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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, August 24, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 12:18–29

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 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, 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 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! 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.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is 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 give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (NRSV)

“Give them heaven!” That’s what our former pastoral resident Abbi always told me on Sunday mornings. I trust I don’t have to spell out the way she changed that phrase from the way it’s typically used. But I must admit, when I read this passage, I wondered if this preacher would have been more comfortable with the phrase’s original wording. After all, it does seem the preacher is trying to scare the sin right out of his congregation, doesn’t it?

A quick reminder: many biblical scholars do not think this “Letter to the Hebrews” was a letter at all. Rather, they read it as a sermon, one preached to a congregation whose knees were growing weak and whose heads were starting to droop as they began to feel the demands of discipleship. Living as a follower of Jesus Christ was (is) difficult. They had to speak up when they saw injustice. They had to daily act out of compassion. They were called on to love their neighbors, even when they did not like them. They were exhorted to watch what they said and how they said it, because words had the power to wound. It was (is) difficult to be a disciples of Jesus. They were growing weary.

So the preacher tried every rhetorical trick he had. He spent some of the sermon building them up and encouraging them to keep running the race set before them. But here it seems the preacher changed tactics and decided to see if fear might be more useful in steering them in the right direction. Honestly, it must not have been very effective, because immediately after this passage he switched again to a more grace-filled way of being. He tried to “give them heaven.”

What motivates you to keep going? When your own knees get weak and your own head begins to droop, who or what keeps you moving in the direction of faith? Personally, “give them heaven” is enough for me.

Gracious God, give me enough heaven for today. And may that promise of goodness and mercy motivate me to live rooted in your justice, your compassion, your love, and your proclamation that all will be well. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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