Sunday's Sermon

 

"Encouraging One Another"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

November 18, 2018 - Pentecost 26 - B

Sermon text: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  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.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

 

“Where seldom is heard a discouraging word.”

This is the kind of place that Brewster Higley visualized

      when in 1873 he wrote the song: “Home on the Range.”

Do you recall his words?

      “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,

      Where the deer and the antelope play,

      Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

      And the skies are not cloudy all day.”

 

No doubt the motivation for writing these idyllic words

      came out of the reality of living in the midst of stress and turmoil.

Higley must have had some days of gloomy skies

            and days filled with discouraging words.

And so he had this image of an ideal and carefree life…

      where the skies were not always cloudy

            and where seldom was heard a discouraging word.

 

But… sometimes our lives are cloudy.

Sometimes we do hear discouraging words.

Sometimes life is discouraging.

 

In our gospel reading for today Jesus gives a very gloomy picture

                  of what it will be like before the end of the world.

Destruction.

False prophets.

Deceit.

Wars.

Conflict.

Rumors.

Earthquakes.

Famines.

As bad as this all sounds, Jesus said

      that this was but “the beginning of the birth pangs.”

The worse was yet to come.

 

Christians have long wondered and worried

            about the end of the world.

We all know that we should be prepared.

But how?

 

This is what our New Testament reading for today is all about.

Listen again to these words from the book of Hebrews:

      “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,

            for he who has promised is faithful.

      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.”

 

In the fourteenth century, the Italian poet Dante wrote a book

            describing his understanding of hell.

Above the gate to hell, Dante said there was a sign

            with the gloomy message:

      “All hope abandon, you who enter here!”

(The Divine Comedy, Inferno, canto I, III, 9)

      “All hope abandon, you who enter here!”

One of the characteristics of hell, according to Dante,

            is that it would be a place

                  where its inhabitants did not have any hope.

He thought hell would be a hopeless place.

 

If Dante is right, and surely he is,

            then we’ve all had a little taste of hell

                  here on earth, haven’t we?

We’ve all had days in which everything seemed so hopeless.

We’ve all had times in which our problems seemed overwhelming.

We’ve all had situations in which we’ve wondered

            how we would make it through to another day.

Sometimes life is very difficult.

You don’t need to be told that, do you?

You know the trials and tribulations

            that you have endured over the years.

You know the fears and worries

            that you are wrestling with today.

Sometimes life is difficult and discouraging.

How can we make it through such discouraging times?

 

First of all, the writer of this letter to the Hebrews tells us:

      “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,

                  for he who has promised is faithful.”

We need never to be hopeless.

We should always have great hope in Jesus…

            the great hope that our Lord is with us always…

            the great hope that God will sustain us in difficult times…

            the great hope that he will provide for our tomorrows…

            the great hope of eternal life in his heavenly home…

As one of our hymns puts it:

      “My hope is built on nothing less

            than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (E.L.W. # 597).

Yes, we have the great hope, that come what may in life,

            our God will not abandon us.

He will be with us always – in good times and in bad.

 

“Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death,”

      our Good Shepherd will walk with us every step of the way,

            guiding, comforting, and sustaining us.

In our good and gracious Lord,

            we have a sure hope of many great promises.                        

And as the writer of Hebrews tells us

            “he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

 

Then secondly, the writer of Hebrews tells us:

      “And let us consider how to provoke one another

                  to love and good deeds.”

 

We don’t often use the word “provoke” in a positive way, do we?

Usually we use it to tell how someone has provoked us

            to some negative feeling, such as being angry or upset.

But the word “provoke” basically means “to cause” or “to motivate.”

So both good and negative things can be provoked.

We are to provoke one another,

            not to anger, of course, but to love and good deeds.

We are to say and do things that will motivate other people

            to be loving and to do kind and compassionate acts.

How can we provoke others in such positive ways?

No doubt, the best way is to be

            a kind and compassionate person ourselves.

We should love as Jesus loved…

            love our neighbor as ourselves…

            do unto others as we would have them do to us…

            make sacrifices for the sake of others –

                  especially for those whom the world may consider

                        to be the last and least of all people.

 

What is require of us?

In our memory verse this month,

            the prophet Micah answers this question with the words:

      we are to “do justice, and to love kindness,

            and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

 

Being a loving and kind person ourselves is the best way

            to provoke other people to love and good deeds.

 

 

Then, thirdly, the writer of Hebrews offers

            this advice of how to get through discouraging times:

      “Let us (be)… not neglecting to meet together,

                  as is the habit of some,

            but encouraging one another.”

 

We need one another.

We need one another.

We are not to neglect meeting together.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,”

            God realized after creating Adam (Genesis 2:18).

This certainly is true.

It is not good to be alone.

We need one another.

We need Christian fellowship.

 

Why do we gather here each Sunday?

Certainly to worship God.

But the writer of Hebrews gives another reason as well.

We need to gather together so that we can be

            “encouraging one another.”

Encouraging one another!

