, you know people like that in your church, too. They are the people with the clipboards, always getting a signup sheet together for the latest outreach project, potluck, or food drive–always searching for warm bodies despite our initial thought often being, “Don’t even look in this direction,” as we slump down in the pew or suddenly feel a need to find the rest room at coffee hour.

Why? Because we know they are not going to take “no” for an answer, and eventually we are going to say “yes” to something, even if it’s not “yes” to the thing they are specifically after. That word “no” simply is not in their vocabulary, and that little gnawing of the Holy Spirit pushing us outside our comfort zone doesn’t help, either. It’s a formidable combination, that joining of forces of the Holy Spirit and The Person In the Congregation That Is Always Carrying a Clipboard.

But make no mistake, the church eats, sleeps, lives and breathes because of folks like that and their compatriots–The Deacon Who Buzzes Around The Priest’s Head Like A Gnat, The Priest Who Glares At You When A Committee Is Being Formed, and Person Who Always Asks You To Help Because You Have A Pickup Truck (or power tools, or baking skills, or Graphic Arts skills to make posters and flyers, or a whole host of tasks.) Frankly, those people drive us nuts at times. But God bless ’em every one, because they really DO provoke us to love and good deeds…and I mean provoke.

But here’s the miracle. More times than not, even after we’ve begrudgingly agreed to participate in one of those tasks, maybe even after we’ve been furious at those annoying characters and complained to high heaven about them, if we do the task with our eyes open, we discover something really good about having done it. We might meet that one person at the grocery store with a kind word and a healing story as they donate at the food drive, or the person who is “needy” but in reality teaches us something very profound, or the young single mother struggling with three small children who ends up being a part of our faith community.

It makes me wonder if the most important thing about how the business of bringing God’s kingdom closer to the kingdom of here and now is not to have a warm fuzzy feeling all the way through it, but instead to have a few moments of being really avoidant, irked, or grumpy sprinkled through it. Perhaps the resurrection is in seeing the miracle through our own irritations and the irascibilities of others. We may even find that we actually love those annoying characters.

Who has provoked you into being a more faithful Christian lately?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans recently returned from a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan.

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