“I am The Jewish Nurse,” Ari Mahler begins.
“Yes, that Jewish Nurse,” he continues. You may have seen this story circulating online last week. Mahler is a trauma nurse in the Pittsburgh ER that cared for Robert Bowers, the man who murdered 11 people in a synagogue Saturday before last. Mahler begins – and the whole letter is worth reading, I’ll link to it when this sermon is posted – by reflecting on the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child. Drawings of swastikas, notes left in his locker, then he draws it to today – citing the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center [who] note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them.
He reflects on looking in Bowers’ eyes in that ER and not seeing evil, but someone who was out of his depth, confused…he describes the scene more though limited by HIPPA and medical confidentiality. He ends by writing:
I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?
Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.
“And let us consider,” the author of Hebrews writes, “how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” The books of Hebrews is, in the words of one scholar, a sermon containing little sermons – like the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures is Moses’ final sermon to the people, but really 5 shorter sermons within. The church has long wrestled with the book’s history – it shares similarities with Paul’s letters, but some of the language is different. Our author, our preacher, is clearly connected to the first generation of apostles, especially Timothy, but scholars haven’t been able to satisfactorily confirm exact date or authorship. What we do know is that they seem to be second-generation believers. Many were baptized and brought up in the faith, some have become teachers of that same faith. They have been faithful long enough that their commitment is waning. They have been faithful long enough that they have grown weary, lax in their church attendance. Some of this may be because of persecution, some simply getting out of the habit. They are people of deep intellect and faith, and the preacher is trying to remind them who they are, who they have been, who they can be.
“Therefore, my friends,” the preacher begins in today’s text – he’s laying the theological groundwork – “since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by…the new and living way that he opened for us…since we have a great priest over the house of God….” He is reminding the church they can have confidence not because of anything we have done, but because of CHRIST alone, Christ’s faith, Christ’s trust, Christ’s sacrifice. Christ is the beginning and the end, and it’s all grounded in who HE is.
Because Jesus is making all things new, we get, in appropriate three-fold rhetorical form, three ‘let us’ clauses, three admonitions, encouragements, sets of things we are to do. ot to earn anything, but in grateful response, to God.
1 – Let us approach confident in our baptismal identity, hearts sprinkled clean (I love that), knowing we are clothed in Christ. In full assurance of faith.
2- Let us hold fast to the confession of hope. Without wavering, for – more language I love – he who has promised is faithful.
3 – 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…
That’s the language I want to keep before us today. Let us provoke one another to love. Let us provoke one another to love. Stirring up, encouraging, but its stronger than that. Be provocative, draw attention – not to get affirmation but because people can’t help but notice the love is so extravagant, so unexpected, so bold. So gracious and true. One scholar says a translation of ‘pester’ might work, and I kind of like that. Bug people into loving each other. Love each other, love the person in front of you in such a way that will provoke them to love as well – not just to love you back, either, though that’s great, but to love others in the community, and beyond.
Which settles into a nice question for today, in the week after a pretty darned contentious mid-term election, not long after a series of violent actions and attempted violent actions rooted in racism or anti-Semitism and other-izing of people who are different, believe, differently, God forbid maybe even voted differently. Another heart-breaking mass shooting in California. How might we, how might you, be the kind of follower of Jesus who provokes people to love?
Maybe its reaching out in kindness to someone who know voted differently to check in – not to assess the results, each team always wins some and loses some. Maybe it’s to ask how we can be gracious and kind to each other? Maybe it’s to assess our own speech, knowing words matter. It’s pretty easy to make recommendations to other people on their own words and actions. It’s harder to police yourself, to look deeply into your own heart. Maybe its building a bridge to someone different. Maybe its checking in on a neighbor you don’t know well. Maybe its sticking up for someone who needs sticking up for. Maybe its resolving to be extra kind in a complicated family situation as the holidays approach.
This weekend reminds us of one extraordinary example of love, sacrifice shared by many. Veteran’s Day because as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, when major hostilities of World War I were ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918, 100 years ago. We are called to remember, to pray, giving thanks to God for those who have gone before…are who served – like those we’ll recognize here in a minute – who did so out of a deep sense of faithfulness. While the world and our media too often glamorize war and violence, everyone I know who has actually been to war knows the cost, too well. And knows that when peace comes it is not, not ever, to be taken for granted. The cost is simply too much. Those who give of themselves, who put their lives on the line for all of the rest of us, that’s a kind of love I can only be grateful for. That kind of love provokes me, who did not serve in that way, to want to serve others in my community, in this place and beyond, in gratitude.
“And let us,” the preacher of Hebrews writes, “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” So much seems so hard in the world and I feel powerless sometimes. But what I can do, is be provoked by the love of that Jewish nurse, of the policeman running into the bar in California, of the veterans among us, by EMTs and teachers and people around us who give and give and give. And by being provoked, all of us, together, be a part of the ways that God, God’s love, Christ’s mercy, is, IS, I truly believe, is making all things new.
All praise be to God. Amen.