This is one of the main reasons we gather here each week.

Now, some Sundays you may not feel like coming to church.

Maybe you feel that you won’t get much out of the service.

Maybe you feel that you don’t need to worship that day.

Maybe this is so.

Maybe there are some Sundays that you feel

                  that you don’t need the church.

 

But could it be that someone at church needs you?

Could it be that someone at church

            needs you to listen to a problem?...

            or needs you to give them a hug?...

            or needs you to affirm them?...

            or needs you to share their tears and sorrow?...

            or needs you to tell how God

                  has sustained you through difficult times?...

            or needs you to greet them with a smile or a kind word?...

            or needs you to encourage them through discouraging times?

Maybe some Sundays you feel that you don’t need the church.

But could it be that every single Sunday

                  someone at church needs you?

 

So as God’s Word tells us in the book of Hebrews:

      we must not neglect meeting together.

We need one another.

We need to be encouraging one another.

 

 

Sister Helen Mrosla was a junior high teacher.

One year she had a very difficult class.

Early in the school year she felt the class getting out of control.

She realized that she had to do something quick.

One Friday she had the students

      write down the names of all the students in the class,

            leaving a space between each name.

Next they were to write down the nicest thing

      they could say about each of their classmates.

Sister Helen collected them at the end of the class

      and over the weekend made a sheet for each one of her students

            with all these wonderful compliments on them.

She distributed the sheets on Monday morning.

Before long, the entire class was smiling.

“Really?” someone whispered,

            “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”

Another said: “I didn’t know others liked me so much!”

 

Nothing was said after that day about these papers.

Sister Helen didn’t know if the students kept their papers

            or if they talked to each other about them after class

                  or if they said anything to their parents.

It didn’t matter.

What did matter to her, was that this exercise served its purpose.

The students were much more content and better behaved.

 

Many years later Sister Helen heard that one of the students

                  in that class had been killed in combat.

She went to the funeral and as she was standing at the casket

            one of the soldiers came up to her

                  and asked if she was Mark’s math teacher.

She nodded, still staring at the casket.

“Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.

 

Later at the house Mark’s parents came over to her

            with Mark’s wallet in hand.

“We want to show you something,” they said.

      “They found this on Mark when he was killed.

      We thought you might recognize it.”

Opening the billfold,

            they carefully removed a worn piece of notebook paper

      that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times.

“Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said,

            “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

 

Other students from the class started to gather around

            and one after another talked about

                  how they still have their papers with the compliments

            and the difference the papers had made in their lives.

 

This simple act, intended to maintain order in the classroom,

            had a profound and life-long effect on many

                  of the students in the class.

 

This is what we are to do to prepare for the end of time –

            like Sister Helen’s class, we are to encourage one another.

Sometimes, our small words or deeds of encouragement

            can have a tremendous positive influence

                  in the lives of other people.

 

Mother Teresa once said:

      “Kind words can be short and easy to speak,

            but their echoes are truly endless.”

 

 

In the Bible we are told of a man whose name was Barnabas.

He was a frequent traveler with the Apostle Paul.

            and did much to help Paul in his missionary work.

However, Barnabas wasn’t his given name,

            it was rather his nickname.

His given name was Joseph.

In the book of Acts we are told:

      “There was a Levite…(named) Joseph,

            to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas

                  (which means ‘son of encouragement.’)” Acts 4:36.

No doubt Barnabas often lived up to his nickname –

            in many ways he encouraged Paul and others in their work.

 

Knowing the meaning of his nickname helps us better appreciate

            what it says about Barnabas in the book of Acts:

      “….they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

      When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done,

            he was glad and encouraged them all

                  to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts”

(Acts 11:22-23 N.I.V.).

 

Barnabas encouraged them all!

He certainly was well deserving of his nickname Barnabas.

 

I don’t know if you have any nicknames,

            but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be such an encouraging person

                  that people would nickname you the Encourager?

 

Barnabas must have been such an encouraging person

            and so should each one of us.

 

The author of “Home on the Range”

            may have dreamed of a place

      where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

But we live in the real world

      where often is heard a discouraging word.

 

Everyone here this morning

      is probably discouraged about something in their life.

Some might be discouraged about their health.

Some might be discouraged about their job.

Some might be discouraged about their marriage

                  or relationships with family or friends.

Some might be discouraged about the welfare of a loved one.

Some might be discouraged about the problems

            in our world, nation, or communities.

Some might be discouraged about their finances.

Some might be discouraged about their school work.

Some might be discouraged about life in general.

And as you probably already know, like all of you,

            sometimes pastors get discouraged too.

Yes, everyone here this morning

      is probably discouraged about something in their life.

 

So it is very important that we heed this Word of God

                  from the book of Hebrews.

Let us keep alive our hope in Jesus.

And let us provoke one another to love and kindness.

And let us be… encouraging one another.

           

Yes, may the Spirit so fill us and move us

      that we become a people

            who in word and deed are often…

                  encouraging one another.

 

      Amen.