Monday, November 13, 2006

Sermon - Third-Last Sunday - Hebrews 12:26-29

Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year
November 12, 2006
Hebrews 12:26-29
“A Whole Lotta Shakin’ “

When Christ returns, the shaky things of this world will be removed, and his unshakable kingdom will remain. Therefore we stand in reverence and awe, and receive his promise with unshakable faith.

I like living in Wisconsin. The cheese, the football, the sub-tropical climate (actually it’s not all that bad). But one of the other things that’s nice about our state is there aren’t too many natural disasters. Every once in a while we get a small tornado. But we’re too far inland to have to worry about tornados. I don’t recall any mudslides or major forest fires around here lately. And we’re not like those people in California – who have to worry about a major earthquake. In fact, I bet most of us have never experienced an earthquake. So we’ll have to use our imagination today.

Because that sort of violent quaking and shaking of the earth is part of the backdrop for today’s reading from Hebrews. But it’s not a fault line or plate tectonics that causes the quaking, it is the thundering voice of God himself. And when he speaks, when he acts, and when he is present, there’s a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.” Though we live in a world that is shaky at best, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken!

The first earthquake alluded to by our text is the one Moses experienced at Sinai. After breaking the bondage of his people in Egypt, God led them to his holy mountain in the wilderness. As they encamped around the mountain, the Lord met with Moses at the mountaintop. Exodus describes this spectacular event:

…there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently…(Exodus 19:16-18)

All the thunder and lightning, trumpets and earth-quaking were outward signals that the Lord of Heaven had come down to Earth. But he didn’t do all this to flex his power, or show off his glory. He came to do something gracious for his people – to make them a covenant. He gave them commandments for living, laws which also showed their sin. He gave them a system of sacrifice, a way to deal with those sins. And there at Sinai he established Israel as his people.

We read of more earth-shaking experiences as the Gospel takes us to the cross. There, at Calvary, on Good Friday, some strange things happened too. Luke tells us:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44-45)

and Matthew records:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 25:51-52)

Our God is a consuming fire. And at the cross, the consuming fire of his wrath was poured out on his own Son, who had become sin for us. Thus sin and death were consumed in the body of Christ offered there. Nature itself – the Sun, the Earth, reacted to the violence done to its Creator. Yet in the darkness of that day, the forces of darkness met their end. At the death of the Lord of Life, death itself was destroyed. And the fallen earth, so tainted by sin, shook and trembled as its creator suffered and died to do away with sin.

But Matthew’s seismographic reporting continues, and it’s more than an aftershock 2 days later:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

Once again Jesus shakes things up, as the tomb of death could not hold him. The tomb had to be opened, not so Jesus could get out, but so that his people could go in and see – “he has risen, he is not here”.

The ground shook, and those hardened Roman soldiers shook. They became like dead men, even as the one who was dead returned to life. Jesus shakes things up – even death itself.

Back to our reading from Hebrews. There we are reminded that there is further shaking to come. If Sinai’s shaking pointed forward to Christ. And if Christ shook things up by his death and resurrection. Then Christ will shake earth and heavens – all creation – when he comes again in glory. We look forward to this final “shake-up”, to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, and to the promised New Heaven and New Earth.

It’s good news. Because our earthly life is full of earth-quakes. We live in the world shaken by sin – the sin of Adam, the sin of others, especially our own sin. We have to face the earth-shattering experiences of sin wreaking its havoc in our lives. We see a loved one die, and the earth shakes beneath us. We watch our children make bad choices, and we feel the ground moving. We think about God’s anger over own sin, and the guilt and shame make us shake and tremble. So much in this corrupted, fallen world is shaky at best, dangerous to our bodies and minds and souls. We need a firm foundation, a sure footing. We need the hope of God’s promise – that all this wickedness will be shaken off.

We are receiving an unshakable kingdom. Notice the present tense. It’s ongoing. We will receive one day, and we are receiving, even now, the unshakable kingdom of God. The blessings for which Christ bled and died– the firm ground of our faith in him, in his word, in the promises we receive, in the grace that comes to us in the water and the bread and the wine. These shakable things God attaches to his unshakable promise, part of the unshakable kingdom we are continually receiving in Christ.

And there’s a stewardship note here too. Make godly use of your time– because the time is coming soon when God will remove what can be shaken. “Put not your trust in things” – because they are part of what can be shaken. Your money, your possessions – shakable. Your home and family – shakable. Even your health and life itself – all these things can and will come crashing down someday. So we do not rely on them. We do not over-value them. We see their passing nature, and we set our eyes and hearts on things unshakable.

Throughout the Bible, when God is present and working salvation for us, the earth shakes and trembles. We too, would tremble in his presence, quaking in fear at the consuming fire of his wrath. But our God is also good. His promises are sure. In Christ he will remove all that can be shaken, one day, even as now we already are receiving that unshakable kingdom. And in Christ, we stand secure. In His Name, Amen.

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