DeacoNote 19: Provoke Unto Love
February 15, 2023
When I restarted this series of notes last week, I set as my first objective to complete the Advent Series that I began back in December. So here it is, the week of Valentine's Day, and as you probably guessed, the next Advent theme is that of the fourth week, which is traditionally "Love." I will leave you to decide whether this is some grand divine plan, or just a simple coincidence. As I started to think about the subject of love in the context of Valentine's Day week, I could not help but remember a Valentine's Day dinner that my wife and I attended over 25 years ago. It was a spaghetti dinner, put on and served by the youth group for the adult couples at the church we were attending. We were well integrated into the church at that point, but still new enough, that this was the first event of this kind that we had attended. As a result, we did not fully know what to expect. The youth group did a great job. The candlelight dinner, the music, and the fellowship were great. As we were finishing dessert and the tables were being cleared, the pastor announced that the evening was not yet over. He asked everyone to make their way upstairs to the sanctuary for a Valentine's Day program. When we were all assembled and the last stragglers had found a seat, the pastor made his way down the aisle from the back. When he got to my row, he leaned in, tapped me on the shoulder, and then asked me if I would go up front and "say a few words on love?" Our program, it seems, was to be made up completely of spontaneous ad-lib speakers from the audience, all of whom had no prior notice. It was one of the first times I remember wishing the church was bigger. That church was similar in size to the United Church of Colchester, in that no matter how slow you walk, you will arrive at the front of the sanctuary in less than a minute - a mere 60 seconds. Even when my mind was sharper than it is today, that did not seem like much time to prepare. As I stood and began to take my first steps toward the front, my mind was a complete blank. The room was completely silent, as the surprise of the nature of our program spread over the attendees. Some of them were probably wondering if they would be the next one tapped "to say a few words."
Even though I had no idea what I would say, I remember a calm descending on the room as I walked up the aisle. In the sixty seconds or so it took to reach the podium, I did not have a single coherent thought come into my mind. And yet, when I turned to face the audience, that included my wife, I began to speak. I am told it was quite good, but the only thing I remember of what I said, even back then, was the verse I used to begin with. It was
Hebrews 10:24a Consider one another to provoke unto love ...
It is one of those verses I never stopped to fully comprehend, until it was first called to my attention some ten years or so earlier at a hilltop retreat in Johnson, Vermont. In King James English, it is but 7 words in length, yet packed with layers of meaning. At its most basic layer is the author's conviction, that love is not the product of a serendipitous kismet, a deep seated hormonal urge, or even the sting of an arrow from a cherubic cupid. Rather, it begins with a conscious choice, followed by purposeful action.
We are told to "consider one another." That is, to study one another, to learn our likes and dislikes, discover our passions and our phobias, our dreams and even our "baggage." Then, armed with that knowledge, act in such a way so as to inspire or provoke the other to want to respond toward us with love. In a romantic context, it is courting.
In an evangelistic context, it is Paul, when he says
I Corinthians 9: 19, 22 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible ... To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
It is like a combination of Jesus' great commandment
Mark 12:33 Love your neighbor as yourself
and the instruction of his half-brother, James
James 1:22 Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only
The pastor, who tapped me on the shoulder so many years ago, was born in India. His first language was Kui, but had learned the Queen's English from Methodist missionaries. When he got excited, he tended to speak very fast, and it was not uncommon for his Kui infused dialogue to be difficult to understand. And yet, his body language, the way he lived his everyday life, and the way he interacted with everyone he met, delivered the unmistakable message that transcended any language barrier - that he loved God, he loved God's Word, and he loved everyone with whom he become connected in this life. It was a constant reminder that there will be many people, perhaps "a cloud of witnesses," who observe us from afar, and never hear our words directly or with full understanding.
What messages do they receive? What do they conclude about us by observing how we act, interact and react to and with others? Why does this matter, you might ask? It matters, because, as someone once observed, that
We, and the way we live our lives, may be the only "Bible" some people ever "read!"
In all of my reading of the Bible, I have yet to find a verse that suggests that we will be known as Jesus' disciples by what we say in English, or Kui, or Greek, or Aramaic, or any other spoken language. Jesus, on the other hand, very specifically encouraged his disciples to use a much more universal language to make themselves known - that of love.
John 13: 34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love for one to another.
Your Brother In Christ, Warren Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester