The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley November 14, 2021 Proper 28, Year B 1 Samuel 1:4-20 1 Samuel 2:1-10 Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25 Mark 13:1-8 From the Letter to the Hebrews: 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. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen. You have heard me mention many times the concept that practices shape character. This was the insight of Aristotle when he articulated the idea of virtues. We acquire virtues by practicing them. We become just by treating people fairly. We acquire prudence by thinking about outcomes before we act or speak. We acquire fortitude by not giving up when a task is hard. We become temperate by keeping our lives in balance and our actions proportionate to our circumstances. When St. Thomas Aquinas added the theological virtues we learned that our faith increases as we take actions that require trusting in God. We become hopeful by choosing to hope when the future seems dark. We learn to be loving as we do good especially to and for those whom we may not like. In this time of gathering pledges to support St. Michael’s in the coming year, I remind you, until you are sick of it, that we do not give because we are generous; we become generous be giving. Every spiritual discipline has this idea of practices. From Yoga to praying the rosary to the Karate Kid’s wax on, wax off works—all work on this principle. The Twelve-Step tradition has the phrase, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” Another way I have heard this idea articulated is that we are more likely to behave our way into a new way of thinking than we are to believe our way into a new way of behaving. There are a number of classic Christian practices that we have learned over the course of a couple of millennia of trying to follow Christ. Prayer. Reading the Bible. Praying for each other. Confessing our sins to one another and to God. Helping the poor. Giving. Today in the reading from Hebrews we are reminded of one more: “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.” That is, we need to come together as a community of Christians. We need to come to church. It is a fundamental requirement to being a faithful Christian. This is not just a matter of filling the pews so that we look good to the Bishop. When I say “we need” I don’t mean that it is a rule we have to obey in order to be good. I mean that being a Christian is hard enough that we cannot do it without each other’s support. St. Paul was focused on building up Christian congregations. One of his favorite ideas was that actions should be judged by whether or not they built up the church. He says “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He talks about all the spiritual gifts being given to individuals so that they can build up the Body. The metaphor of the Church being the Body of Christ speaks of how all of us are bound together. Each of us is a member of the Christ’s body, say and arm or a leg or a toe. If any of us is missing, then Christ is dis-membered. Coming together on the Lord’s Day is important not solely for what I am going to get from going to church. Yes, I may be inspired by great music. I may learn something or be challenged by something in the sermon. I may be confronted with a truth from the Holy Scriptures. I may receive healing or strength from the sacrament of the table. Those are all real benefits. But we must never forget that we receive all of these blessings when we are together, when we gather as a family, when we come together as posse, a gang, a clan, a holy nation, a kingdom priests. When I decide that it is too much trouble to come, that it’s too nice a day to spend half of it inside, or it’s the only time I have to sleep in, or I need to wash the car, every time I allow something else to be more important, I harm all my brothers and sisters who need me to be part of that fellowship that will help them get through another week. When I as member of Christ do not show up, Jesus himself is wounded. We have spent more than a year and half being isolated by the COVID pandemic. For a time we could not worship together. Since we have been able to come together with certain precautions, we have understood and still understand that everyone one has to make decisions about what level of risk is appropriate for them and their families. Nevertheless, it is time for us to consider whether it is not time come back together. Hebrews says, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” We need each other for that provoking to happen. I am trying to do that now. “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.” Not neglecting to meet together. Coming to church is a sacrament of our commitment to being part of the Body of Christ. It is an outward and visible sign of inner spiritual grace of sharing in the life of Jesus Christ. It is a sign that does what it signifies. Being together is both how we demonstrate our unity and how we make it happen. You cannot call yourself a family if you never share a meal together. You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not participate in the Body of Christ. I know that I am preaching to those who least need to hear this. Even so this sermon will be heard by those who will be hearing this through the Youtube broadcast. Others may read in on our website or Litchfield.bz. All of us can be reminded of how important coming together is. And we can all be encouraged to reach out to those who are not here. Call up the friend you miss. And, yes there are those who are incapacitated and cannot come to church. If you know any, go visit them. Showing up cuts both ways. The idea that ninety percent of life is showing up applies to being a disciple of Jesus. We need to show up for each other. We thrive in each other’s presence and we languish when deprived of that fellowship. There was seminary professor who was asked by a student if he was planning to attend church that Sunday or would he be somewhere else. The professor replied, “That is not a decision I will make now. I made that decision forty years ago when I became a Christian.” This should not be something we have to think about every Sunday. It should be a pattern that connects us to each other, and through each other to the presence of God in our midst. Let us not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some. Let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, encouraging one another.