One Anothering: Finding the Kin-dom of God in Community
Imagine that you’re standing on the edge of a treacherous sea. You can feel the waves crashing against your feet, threatening to pull you under. You’re alone, vulnerable, and terrified. But now, imagine that you’re not alone. Imagine you’re surrounded by a group of people, all holding hands and standing strong against the tide. You feel their strength and courage infusing you, and suddenly, you realize that together, you can face anything.
This is the power of community. In our sermon series we are talking about how we experience the kingdom of God in our daily lives. When we stand together, we are stronger than we could be alone. This is the message of Hebrews 10:24-25.
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.”
Church people looking out for one another is one of the central precepts of our faith. It’s such an important theme that the New Testament uses the phrase one another more than 100 times. From the command to love one another (John 13:34-35) to the call to bear one other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and the challenge to forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), we are reminded to gather together, offering encouragement, support, compassion, and hope.
Inspired by this collection of verses, Simon Schrock, turned the phrase into a verb and wrote a book called One Anothering. One of the essential messages is that we’re not meant to “Lone Ranger” our way through faith if we want to have any chance at all. Faith isn’t meant to be a private experience of “just me and God.” We’re called to look out for each other.
Like a beehive that survives because of cooperation.
My friend pastor turned sustainable ag farmer, Tim Diebel compares one anothering to his bee hive that survive harsh winters.
…they form themselves into something of a ball at the center of the hive – huddling together, as it were. From there they are constantly trading positions – those on the outer portions of the ball moving inward toward the warmer center, while those duly warmed migrate out to the edges; a circulation constantly underway so that everyone takes its turn; everyone does it’s part.”
Provoke One Another to Love and Good Deeds
Surprisingly, in our passage today, we are called to provoke one another. It sounds strange because we don’t usually think of provoking as a positive word. We hear about one nation provoking another nation into war, or individuals being provoked to acts of retaliation.
I know what it is to be provoked. There we were, on vacation, my parents in the front seat, my brother and me in the back seat for interminable hours of utter boredom. Long before personal electronic devices and separate bucket seats, my brother and I constantly fussed, argued, and pushed each other. Eventually, we drew an index finger down the center of the seat, forming our sovereign territories with an invisible line. This is my side; that is yours.
Not long after the line was drawn, Ricky would reach a finger onto my side, firmly press it into my cushion and smirk, then he’d reach out with two fingers. Suddenly he’d yell “Ouch,” and I hadn’t even hit him yet, but I was getting in trouble with my parents for a punch I was only thinking about throwing. That’s what provoke brings to mind—the way the word is usually used.
The Greek word for “provoke” in Hebrews 10:24 is paroxusmos. It is a noun that means “a stirring up,” “incitement,” or “excitement.” It can be used in both a positive and negative sense. In the context of Hebrews 10:24, it is used in a positive sense. The author is exhorting his readers to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds.” This means that we should be looking for ways to motivate and encourage one another to live lives that are characterized by love and good deeds.
Bay Shore has been doing it!
I am moved by your care for one another. We talk about outreach to the community all of the time, but one anothering reminds us of our responsibility to care one another in the church. I’ve seen how you circle the wagons when someone has a need, how you reach out with visits and cards and calls and meals. You show up, put yourselves out there trying to do what is right. Your efforts get noticed and inspire the rest of us to love and do good deeds.
Some of you might remember I referred to this passage in my first sermon here and said that pastors are professional provokers. But we don’t only look to pastors for provocation. We look to the imperfect people in the pews in our proximity.
Who are your provokers?
I can still see one of the great provokers in my life whom I met when I was a teenager on a youth work trip to Kentucky. She was poor, had a funny accent, not quite 5’ tall, straggly hair. We were working on home repairs for her but it wasn’t very much fun. We hated where we were, it wasn’t like our suburb. Porches and front yards littered with old cars, sofas and garbage. We began to make fun of the way those people lived and talked we acted like a group who would rather be doing something–anything else. We picked on each other; we argued, made sarcastic jabs every chance we got.
Eventually, the woman stormed out of the house red-faced. She sat us down in the grass in and shook her stubby finger at us and speaking through the few teeth she had left. “What’s wrong with you kids? Don’t you know, don’t you know I’ve been praying for a long time for someone to show up and help. Don’t you know how badly my kids need to have bedrooms that keep out the cold drafts, a bathroom that works, a safe place to play? I’ve been praying for a long time. Don’t you know y’all are the answer prayer? Why don’t all y’all start acting that way?”
