Hebrews 12:18–29 (NRSV)
18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Faith is a powerful aspect of our lives. For the past couple of weeks we have explored how lifestyles of faith can add hope to the lives of those whom our stories interact. But how does a lifestyle of faith effect our lives?
Faith is not a magical force, and it is more than mere belief; it is a lifestyle of entrusting our lives and livelihoods to the will of God. This entrustment of our lives to God is not done easily. To entrust our lives to God we must relinquish control, we have to let go. Why is it so difficult to let go?
The writer of Hebrews speaks about the forms of belief that are involved in the history of faith. The first is that of fear which was what was present at Mount Sinai. When the nation of Israel set up camp at the base of this mountain they waited for forty days while Moses climbed up to receive the law. They knew that the presence of God was all around them, the cloud that they followed settled on this mountain. They followed the cloud because it could be sensed, but when the cloud rested on the mountain things changed. They were faced with a glimpse of the unknown. For forty days they did not move, their leader was gone, and they for the first time had to consider their own life with God.
This time at the base of the mountain was described as terrifying. There was thunder and lightning, fire seemed to be falling from the sky and they felt very alone in the crowd. They knew about God, they even trusted God, but they did not know God. As the time progressed worry began to grip them and they decided they needed to take control of their situation. They gathered all their gold and developed a system of belief that they could control. But when they took control God responded with wrath.
This is what the writer refers to when he speaks of a blazing fire, darkness and gloom. They faced the wrath of God and as a result they were content with a barrier between them and God. This barrier allowed others to speak for them, it gave them the ability to compartmentalize their belief systems and separating their religious practices from their social practices. The writer of Hebrews speaks of another mountain of faith, Mount Zion. The idea of Mount Zion is one dedicated to messianic hopes. Zion is this place where God and mankind meet in peace.
The concept of Zion is one that Jesus spoke from the beginning of his ministry and it is the core of the Gospel. “The kingdom of God is here.” The kingdom of God is all around us if we are willing to look. The problem is that it is not one that can be clearly defined in common terms.
The difference is who we trust. Life is filled with positive and negative experiences how we handle those experiences is a reflection of where our trust lies. We cry out and say it is not fair that a loving God would allow pain but why are we crying? We want life on our own terms and we do not want consequence, this in itself is building a god in our own image or developing a philosophy to mimic our own desires. We do not want pain so obviously God does not exist because a loving God would not allow this. But then there are others that have fashioned their lives around the belief that everything that happens is either blessing or curses that are a direct result of our actions. If I am experiencing pain it is because I sinned and face judgement. Both of those views are empty of the hope that Jesus gives. Both put our faith in ourselves. There is no God so I must make my own way, and I will withdraw from relationships with others because they only cause pain. I will believe only in myself and become isolated and in this isolation we find ourselves experiencing hell. But the other extreme is that everything that happens is a result of God’s judgement and my ability to satisfy God. What happens if I am faced with a struggle? God is testing me, God is judging me, God is displeased and I must suffer. Again in that mindset our faith again is placed in ourselves, I must make my way or I will face judgement and as we are focusing so deeply on our personal adherence to our understanding of the law we often leave God behind.
These faiths of men lack hope. We will always face pain and struggles. It is part of life. A simple definition of life is growth. And pain and struggle always accompanies growth. The odd thing is pain and struggle also accompany decline or the departure of life. For a tree to be strong it must grow to handle the stress of its environment. It must feel the pressures of the wind for the cells to strengthen. It must experience water scarcity so that the roots will grow deep. Without these stresses it would never survive.
But if all we have is stress it can overtake us as well. If there is not hope in the future we will often give up and let the pain overtake us and lose hope. This is where Zion, the city of the living God is so important. We come to a place where there is an assembly of others, angels, and the living God. We come to a place where our judge is Christ himself who has taken on our sin and has covered it with his own blood so it is never remembered. So when we face the struggles we do not face them alone. The winds blow and we have support.
This is why I like the image of the labyrinth. Most of us when we hear about this we think of a maze where there is confusion and dead ends at every turn, we must find the way through, but that is not what a labyrinth is. A labyrinth has only one path it goes in to the center and back out. There are twists and turns but as long as you continue down the path you will always make it through. The twist and turns in a labyrinth show us the struggles of life and there are always struggles, but there is always hope and each step brings us closer to the center.
How do we handle the stress and the struggle? Those who have faith in themselves only hit the wall they feel the pain and they look to themselves for answers and turn the other direction. Those that have faith in God hit that wall and they again center of Christ and are guided closer to the center. The writer of Hebrews explains this through the illustration of shaking. When the nation of Israel turned from God at the base of Sinai and began worshiping a god created by their own hands the wrath of God was expressed through an earthquake which opened a chasm in the earth and swallowed many of the unfaithful. This image of shaking and being swallowed up is one that is important to consider. When the world shakes around us, where are we placing our faith? If it is only on our own strength then we will be swallowed up, because we cannot stand before the righteousness of God by our own merit. We have all failed and continue to fail. But what if we entrust our lives in Christ? When things begin to shake it is Christ who remains. Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross, who was swallowed by the grave for three days and who emerged from that grave victorious. If we are found in Christ then the shaking earth cannot bind us because it cannot hold Christ.
So where is our faith? What type of lifestyle do we live? Is it one that is relying on our own strength or one that is entrusted in Christ? When we walk the journey of life are we constantly drawing closer to the center the heart of Christ or when we face the pains of living do we hit a wall and turn away in confusion? The writer of Hebrews says that the things that are shaken are remember and all that remains are the things that cannot be shaken, all that remains is Christ. He then says, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God and acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” We are receiving a kingdom. This is odd phasing, but the interesting thing about it is that it is present tense. We are receiving and living in the kingdom now when we dedicate our lives to God through Christ. The question then is how do we live in that kingdom now even when so much of the world seem to opposed to the ways of God?
That is faith. The assurance in things hoped for and the confidence of things unseen. The world is shaken by financial collapse, it is shaken by wars and disasters. The world around us is shaken by things every step through the chronicles of history, but those that are centered and grounded in Christ will continue to walk toward him allowing His kingdom to take hold in their lives as they reflect it to those around them. They speak to those that God calls them to speak, they minister to those to which God calls them to minister. They do the work set before them where they are at and stay focused on the center of their faith that part that remains unshaken because it has already overcome the world. And when we live that lifestyle; when we live lives of faith that are fully entrusted in Christ we live lives that will catch hold of those around us. Like a fire raging in the prairies as we burn for God the next blade of grass also gets caught in the blaze, and each person must chose to turn toward God or away.
As we enter into this time of open worship, consider the type of life you are living. Consider the story of your life and what is most important. Are the things of this world shaking us or do we remain firmly planted in Christ? Consider the journey you are walking through life when you are faced with the next twist will you turn from or toward Christ? Let us now center down together and focus on the author and protector of our faith, and let us become people who are loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.