Sermon, Pentecost 11th C, Sunday August 25, 2019, St Petri
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
I suspect that you thought you were just ‘going to church’ this morning. That might be where you start but I hope it is not where you finish this morning.
For the last couple of weeks we have been in the “Hall of Faith’ (Hebrews 11). We have been urged on by stories of the many who have lived a life of faith in the Lord’s presence and promises.
This preacher loves using this ‘lesser to greater’ technique to show us the magnificence of that has happened in Jesus’ death and resurrection. EG. Moses was the great prophet in the Old Testament, but Jesus is THE great prophet for all time. The Temple in Jerusalem was a great place of meeting between heaven and earth: God and his people, Jesus is the new temple not made of bricks but flesh and blood and etc….
So, because we are now baptised sons and daughters of the Lord already living in the new country, the new temple, under the new and great High Priest, the Lord calls us into his presence in worship. The Spirit gathers us in the new city; the holy city; Zion, the place and time where time and earth meet eternity and God’s heavenly presence.
And you thought you were ‘just going to church”?
In this passage he uses a similar technique to help you and I trust that we never ‘go to church’ but we are gathered as church into the presence of Jesus the King.
The preacher speaks of two mountains. One is Mt Sinai, the other is Mount Zion. Sinai is the holy place where Moses and the people of God received the God’s word in the form of the Ten Commandments; the ten guidelines that were to shape them as a unique, called, holy people in God’s world.
He tells of seven (of course it is seven!) things about Mt Sinai the people experienced;
- A real mountain that could actually be touched (12:18)
- A blazing fire (12:18)
- Darkness (12:18)
- Supernatural gloom (12:18)
- A storm cloud ((12:18)
- A blast of the trumpet horn (12:19)
- God’s voice (speaking the commandments) (12:19).
The people of God at Mt Sinai experienced the hidden God in these tangible, touchable things on an actual mountain. The way he revealed himself was by his voice; his words, which they well and truly heard!
Now we New Covenant people also live at a mountain; an invisible one. It also has seven features that match the old mountain;
- It is ‘Mount Zion” (the mountain; the city of God (12:22)
- It is inhabited by a myriad of angels (12:22)
- It is the assembly of the firstborn children of God (12:23)
- It is established by ‘the Judge’, who is God of all things (12;23)
- It includes the spirits of the righteous who have died and been made perfect (12:23)
- At the heart of the gathering is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant between God and people (12:24)
- And Jesus’ blood for sprinkling (forgiving of sin) speaks in the assembly – a blood pure and more powerful than that of Abel (which cried out from the ground” to the one who had killed him – Cain). (12:24)
Again, you just think you ‘come to church’?
No way! You are drawn into this festal gathering on this new mountain with this great crowd of witnesses to Jesus’ truth and love in the presence of a myriad of angels and the “spirits of those already made perfect” in the new creation; the new city of God.
This two-mountain story is told to help you marvel at the privilege you live in; the privilege and the gifts of worshipping together; the high status you enjoy and the high calling to which you are called within God’s church; God’s holy community.
The preacher needs to do this because we usually don’t get this. We, like the people to whom he writes, have this tendency to live in our own little world and be good little consumers, users, moaners, groaners, criticizers and judges of everyone else and God. We tend to reduce everything to ourselves, including the magnificence of God’s grace present and active in this worship assembly.
Either that or we just shrink into ourselves and get lost in our own troubles and thoughts.
Heads up today! God is revealing what is really going here in worship. He is galvanising us, drawing us together, helping us help each other and trust Jesus. Jesus is the pioneer of this great gift of gathering. He got us to this new holy mountain of God and promises to lead us, teach us, call us and lead us through all valleys where death’s shadow comes over us.
All these gifts are here, and like the first mountain with its tangible, touchable things, the Lord has also given us similar things in this Divine Service gathering.
We hear real words from real brothers and sisters. We hear God speaking his real words through real people. We see real symbols and actions of God’s presence and promises as we see the sign of the cross, make the sign of the cross, see the textile art and colour and the furniture that symbolises God’s presence and God’s grace. We even taste, touch, smell, see and hear Jesus himself, coming to us real bread and wine with his real body and blood for real forgiveness and return to our holy and high places as God’s loved sons and daughters.
These things are magnificent. And what is our end of the deal? To listen. That is how we receive all of this grand festal banquet and all its gifts – by listening to his words.
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks”.
Can you now sense that you never just ‘go to church’?
Friend, you have not just ‘come to church’. You have been again drawn to the new city, the new covenant, the new country of the new creation by Jesus the creator, the writer of your life’s story and the one who sustains you with his magnificent gifts that will keep you through death door to the entry gate of the new city, the new land promised for all those who run the race of life in Jesus’ love with perseverance to its end and its grand new festal beginning which will never end.
The trumpet horn does not blow here though. It is the bell in the key of G. It rings. The Spirit gathers his holy but battered, bruised, sad, angry or mad people in from the places he has sent them, and the angels gather, the saints surround, the Saviour speaks, and his gifts of healing, forgiveness and new joy are given. The hope they give you goes with you back into the places the Spirit takes you.
Friends, we don’t just turn up looking to ‘get something out of the Service’ like good consumers do at the shops. We are shaken by God here, says the preacher.
“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
In this gathering, anything not grounded in the Lord is shaken out of us – like dust out of a mat. And once shaken, we are stirred: stirred to take his gifts and use them – go and grow in him among others.
The sprinkled perfect and pure blood of Jesus is given to us and we are re-set in ‘the kingdom that can never be shaken’.
And why does the Lord do all this? Is it to make us a holy huddle in the world so we go to heaven and the others who did not listen go to hell?
No. He shakes us, stirs us and sends us not so we be a holy huddle escaping the world, but his holy people carrying his grace to his world as we go and grow.
And you thought you were just ‘going to church’!
May you be shaken, and may you be stirred as you are sent to go and grow.
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