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Epistle: Hebrews 12:18-29

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and 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.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and 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, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.   25See 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! 26At 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.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, 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; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

From my colleague and friend, Phil Heinze (Living the Lectionary):

Accept the grace of God or else get burned.

Not the best way to start a Wednesday afternoon, but then this text is not about nice. It’s about the living God, a consuming fire that shakes things up.

I will admit I prefer the “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” image of God, so of course I will try to paint the “our God is a consuming fire” warning from heaven in a more friendly light. It may not be that hard if the mediator of the new covenant, whose blood speaks a better word than Abel, speaks for us.

Then maybe a consuming fire and a warning from heaven, from which we cannot escape, is good news even if we don’t heed the warning. For we do not come to a mountain of fire and smoke that makes one tremble and faint for fear but to a holy hill where the God who is a consuming fire was himself consumed by the cross so that those who do not heed warnings might become the righteous made perfect.

So, what’s the point of a warning word if everyone gets a free pass? That misses the point. No one gets a pass on judgment for the truth is we are all guilty to one degree or another.

But judgment is the penultimate word, which is just a fancy way of saying it is not the last word.

The last word, the ultimate word, is that God will remove created things fatally flawed so that gifted with a new kingdom that cannot be shaken we might worship with reverence and awe the living God who is a consuming fire forever connected to the creation by Divine love.

It’s not easy to see God as a something or someone destructive or vengeful. But God will stop at nothing to bring that which God creates and loves to its fullness. For that we rejoice.

Let us pray: Almighty God, we are in awe of your power and love. May we trust you with the world today, and live in the hope you have for us for tomorrow. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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