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Let’s Irritate Each Other! (November 19, 2018)

Now here’s a novel proposition to make from the pulpit: Let’s irritate each other!

That’s what the reading from Hebrews urges us to do this morning.

Now some people might say that we already do that … sometimes we irritate the heck out of each other! And I don’t want to hear any comments about that irritatin’ ole’ Yme.  But that’s not what I mean. Let me explain.

The letter to the Hebrews is a long sermon by an anonymous preacher. In the sermon she mingles ancient Greek philosophy with quotations from the Old Testament to convince people that Jesus is superior to the Torah, the Law of Moses.

In the first 10 chapters, she goes on at length to affirm that Jesus is the perfect high priest, and his sacrifice is the only perfect and necessary sacrifice. His sacrifice does away with the need of any sacrificial system at all.

And then, at the end of chapter 10, we get the “so what”. What difference does this all make? So what does this mean for how we live?

Through Christ, says the preacher, we have been made a holy people — so we no longer need to be timid when we approach God. We can approach God boldly and with confidence. We can “approach God with genuine hearts in the full assurance of faith (22); with a strong hold on the confession of our hope (23); and be willing to irritate each other to love and do good deeds.”

This preacher uses the same triad of words as Paul: the assurance of faith, the confession of hope, and to engage in acts of love. Here is our call as bold daughters and sons of God—faith, hope and love.

Faith — is a deep trust that God is present in life. We trust deeply that God is active in our world and in our lives. I’ve said it before many times—Faith does not mean believing a set of doctrines. Faith is not a matter of believing the right way or the correct things. Faith always refers to a deep trust that God remains active, that God is at work, that God is present and loving.

Hope — arises out of our faith. We dare to hope because we trust so deeply that God is present and active in life. Our hope arises from the character of God, who continues to be faithful. Our hope is that even when everything else looks dismal, God continues to be active and compassionate and present with us.

Because we have that deep hope, we are able to love. We enter God’s presence as advocates for the sake of the world. We expect God to act to heal the world, and we present ourselves as partners with God in that project of healing and restoration.

That’s why, says the preacher, we are called to provoke one another to act with love, to do good deeds.

I want to focus on this last part. Faith and hope are important, but today let’s think about provoking each other to love.

That word “provoke” is the Greek word paroxysmos (παροξυσμός). It can mean to provoke; it can also mean to irritate. We irritate each other to do good works.

I love that idea. Usually when we think about love, we think about generating good feelings and happiness and contentment. We often talk about love as something without irritation or provocation. Love means being tolerant, and patient, and kind, and comforting. And that’s all true.

But the preacher of Hebrews adds another thought: provoke each other to love; irritate each other to do good deeds; be a community which seeks above all else to be an agent of love and gospel goodness in the world.

Paul reminds us that faith, hope and love abide … and the greatest is love. I think the preacher to the Hebrews would agree. We approach God boldly with faith, with a strong hope, so that we might always be willing to irritate each other to love and do good deeds.

The pinnacle of this sermon in Hebrews comes with that notion of provoking, irritating each other to love. Love becomes our highest priority, as individuals and as a community. Love is so important — that we are willing to make a pest of ourselves to provoke one another to love. we irritate each other. We pester each other. We needle each other. We aggravate each other … to love.

It is, after all, the great commandment — Love God; Love your neighbours.

We need to love … because this is how we become partners with God in healing the world. God needs us to be involved, for God has no hands other than ours.

We need to love … and every action in which we engage finds its basis in that kind of love which expresses our faith and our hope.

Today, the Diocese has invited us to celebrate our participation in Together in Mission. I believe strongly that as a result of this program, we have done some things which make our love more visible:

  • We have raised a significant amount of extra money in this parish for ministry, both here and in the Diocese.
  • Deb works among us as our Lay Pastoral Associate, bringing the love of the congregation as she visits with those who need that contact. She bears within herself the love of God and the love of this parish as she visits those who are lonely, those who are grieving, those who need some TLC.
  • Our website provides opportunities for people to see who we are and how God’s love is made manifest through us. Just last week, I received a note a few weeks ago from someone who stumbled across our website, read through some of the sermons and columns, which spurred her on to check the rest of our site. She learned about us, and got in touch with me about how what we were doing is restoring her faith.
  • As we participate in Together in Mission, we have learned also to live out of God’s abundance. We were challenged to give … and we did. And we have learned that when we give, we don’t lose out. In fact, our lives are made richer.
  • Together in Mission has allowed our Diocese to reach out to do ministry in more creative and experimental ways.

I want to highlight two things about Together in Mission.

First of all, we are together. As a community of people, we provoke each other to a greater faith, a deeper hope, a more active love. We work together to be God’s people in this place, encouraging, strengthening, provoking, irritating each other to love more actively day in and day out.

Secondly, we are in Mission. This is God’s work, and God invites us to think of our lives as a vocation. And part of that vocation is to irritate one another to live out the gospel.

So I say, let’s continue to irritate each other.

I promise to irritate you.

Not just to tick you off.

To provoke you. To be provocative. To encourage each of us and all of us together to that greater faith, that deeper hope, and that more active love.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

November 18, 2018 (26th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 33)

Hebrews 10: 11–19, 19–25

Mark 13: 1–8

1 Samuel 1: 4–20