Tag: mountain

Church: Shaken and Stirred

Sermon, Pentecost 11th C, Sunday August 25, 2019, St Petri

Hebrews 12:18-29

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;

  1. A real mountain that could actually be touched (12:18)
  2. A blazing fire (12:18)
  3. Darkness (12:18)
  4. Supernatural gloom (12:18)
  5. A storm cloud ((12:18)
  6. A blast of the trumpet horn (12:19)
  7. 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;

  1. It is ‘Mount Zion” (the mountain; the city of God (12:22)
  2. It is inhabited by a myriad of angels (12:22)
  3. It is the assembly of the firstborn children of God (12:23)
  4. It is established by ‘the Judge’, who is God of all things (12;23)
  5. It includes the spirits of the righteous who have died and been made perfect (12:23)
  6. At the heart of the gathering is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant between God and people (12:24)
  7. 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.




Reaching the Heights

Sermon, Transfiguration Day

Sunday February 19, 2012.

St Petri.

 Mark 9: 1-10

Reaching the heights

Friends, being on top of the hill is a great place to be. It always amazes me how those mountain climbers go to such great lengths and put themselves in such dangerous places to experience the joy of being high on “the roof of the world”, as they call Mt Everest.

I have never been anywhere near Mt Everest, but I have enjoyed that great view on various high places. I remember being on top of Uluru on a fine sunny spring morning. I remember the view of that beautiful city of Paris that Leanne and I shared in the Montparnasse Tower. I remember viewing the patchwork quilt of paddocks in southern wheat belt in WA from the top of Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Ranges with our whole family and some friends.

Somehow being at the top of a mountain and taking in that sweeping view is exhilarating. I guess that is why we bother to get up so high.

Peter, James and John were led up a high mountain (probably Mt Tabor) in Israel. They were led up there by Jesus. They may have been thinking that this might be the time that Jesus was going to teach them the way he prays? They had often seen him disappear up a nearby hill at sunset and not come back until morning, and when they asked him what he had been doing, he said he had been “praying to my Father”.

Well, they got more than they could have ever bargained for. We heard the account Mark tells. Jesus changes. His clothes become whiter than white; whiter than any bleach could make them. This is “other worldly” white.

In this blinding array, two human figures appear. Surely they cannot believe their eyes. They are good Jewish boys. All their lives they have told and had re-told the stories of these two “greats” of the Jewish faith – and there they are. Instead of having Adelaide Crows or Power players on their bedroom walls, they would have had Moses and Elijah there!

We might liken this moment to being in the presence of a West Coast Eagles ‘legend’ like Guy MacKenna or Peter Matera! (maybe not here, hey?).

Leanne tells me that when the Queen visited Perth last year, it was this kind of moment. Tens of thousands of people lined the Perth streets and they were almost silent as Elizabeth II passed by and when she addressed the great throng.

The three men are dazzled by this supernatural show of light. Amazingly, Mark says that these two towering figures of the Biblical story are “talking with Jesus”. They have come to talk with Jesus. They seem the lesser and he seems the greater.

After the initial terror that filled these men, Peter has to say something. Even though it seems that the words he says are spoken in his dazed state.

“Jesus, it is good to be here!” he blurts out. Then he suggests to Jesus that he and his two friends should be allowed to put up the three tents. Most people seem to take this as meaning that Peter wanted this inspiring experience to keep going for a little longer. Why not? After all, as he says, “It is good to be here”.

Peter’s very limited human understanding of Jesus and of how God works to hide his glory, lest we take it for ourselves and give ourselves the credit is on show here. His idea comes to naught. Even as he finishes speaking, God is already doing something else. God is in control of this rare event and he is the one who determines the mountain top experiences, not Peter.

The “cloud” descends. Ah. “The cloud”. We have heard about this cloud before. This is the “glory cloud”, the Shekinah” of God’s glorious presence with his people in that desert wandering time. The cloud descended on the newly build tabernacle as Moses and Aaron had prayed way back in Numbers. The pillar of cloud appeared in the great event of the Red Sea crossing as God freed his people, Israel. The cloud of God led them by day and the pillar of fire led them by night in that Exodus journey.

Now the cloud of God’s glory envelops them all. And in the misty great came that Voice. The voice that only Jesus had heard before – the voice saying almost the same word down by the Jordan when John the Baptiser baptised Jesus as his ministry began that day (Mark 1).

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”.  This time it seems that not only Jesus hears these precious and powerful words from Parent to child.

The sense of the words suggests that everyone heard this stamp of love and approval and this command – this imperative word, “Listen to him”. Actually, the word means, “Keep on listening to him”.

And then, as quickly as they had been dazzled, it is all gone – except one thing. They are looking around for more or others and there is no more and no other – other than Jesus.

Jesus is all they can see and surely all they need to see and hear. The law, the prophets, Moses, Elijah, the OT Exodus events, all wrapped up in and fulfilled in this Rabbi from up north – Jesus of Nazareth who they believe to be God’s dearly loved Son and Saviour of the world – “Christ”, “Messiah”, “New King David”.

We get the sense that there is much more to come for Jesus and for his three companions. There is more to come and Jesus will need to draw on these precious words of affirmation and the three (and the other 9) will also need to stay very close – within earshot of Jesus for what is about to happen.

And then a great thing: Jesus not only leads them up to this great “life-shifting” experience and gives them a glimpse of what is to be part of their experience in their future, he also willingly and definitely now, goes down the mountain from this great moment. (Mark 9:9). He is resolute now. The moment is passed. It was important to experience it and hear the word in it – not just for itself, but for what is now to unfold.

Friends, Jesus is all we need. He is all that God leaves for us to know, see and hear. So, no need to look around for others, friend. You have him right in front of you – hidden yes, but revealed too; revealed in ways of his choosing: the preached Word, the shared word, the enacted Word of Baptism, Absolution for sin and Holy Meal; in the community of Jesus – the Church.

It is good to be here at St Petri for these things and for Him. Here we receive him and his gifts of affirmation and love. Here, we the Baptised hear those words spoken over us as we gather in Jesus’ name, “Son, Daughter of God, I love you and very pleased with you”. Listen to Jesus. Hear each other”.

Worship in the name of Jesus is powered by his voice – his word. It is our regular mountain top, even though to the senses it may not exactly “feel” that way at times!! But He is here. His word is here. The Law and Prophets and the great cloud of witnesses gather with us and all who have gone before us in the Faith and have entered the rest. Worship is cosmic in proportion!

But friends, how good it is that Jesus is not only here! How good is it that he goes with us into our way of the cross? He comes with us down from the high points and stays with us in the low. He goes to the end of our suffering and pain and triumphs for us!

Friends, we will begin this intentional focus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of the suffering as Lent begins this Wednesday. The Lord is calling you to enjoy the mountain today and marvel in your Saviour with all his glory and brightness, and then follow him down to the 40 day journey called Lent. I believe that as we pay attention to his voice in some time and tested ways, we will reach that other even higher event for us who are in need of such forgiveness, triumph and life – Easter Day: Resurrection Day.

Look to him. Listen to him. Follow him. He will lead you and stay with you through it all and bring you to end of it all in his light and life.

All praise be to Jesus, the suffering and triumphant Saviour of us all.