Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (August 21, 2016)
- First reading and Psalm
- Second reading
Hebrews 12:18-29 | New Living Translation (NLT)
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
An Unshakable Kingdom
We continue in Hebrews this week, picking up just a few verses from where we left off last week. For most of the book, the author of Hebrews has been laying down an argument of how Jesus is superior to everything else – especially the Old Covenant. He has reminded the Hebrews (to which the book was originally written) and us that the New Covenant is much superior because it is once and for all – it transcends time – Jesus sacrifice was for all and for all time – and it only took one sacrifice. I love reading from Hebrews when we receive communion.
This week’s passage takes us to a figurative mountain. In the passage above, the author writes, “You have not come to a physical mountain.” The original Greek is more like “to something that can be touched.” One of the “disadvantages,” if you can call it that, is that the Kingdom that we are working for is an invisible kingdom.
It was interesting, just before I starting writing this, I got robo-called by a political campaign. I don’t know why I was selected. But sometimes we do get God’s kingdom mixed up with our kingdom.
The writer of Hebrews says that we are not standing in front of a physical mountain and experiencing all the things the Hebrews did at Mount Sinai, but we are standing at Mount Zion – the city of God. We have come to God himself – those of us whose names are written. We have come to the righteous judge. We have come to Jesus – the mediator of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is speaking of forgiveness.
We are reminded to be careful to listen, because when the people of Israel refused to listen, God had to send a messenger. What happens, he says, if we refuse to listen to the One who is speaking directly from heaven? That is a scary thought. We are reminded that when God spoke from heaven at Mount Sinai the earth shook. We have several instances recorded in God’s Word of things shaking when God spoke. As the writer continues, we are reminded that God will speak again – separating the shakable from the unshakable. Only what is of God’s Kingdom will remain.
What is our response to this? Let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe! We don’t talk about that much anymore. It’s not popular to talk about reverence – but isn’t that what holy fear and awe is?
Several years ago, while visiting our kids in Canada, we had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame in Ottawa. It is a magnificent cathedral. Just walking into the place you want to be quiet – you want to be reverent. I know there have been times when I have been leading musical worship – and that holy fear and awe has come over me – and I don’t want to talk – because God is there in a very tangible way. I love those times and yet they are scary – those thin places when it seems that we can almost reach out and touch heaven – the true unshakable Kingdom.
For those who have been covered by the blood of Jesus – to those who have received the cleansing of Jesus – to those who have received the forgiveness of Jesus – to those who stand at the foot of Mount Zion – we are – we are – we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable.
In closing, I’ve included Sandi Patty’s “Unshakeable Kingdom.” While this is not my usual style of music, I thought it worked for this. We are receiving a Kingdom.