Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, November 15, 2015

Let’s Provoke One Another to Love and Good Deeds!
[Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 12:28-34]

Let us pray. Loving God, our hearts are full to over-flowing this Sunday as we celebrate LOVE – your love for us and our love for you. In particular we lift up in gratitude all members and friends of St. Pauls Presbyterian Church who are in their 8th and 9th decades of life and service to you.  We lift them up, asking that You surround each one of them and their families with Your guardian angels. We lift them up, so that they may receive Your mercy in their times of need. We lift them up, because they have given us gifts we can never repay. We celebrate them as Living Treasures who have reflected your divine image into our lives.  Lord, as they have gently and at times even sternly provoked us to love and good deeds, may we carry the baton of faith they are putting in our hands, so that we will inspire others to love and serve You all their days.  In Jesus’ name, we pray; Amen.

            It’s my custom to preach the Lectionary Texts of the day, but the passage from Mark designated for November 15th talks about the end of the world, earthquakes and destruction, about nation rising up against nation. We are not going there today.  I have chosen the text, Mark 12:28-34, because it is the centerpiece of God’s Good News for all people.

            The scribes, like “so-called religious people” of every generation are prone to disputing among themselves about things that are not important.  They dissect and argue about the small stuff.  That’s exactly what was happening in Mark 12, when one of the scribes came to Jesus, who exhibited wisdom and authority which was totally different from other teachers. This scribe asks Jesus:  “Which commandment is first of all?”

            Jews and Christians alike could probably quote this commandment along with Jesus. “Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

            Jesus goes on to give the second as well:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            The scribe agreed and recited the very same words, adding that “this is much more important than whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

            Jesus paused, smiled, and I imagine he breathed a sigh of great satisfaction, for here was one scribe who “got it!”  This man understood the big picture and purpose of the laws and the scriptures.  Jesus is pleased with his wise answer and affirms him saying:  “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

            Friends, we are celebrating today the wisdom of some special people who are also “not far from the kingdom of God” – but I’m not just talking about their age. I’m talking about the spiritual wisdom they exhibit.

            These folks have been called: “The Greatest Generation.” They will not always be with us, but they are with us now. We want to glean from them a glimpse of God’s glory which glimmers and glows from their lives of faithful commitment and service to Jesus Christ.  Together they glow like red hot coals…seasoned by time and life experiences …now quietly warming this family of faith from within.  They have been the heart of this community for many years.

            How can we say thanks to them for their years of commitment, witness and service?

            We can say thanks by carrying on their legacy of commitment, witness and service.  The carnations they are wearing will not last long. The roses on the tables where they will break bread and share stories today will wither and fade away.  But if we “get it” – like the wise scribe in Mark’s Gospel – and like these honored ones here today – that is the gratitude which generates grace long into the future.

            If we choose to love God with our “whole selves in” – and if we choose to love our neighbors as ourselves… the kingdom of God… comes near us.

            It has often been quoted that one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Karl Barth, came to a conclusion very similar to the conclusion of Jesus and the wise scribe in Mark’s Gospel.

Karl Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago during his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962. After his lecture, during the Q & A time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth said:  “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That is the simple, unadorned story.

Which leads me to our second Scripture:  Hebrews 10:11-25 – which celebrates the fact that UNLIKE the priests in the Old Testament that had to keep making sacrifices to atone for the sins of the Jewish people – Jesus became the once-and-for-all sacrifice… granting ALL of us forgiveness from sin. Christ’s sacrifice does not need to be repeated.

Yes, we are called to walk in Jesus’ humble footsteps, but with a “spring in our step” – and “with full assurance of faith” that God’s promise to us will never waver. The One who promised is faithful to us for all time and eternity.

The Easter hymn, “The Strife is O’er” leaps to my mind. The curtain which separated God from humanity was ripped apart by Jesus’ sacrifice of himself.  We now have direct access to grace and don’t have to grovel.  “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun. Al-le-luia!” 

“The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed: Let shouts of holy joy outburst. Al-le-luia!”

These folks in the “Greatest Generation” – know what death and hardship look like.  They lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the tragedy of 9/11, the Iraq Wars… and all the consequences those many wars have reaped in families, societies and cultures.  Yet they have not lost heart. They have kept the faith. They are even now finishing their races. In God’s time each one will receive that holy joy. 

As they have done, it’s now our turn 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 [we] see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Day approaching is a metaphor for the time when God will bring all of creation to completion, harmony and wholeness. The Day has been approaching for billions of years; however, we miss the point when we try to pin down what “date” the Day might fall upon.  The Day approaching comes closer as God makes all things new. 

Our role is simple but also HUGE, we are called to stir God’s fire of transformation:  “Be the love you want to experience in this world.”  “Be the Change” (to quote Mahatma Gandhi) – be the “Community of Faith” – be the “Place of Healing” – be the “Well of Living Water” – be the “Oasis in the Desert” – be the “Hot Red Coals in the Fireplace of Faith.” None of us can “be that” or “do that” by ourselves. It is a communal effort. That’s why we have invited our extended families here today:  to stoke the fire of our faith, to put more coals and wood on the fire of this church’s witness, and to hear the wise voices around us.

As our guests gather for lunch today and our youth serve them a meal, my friend Laura Gingerich will visit each of our honored members and friends with two questions: First, how has this church helped shape your life?  Second, what is your hope and prayer for St. Pauls Presbyterian Church?  We want and need to hear your words and wisdom.

            Most peoples’ lives are cluttered with stuff and activities, which can almost “squeeze” the life out of us.  At Men of the Church one man remarked:  It feels good to just sit and be together, to have a few unhurried minutes of fellowship and laughter around the table.

            We act like we have no choice in this matter – that the chaotic busyness of 21st century life is beyond our control, but it’s not.  We can choose to stop and take time for what is most important. We can choose to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”  We can choose “not to neglect meeting together.”  We can choose “to encourage one another.”  We can choose “to sit and listen” to the sacred stories of mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers.  We can record and document what matters most in life.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we can help create a world of love: balanced by loving God, loving ourselves and loving our neighbors. Without this love around our tables: the world is a very lonely place.  Let us pray.