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April 8, 2019

by Jeff Wright

Hebrews 10:19-25 (NRSV) 

 

19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 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. 
 
Provoke one another to love and good deeds... 
 
Provoke. For some reason, that word in verse 24 jumped off the page when I read this passage. Provoke: to call forth, to stir up purposely, to provide the needed stimulus for, or to incite to anger (Merriam-Webster).  
 
When I was a young child, my maternal grandfather indoctrinated me into the world of professional wrestling. I spent many hours laying on the couch or davenport as my grandmother called it, watching wrestling with him. He would get “riled up” and yell at the screen when he didn’t like what was happening. As I think back to those days, his reaction was exactly what the drama on the screen was trying to elicit. It’s what kept fans attending matches and watching the TV shows. Back then, there was a clear representation of the good guys and the bad guys and the bad guys were always doing things to provoke the good guys into a fight.   
 
Now, I am not sure why the interpreters for the NRSV chose to use the word provoke. Other translations offer a more positive wording: The NLT says, motivate. The CEB wording is sparking. The NIV uses the term spur on. Maybe the editors of the NRSV had in mind the part of the definition of provoke that suggests providing the needed stimulus. For whatever reason, we are to “provoke one another to love and good deeds”.  
 
We live in a society, where we are very adept at provoking one another. Unfortunately, it is not in the manner suggested from the biblical text. It’s more like the professional wrestling I watched with my grandfather. We see it in the general society. We see it in the political realm. And, sadly, we see it in the Church. We tend to “incite anger” and to “stir things up” instead of provoking one another to love and good deeds.  
 
One problem deriving from this tendency both in and out of the Church is we believe the way we think, or act is the “right” way and we devalue the “opponent” on the opposite side of the discussion, argument, aisle, street, and/or pew. We pit ourselves against each other: Democrats versus Republicans, conservatives versus liberals, the haves versus the have-nots, the included versus the excluded, the good guys versus the bad guys. We see it played out in all age levels including children and youth who learn it from watching adults. We are so settled in our way being right that we are closed off to each other. And, we spend so much time trying to “win” that we don’t listen to each other.  And too often, the real loser is the cause of Christ. 
 
What would happen if during Lent, we made a conscious, intentional, purposeful attempt to lay down our swords and turn them into plowshares? What would it be like if we decided to provoke one another for good not for a fight? And maybe you say, we are not fighting. Great. Are you provoking one another for good?  There is a difference in not “fighting” and not provoking one another in love and good deeds. It’s called indifference. We may not be “fighting” but we can sure be indifferent to one another.  
 
To provoke one another to love and good deeds means we must be in community with one another and you can’t be in community with one another if you are indifferent toward each other. What if we became intentional in building relationships with those who are “different” than us, who see things different, who look different, and who have a different perspective or societal label than we do? If there is one attribute of Christ, we need to emulate more it is his penchant for reaching across all societal labels to touch people with the love and grace of God. We see it time and time again in the scriptures.  He wasn’t indifferent to anyone. He didn’t stick to his own kind. He struck up conversations and relationships with the least, last, and lost. He entered the homes of and ate with sinners. He touched lepers. He granted new life to thieves, prostitutes, and the demon possessed. Oh, yes, and don’t forget the grace offered to we sinners.  
 
What if we focused on provoking, stimulating, spurring on, motivating, sparking one another in a good way?  Would we see a difference in our world and even in ourselves? Maybe that is part of our problem, we are wrestling with ourselves. Maybe we know we need to do more to love and encourage, but we don’t want to.  Of course, in some ways, we are supposed to wrestle with ourselves in Lent. We are supposed to examine ourselves against the example of Christ and measure where we are in our walk with Christ.  
 
I believe the world is desperate to see us as the Church provokes one another to love and good deeds. People see enough of the opposite already. We may not incite a radical transformation, but we can start one moment and one person at a time as we build relationships and build community where we live. We may lose a little bit of our ourselves in the process and maybe we need to. But what we don’t want is to lose the witness of the love and grace expressed to the world in Christ. Our world is hurting, broken, and fractured. I believe a little provoking one another to love and good deeds is just the remedy we need.  
 
Prayer: God, help us see ourselves and see others as you see us, not as labels, opponents, or adversaries. Help us build each other up, not build walls that separate us from each other. May your Holy Spirit work in us to begin even in simple ways, living and loving as Christ did. The world needs that witness and it needs us to be positive witnesses whose witness matches Christ and does not mirror the world’s. In Christ’s name, Amen.  

  

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