A friend died this weekend, and my first thought was, 'Did I encourage him enough?' I heard the news of his passing and I immediately wondered, 'Did I do enough to lift him up, to let him know that I believed in him, prayed for him, was there to support him or listen to him?' A partner in ministry is no longer with us but rather reclining in the arms of Our Father, and I have Hebrews 10:24-25 whirling in my brain, 'And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' You know what I'm NOT thinking about today, though, as I remember my friend? I'm NOT thinking about the opportunities that I missed to talk to others about his faults. I'm NOT feeling guilty about the chances I missed to point out his weaknesses to anyone who would listen. Those are just not the thoughts we have when we lose someone, are they? We never wish we had said MORE ugly, divisive things about our dearly departed loved one.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of blogs on the Ten Commandments, specifically the human side of those commandments - thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal, covet - you know, those commandments. But I left one out. I did it on purpose - I didn't write about bearing false witness because I wanted to spend some extra time on that one, really focus in on the damage and destruction that hurtful words could bring to us as individuals and communities. But life got away from me and I didn't get back to that project, and yet, it has stayed with me. Gossip really troubles me as a pastor and a person. Harsh, negative, back-biting words about others, these might be the greatest and most destructive sins of the Church. We shouldn't be destroying and consuming each other, we should be spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, as Hebrews 10:24 suggests. We shouldn't be biting and tearing each other down with our words, we should be pleading with one another and inviting one another to celebrate God's good salvation together, just as the Father pleads with the Older son in Luke 15:28 to celebrate his brother's return. He shouldn't be gossiping about and slandering one another, we should be building one another up (Ephesians 4:29) and encouraging one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), bolstering each other as we journey together toward wholeness in Christ.
A friend, a brother in Christ, died this weekend, and all I can think of is how much I'm going to miss ministering side by side with him. All I can think about is how difficult and painful this loss will be to his family and his church. I wonder what words of encouragement and hope I can offer in the days to come. And I wonder, even as I consider how to help this man's family and church in the face of his death, I wonder how my words might bring life and hope and peace and joy and wonder and victory and restoration to the living all around me. Why wait till someone near you is no longer here to receive your words of kindness and encouragement? Why not offer them now? May the words that you utter today be like a fresh wind in the sail of a discouraged friend, and may they also be a fragrant offering to Our Father. Amen.