My church newsletter column for St. Peter Lutheran Church, Greene, Iowa, for April, 2017.
Love, Encourage, Provoke
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.
When I’ve asked people to describe St. Peter Lutheran Church, one of the answers I often get is that our congregation is a “family.” In many ways, family is a wonderful definition of church. In baptism, God has adopted us, making us sons and daughters of the King of Kings. We are part of God’s family. As Lilo says in the movie Lilo & Stitch, “Family means nobody gets left behind.” Being family means being there for each other.
However, there are some problems with defining church as family. Seeing ourselves as a family can mean seeing others as outside the family. Those looking from the outside can easily a church family as cliquey, even exclusive, rather than welcoming. There can be a tendency to avoid certain topics, to cling too strongly to tradition, or in our familiarity to assume untrue things about people.
In some ways, defining church as family is accurate, yet unfortunate, because living in a family can be hard. Living together in community is challenging. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives some helpful instructions for our life together. To summarize Hebrews 10:24-25, we are to love, encourage, and provoke each other.
First, of we are to love one another, reflecting God’s love. Part of that is praying for one another. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother [or sister] for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he [or she] causes me.” We’re pretty good at praying for people in times of need, but what about praying for people with whom we disagree? What about praying for political leaders on all sides? What about praying even for our enemies?
Second, we are to encourage one another in faith and in life. This, I suspect, is one of the most important reasons for Christians to be part of a church. We all need the encouragement of our community as we go through the challenges of life. Rather than neglecting to meet together, we gather frequently in worship to be encouraged by hearing of God’s love for us so we can go out and share that love with others. Who can you encourage today? How have you been encouraged?
Third, my favorite instruction in these verses: We are to provoke one another to love and good deeds. (Don’t forget, there’s a reason we’re instructed to provoke each other—It’s not just to make people angry!)
I hope that when you come to worship, you experience God’s love, you are encouraged in your faith, and you are a little provoked, a little challenged. The life God calls us to is not always easy or comfortable. Faith requires sometimes taking risks, challenging others and allowing ourselves to be challenged. Church ought to be a place where we are safe to bring our honest questions, to freely engage with each other.
As we move through this Lenten season towards the joy of Easter, I invite you to be intentional about living and engaging in this Christian community, our church family. Find the opportunities to love, encourage, and provoke one another, that all of us may grow in faith, hope, and love.
–Pastor Daniel Flucke