Our Sunday school lesson this week was based on a book called Love one another, becoming the church Jesus Longs For, by Gerald Sittser. We had a long list of commands regarding how we should treat one another, beginning with Love, from John 13:34. We had a lot to cover, and in fact only got about 3/4 of the way down the list of commands and scriptures.
I don’t want to cover the list exhausively, or it would either be just a list, or much too long, I think. We began though, with the idea of welcoming one another. Of course one hopes the church will be a welcoming place. What comes to mind is not just our times of shaking hands in church, though that is certainly nice. I think of going back to visit a church you have attended. The reception is really telling. When I came back to the church I am attending, quite a number of people recognized me and came to say hello and what are you up to, and even won’t you join us on a regular basis. I felt very welcomed, as if I were coming home from a long journey, though I had simply been across town, most of the time. Later I visited a church I had attended for some years. I recognized some people, but hardly anyone spoke to me at all. Not only did I not feel welcomed, it was as if no one had noticed all my faithful attendance and service in years past. It certainly did not inspire me to return.
Another point was that we need to confess our sins and pray for one another. The scripture was James 5:13-16. Of course this only works when we are keeping in mind that we are all weak and often needy. Those suffering should pray, the happy ones should sing God’s praises and the sick should ask for prayer. And according to this passage, the healing will include forgiveness for sins. This passage can be troublesome to many of us in its forgone conclusion that healing will of course take place, though we all know of those for whom we prayed and yet the suffering continued and sometimes led even to death. One member talked about such a time with a family member, who was asking simply why he was having to suffer at the end of his life. Sure, we all assume that complete healing takes place after death, but in a case like that, what can you do other than mourn the suffering right along with them, in hopes that the experience will somehow lessen the pain? Better to hear an honest, I don’t know why you are suffering, than to offer platitudes.
Another one was to encourage one another. Scriptures for this were 1Thess. 4:11 and Heb. 3:13. Here, our discussion was mostly along the lines that often we encourage one another without being aware of it, merely by how we live our lives. One may be an example of a truly loving marriage, for instance. Another is proof that it is possible to recover from a divorce or an addiction and thus encourage someone who is just beginning to deal with their issues. But words can also be important. For many years I felt the lack of encouragement in my life. I suspect my family of origin was simply too critical for my personality type. Yet spending time with my best friend would often give me a more positive outlook. It wasn’t like she would pull any punches if she thought I was off base, but she also would point out when she thought I was really on the right path, which was very encouraging to me.
A funny one was the command to stir up one another. One thinks of stirring up usually in the form of stirring up trouble! Yet in Hebrews 10:24-25, it refers to stirring one another to love and good deeds. One commented that he has always been referred to as someone who stirs things up. Perhaps this is a good trait after all! Of course, I guess the focus is only right if you keep your eyes on Jesus. And that led directly into the last one we got to, which was to admonish one another. Hmm, seems like God has a sense of humor at that!