It was the first time that anyone suggested that what we were doing meant something important. From that moment on, everything changed. Instead of obligation, the work became a mission. Instead of tearing each other down, we built each other up. It was amazing. When someone tells you that you are the answer to a prayer, everything changes. It provokes you–calls out stuff inside of you that you didn’t even know was there.
You are the answer to prayer!
I came here today to tell you that you are the answer to prayer. You are the answer to the prayers of people who pray for a better world, who pray that someone will punch holes in the darkness of this world. You are the answer to Jesus’ prayer when he prayed “Thy Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven.” God sends you to make a difference to the people that only you can influence. Sometimes provoking is acknowledging a talent or gift someone has and helping them to see how to do right. Sometimes provoking is encouraging someone. Often, it’s just leading by example.
You are the answer to the prayers of people who are looking for a community where they can be themselves, warts and all, doubts and all. A fellowship that passes along values of working together, honesty, and compassion. You are the answer to the prayers of so many who are looking for an alternative–for joy, for positive influences who don’t just echo all the negative, all the things to complain about.
Cleaning up your own ten feet.
Being a provoker doesn’t mean you have to be a perfect person; it just means you have to be a person doing your best in the situations where you find yourself. Several years ago, after a devastating tornado ripped through a small community, the news camera panned a devastated neighborhood. Houses collapsed apocalyptically in on themselves, people looked utterly shocked. The camera happened to spy a woman standing in the rubble of what was once her house where only one ten-foot section of an inner wall was left standing.
The woman looked at the wall where a single picture hung and she went over to the picture and straightened it out, stepped back and nodded. The reporter dashed over to her and asked why she even bothered. She said, “I can’t do much about all of this, but right now I can clean up this teen foot section and straighten out this picture.”
When others heard about what this woman did, they got provoked. Signs and banners were hung around the neighborhood: Ten Feet at a Time. Everyone had a place to begin their huge task—right where they were. A few feet at a time. It was an inspiration for the whole neighborhood. She provoked others to keep trying to keep at it when otherwise they may have been overwhelmed by the job. Focus on what is in front of you.
Don’t neglect to meet together.
The passage reminds us to gather for worship. The author talks about how some people have made a habit of not worshipping. When you show up you don’t show up for God, but for one another. The energy you bring helps us all. Your participation and engagement with what is going on inspire other people. You never know what an impact coming to worship and being gracious to the people around you may have.
There may be a lot at stake with every interaction.
Provoking can mean simply paying attention to the people who are around you at any given minute. Rev. Bill Nichols talked about standing in the narthex of the church before worship getting ready to process into the sanctuary with the choir when a woman, disheveled and ragged entered the church. He had never seen her before, so he went over to introduce himself.
She cut straight to the point bottle of prescription pills out of her pocket and explained that she had been awake all night trying to decide if there was a reason why she shouldn’t just swallow all the pills at once. She said, “I promised myself I would at least wait and go to church and see if there was a reason to change my mind.” With that, she spun on her heel, plopped down right in the middle of the sanctuary.
Life and death riding on a sermon and Bill started condemning himself for not having worked harder on his sermon—his stewardship sermon felt so inadequate to the task. In the end, the woman decided not to kill herself; she became a member of the church. But it wasn’t the sermon. It was how she was treated and welcomed by those who sat around her in worship. People within (you guessed it) ten feet. Just people in the pew who showed hospitality to her. They may have been struggling themselves, but they noticed her and treated her with compassion and dignity. People showed interest in her and didn’t just ignore her, as they straightened their hymnals while she rolled the pill bottle between her hands.
Continue One Anothering and Provoking.
Perhaps we are supposed to hear this message from Hebrews to provoke one another because it can become too easy to ignore each other, and there is so much at stake. Every week people will come to this church and with the option of partaking in something that can give life or something that can diminish it. People are going to come here every week looking for a reason to do the positive rather than the negative and what happens with that will have more to do with how you treat them than the music or order of worship or sermons?
I know that you pray for to be a strong church, vital in the community, transforming lives in the name of Jesus. Everything you need is already here. You have the Spirit here. It is felt when each one of us does what we can do in our ten feet. It happens when we focus on what’s really important where we build the kind of church together that embraces the hurting, forgives the sinner, that doesn’t make people feel on trial, but embraces them with uncommon hospitality and love, ten feet at a time.
Beloved, let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. Amen.