For the Love of God is Provoking
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
“For the Love of God is Provoking”
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, never enjoyed good health. As a boy he was very sickly, so his family had a nurse to care for him. One night she came in and found him with his face pressed against the windowpane. In those days, all the street lamps were natural gas and had to be lit by hand. Young Robert Louis Stevenson was watching the lamplighter light the lamps one night. When the nurse asked him what he was doing, his immediate response has become a classic, “I’m watching that man poke holes in the darkness.” (1)
Earlier we heard the prophet Isaiah talk about “the people who walk in darkness seeing a great light”. The Gospel of John talks about Jesus being “the light of the world” and the darkness has not overcome that light. And we heard Jesus tell us and the disciples that, “We are the light of the world.”
The reason I list all of those is to remind us that we bear the lightof Christ in the world today. We know how dark the world can be. Drugs, divorce, AIDS, abuse, violence, disrespect, alcoholism, the list could go on and on. We know how dark the world is. But we bear the light. As the light of the world, as representatives and disciples of Jesus, we are called to poke holes in the darkness.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us how to do that. He says that we should, “provoke one another to love and good deeds, meet together, and encourage one another.” We’re called to provoke one another because the love of God in Christ provokes us. It calls us to a life of faith and love. When we live as the light and spread the light our lives and our faith become invitational. Our love for God provokes others to love as well.
I. TO LOVE:
A. A Sunday School teacher asked her students to talk about how they felt about their church. The students responded in all the usual ways: some said something silly to get the rest of the class to laugh. Others tried to be more serious. One of the girls was new to the class, and always felt uncomfortable about sharing in the class discussions, so she never raised her hand, or volunteered an answer. However, that Sunday, she did and it unforgettable. She said going to church was, “like walking into the heart of God.” (2)
I like that. That is the way every church ought to be: “like walking into the heart of God.”
B. That’s what the author means when he says we should provoke one another to love. In all of our actions, in all of our planning, in all of our discussions we should exemplify the love of God in Christ. That should be foremost in out thougts when we build, how the facility will be used to show God's love. We should always and everywhere provoke one another to show God’s love.
That may be an odd way to look at from the world's standards. I mean we seem to get provoked all the time. We think of the term “provoke” in negative connotations. Whether it’s from that joker who cut us off in traffic or the rude store clerk or the official who won’t tell us what’s going on. It seems like there is always somebody in our lives trying to provoke us. But look at the positive way in which the author uses the term. We’re called to provoke one another to love so that everyone who enters these doors and meets us, can say it’s “like walking into the heart of God.”
II. GOOD DEEDS:
A. The author says that we should provoke one another to love AND good deeds. Our faith is about change. It’s about changing us from the inside out. Once you step into the light of Christ, once you’ve experienced the love and grace and forgiveness of Christ, you can never be the same. You can try. You can go back to the old way but that experience of God’s love in Christ will always call you to something higher, something nobler.
C. William Nichols tells that a few years ago, an El Al flight left Tel Aviv, Israel, for London. There were basically two types of passengers on this flight. Jews returning home after celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. And Christians returning home after celebrating Easter in Jerusalem. For most of them it, the trip had been a pilgrimage, a holy journey to the homeland of their faith. Many of the folks would later report that it was one of the most significant events in their lives and a deeply religious experience.
But was it? The answer couldn’t be found in the thousands of slides or the souvenirs that filled their suitcases. Instead it came in a very unexpected way on that flight back to London.
It became known to the 450 passengers that one of the passengers wasn’t a tourist but 4-year-old little girl by the name of Maron Kadosh. This little girl’s liver had malfunctioned and her life was in jeopardy. Doctor’s in Israel had done all they could and had finally told her parents that the only hope for the little girl was a liver transplant in England. So the parents took her aboard that flight but they had no idea how they were going to pay for the surgery.
As word about the girl began to spread among the passengers, an amazing thing happened. Someone began to pass the hat. By the time all the passengers had put their gifts in the hat, they had collected more than $73,000. (3)
B. My first reaction was, Wow! Then I got to thinking about it. I’ve been on a couple of those tours and I was lucky if I came home with $20 in my pocket. This was the END of the tour and these folks had that much money left. The second thing is, there wasn’t an appeal, no committees met, there wasn’t a telethon, or a pledge campaign. These folks were giving because they had been touched by God in the Holy Land. They had experienced the love and grace and mercy of God and they would never be the same. That love provoked them to do this good deed.
For the love of God IS provoking. It calls us to a higher, nobler lifestyle. A lifestyle based onf faith and love. It provokes us to love. It provokes us to good deeds. And it provokes us to be encouragers.
A. That’s the third thing the author says. He says we should meet together and encourage one another. You see, it’s easy to be a DIS-courager rather than an EN-courager. It’s easy to look at the negative. You just sort of fall into stride with everyone else. Maybe you don’t mean to but you find yourself pounding the negative drum just as loud as everybody else. It’s easy to throw cold water on a dream. Or to squash an idea with a negative comment. It’s EASY because that’s the world’s way. But it’s not Christ’s way.
We are called to be encouragers. We’re called to lift each other in prayer. We’re called to lift each other’s spirits. We’re called to lift each other’s burdens. We’re called to be encouragers and that takes effort and a focus not on ourselves but on God and others.
B. James Moore tells about a man named George. George was a peacemaker with a big heart and wonderful sense of humor. George claimed he was, “so tenderhearted that he cried at supermarket openings!” Everyone at Church loved George. He was respected at the hospital where he worked. The reason so many people loved George was because he was always kind and always respectful to everyone he met.
His children vividly remember the days George spent in the hospital before he died. The president of the hospital paid him a visit. He and George talked like they were old friends. A couple of minutes later one of the janitors came to visit. And they spoke like they were old friends. When the janitor left, one of George’s children said to him, “Dad, did you realize that you treated the president of the hospital and the janitor just alike?”
George smiled, chuckled and said, “Let me ask you something, if the president left for two weeks and the janitor left for two weeks, which one do you think would be missed the most?”
Then George called his children around his bed. “Let me show you something I carry in my pocket all the time, even when I mow the lawn.” George pulled out a pocket-sized cross and a marble.
George said, “On the cross are written these words, `God Loves You,’ and on the marble are these words, `Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You.’ The cross reminds me of how deeply God loves me, and the marble reminds me of how deeply God wants me to love others. ” (4)
That really is what God wants from each of us. That’s what the author of Hebrews is basically saying to us, too. To love God as God loves us and to love one another. That is the way God created us. That’s how we poke holes in the darkness. With the light of God's love. As we leave and go home and back to our jobs, we're challenged to let the love of God provoke us to love and good deeds, to meet together and to encourage one another. Carry the light of God's love wherever you go this week. Provoke others.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Preaching, Volume 3, #6.
2. Dick Van Dyke, Faith, Hope and Hilarity, (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1970), p. 95.
3. C. William Nichols, Biblical Preaching Journal, p. 10
4. James W. Moore, WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS..., (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1993), p. 78.