Dis-couraged

In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

Those of us New Yorkers who lived through the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have a particular empathy with the people of Paris this weekend.

My own associations with that city include three years living there when I was Canon Pastor of the American Cathedral. I’ve visited Paris many times since. Friday night, my wife sent a message to a French friend of ours to make sure he was all right. He said he was shaken but OK; he also said that one of the bombings took place only a few hundred yards from the restaurant where the three of us had enjoyed a leisurely dinner last May.

So those of us in this part of the world can’t help sensing some of the terror the Islamists created so effectively in France.

I have no advice for those who must decide on a military response to this slaughter. We Christians can’t take pleasure in any actions of revenge that the French will doubtless carry out.

Nor can we piously suggest words of peace – and words of forgiveness – to those who have lost so much. Indeed, not since World War II has the Christian pacifist view appeared so hopeless.

But what we can do—besides pray for the victims of terror and their families and for the French people and their leaders, is to try to see how our faith can help us in such times.

The Sunday leaflet for today went to the printer last Wednesday. You can see that my original intention for today was to speak about “dis-couragement.” Fortunately, the root of that word is courage. And courage is surely what we in Western countries—and Christians in the Middle East, too—will need in the days ahead.

In the Epistle for today, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews gives this advice to the early Church: “…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.”

There are three admonitions in this text. First, Christians should encourage one another. Second, we should “meet together”. Third, we should “provoke one another to love and good deeds”.

We can recognize the value for us of meeting each other. At a time when more and more human interactions take place electronically, encountering other human beings face-to-face “in the flesh” has a particular value.

Most people active in the church end up going to “church meetings,” or to a “church supper,” or the “coffee hour.” These encounters are so much a part of Christian life that we take them for granted. We don’t appreciate that they offer us positive personal contacts that are often lacking in our brusque society.

We should also recognize the wisdom in the advice the Letter to the Hebrews gives us to provoke each other to do good deeds. It may not be enough simply to suggest to fellow parishioners that they might want to pitch in and help with some worthwhile project. Sometimes people need to be pushed into doing the right thing.

Your mother may have said to you, “Do your duty.” Whenever you heard those words, you knew that there was a necessary task on your plate that you didn’t want to attempt. But if your mother hadn’t nagged you, you would have found excuses not to do the right thing.

As far as duty is concerned, I’m grateful myself to the members of the Incarnation 2020 Committee. They have “provoked” me to consider a series of changes to enhance our ministry and make our worship more attractive.

For example, one Sunday, we asked a member of the parish to videotape the eleven o-clock service. Later, we on the staff watched the tape to see how the service looks from the congregation’s point of view.

Over the past few months we have also made improvements to our audio system. We have held extra rehearsals of parts of the services.

Perhaps the most obvious change in our 11 o’clock worship was buying new vestments for the choir. Those of you who are regulars here will have noticed the sharp red cassocks the singers now wear!

And then, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, we Christians need to “encourage one another.” This text means that we help our fellow Christians by putting courage into them!

Our own church family exercises a ministry of encouragement. We have a group—the Parish Family Committee–that visits sick persons, gives people rides to church, and generally helps members of Incarnation who need support of one kind or another.

But much of the pastoral work in our congregation is done by individuals, not committees. This work happens quietly, without fanfare, behind the scenes.

Every week—I would guess, every day–someone in our parish family cheers up a fellow parishioner. Friendly emails are sent; comforting phone calls are made. If a sick person needs help in getting to the doctor, another parishioner volunteers to go along. It’s amazing how much mutual support happens in our community.

How much better this support is than to be “dissed”–“disrespected.” Such slights discourage; they drain the courage out of us.

I’m not helped when someone belittles my problem by saying, “Just pull yourself together and do it.” That’s obvious—if I could pull myself together on my own, I wouldn’t have a problem! I can’t summon up courage every time I need it.

But we’re more able to act bravely when we’re helped by someone else. Think, for example, of the boost you get when a friend says, “You can do it!” All the more reason for us to support those who have been victims of violence. The people of Paris, soldiers in places of war, Christians in Syria and Iraq, we need to commit ourselves to stand with them.

And we, in the Body of Christ, we need to meet together, and challenge each other, and support one another.

We may not associate our ministry with courage. Valor seems more applicable to police on the front lines than to us in our peaceful church.

We can’t overestimate the stress on first responders; imagine that anguish of the police and ambulance drivers last Friday night. But we can underestimate the amount of bravery we need in everyday life. In times of great uncertainty we need each other, and we need to appreciate the precious gifts we receive from those around us who strengthen us and, as the text says, “provoke us to love and good deeds.”

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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