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Experiencing the Gift of New Birth – Part 3: Walking with Jesus Together

November 25, 2012

We come to the Lord, relying not on our own power, but on God’s. And we do this not by ourselves, but with one another. We walk with Jesus Together

Today’s Epistle says: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

The word “provoke” in Greek means “stir up” or “encourage.” We are called to spur one another on, like geese honking encouragement as they travel vast distances together.

Hebrews continues: “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.”

Don’t try and walk alone. The spiritual journey is not meant to be a loner heading out into the desert carrying a waterskin, but rather a caravan of Bedouins who travel together.

The Fourteenth Century saint Catherine of Sienna reported that in one of her visions she heard God say:

I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me.

We need each other.

Verse 25 continues: “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Part of our calling is to encourage one another. This is one of the reasons we are admonished in the Epistle not to neglect meeting together. This is one way that we can fulfill our calling to be a blessing for others. There may be a Sunday on which you sit in the pew thinking, “I’m not getting anything out of church today” (I hope this never is the case, of course, but it is just conceivable that it might happen!). If this occurs, then maybe you are there that day to give, rather than get – to encourage someone else, rather than be encouraged! (And, of course, when we encourage others, we ourselves are indeed encouraged, also!)

I love the story about two people describing dreams they’d just had to their friends.

The first person said, “I had such a terrible dream last night. I think it must have been a dream of hell. I saw a place with more people than I could count, surrounded by an unlimited supply of every kind of food imaginable. Everybody had fastened to their arms forks that were five feet long, so that even the longest-armed people couldn’t manage to bring the forks to their mouths. I woke up at this point with unspeakable sadness in my heart, knowing that everyone was going to starve.”

The second person said, “I had such a wonderful dream last night. I think it must have been a dream of heaven. I saw a place with more people than I could count, surrounded by an unlimited supply of every kind of food imaginable. Everybody had fastened to their arms forks that were five feet long, so that even the longest-armed people couldn’t manage to bring the forks to their mouths. I woke up at this point with unspeakable joy in my heart, knowing that everyone was going to share by feeding one another.”

In his wonderful book, Life of the Beloved (which is available from the Book Nook outside my office), Henri Nouwen wrote:

It is sad to see that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others.

This past week, Iona Shaw shared with me an email that said, “If love doesn’t require some sort of sacrifice on our part, we probably aren’t loving the person at all.”  

This is God’s vision of what it is to be human, the bottom line of existence, what it’s all about: to love and be loved – to share love.

Heaven is to love God and all God’s creatures fully and forever.

Note that it says, “Encourage one another,” not because it’s getting more and more dark – huddling together in fear, but as we “see the Day approaching.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus referred to the pain as birthpangs, not death throes – not death and darkness, but new birth and light, the approaching dawn.

I like the version of this same narrative in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus says: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”  (21:28).

Our destination (for ourselves and all creation) beckons, and we are closer to it than we have ever been. By God’s infinite grace, we shall reach it together!

All that can be shaken will be shaken.

So, let’s:
come to the Lord,
rely on God’s faithfulness,
and walk with Jesus together.

As we do this, we shall experience the beginning of this in-breaking of the new age now – knowing the joy of new birth into a relationship of love with our God, and our brothers and sisters, that is unshakeable, for all eternity. Thanks be to God!

(This is adapted from the conclusion to the sermon at our November 18 Services.)

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