MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on God being a demanding snit in this passage from Hebrews. Why is God being demanding actually a good thing? Or, is it? What does “spiritual but not religious” have to say about it?Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Hebrews12:18-24a. #GreatPreaching #Spiritualbutnotreligious #Sermons#Homilyhelper
For MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/1/2013 The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a.
Hebrews is a hard letter for us to hear. It is a letter to a church which is falling away from faithfulness. St. Paul is concerned because the “church is plagued by neglect, apathy, absenteeism, retreat, and near the point of apostasy.” The same could be said about our churches today in the cultural milieu.
What are the current trends about God? The whole “spiritual, but not religious” movement sheds a light on what we think of God in our culture. The “spiritual, but not religious” movement says this: God is constraining. God is limiting. God is a burden. God stands between us and happiness. God is an institution that is arrogant. All of these comments could be said about how the culture views God. Frankly, if that were God in reality, then I would feel the same way. It is the way that the people who received the “Letter to the Hebrews” seemed to be feeling about God.
So, St. Paul reminds them that God is the same God who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. So that they wouldn’t think that the Ten Commandments just fell out of the sky from the amiable “Big Guy in the Sky”, St. Paul reminds them in our short selection from Hebrews of the setting in which the Commandments were given.
Exodus 19 recounts that as the Hebrews stood before Mt. Sinai, there were great and terrible clouds. There were peals of thunder and bolts of lightning. When Moses brought the people out of the camp, “Mt. Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a great kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him — in thunder.” Then God gave the people the Ten Commandments. The people didn’t want to hear the Lord, they were too afraid.
St. Paul reminds the hearers of the letter to the Hebrews that the God who struck fear in the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai is still the same God who demands they be faithful. He is an awe inspiring God. He is beyond comprehension, and powerful. He is restraining his power for the end time, when we shall be judged. Until then, he is doing amazing things for us.
So, in the face of a lazy church, St. Paul’s message to the Hebrews is, “Remember who you are dealing with here. This is not your “Good Buddy God.” This is the ‘Lord, God Almighty!’ This is an awesome God. If you think you have it bad here, just think of what it is going to be like when you are held accountable for your laxity in the end.”
Some say that this “angry God” is the God of the Old Testament. They say that the God of the New Testament is merciful, kind and loving. He would never demand us to do anything. The idea is that the demanding God is the God of the Old Testament while the more permissive God is the God of Jesus and the New Testament.
How many of us had demanding parents, or know of demanding parents? When those parents punished us, were they mean people, or were they people who were concerned that we were going on the wrong path? Often times their harshness was only after there was great patience and hope that we would come around. God the Father is a demanding parent, yes, but he is not unreasonable. His demands are because he loves us and desires us to spend eternity with him.
Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a United Methodist Layman and professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University, said to his students, “The Protestant Church in America isn’t dying, God is killing it.” Besides the fact that Dr. Hauerwas likes to say things that shock his students, he says this because he feels that the Methodists, mainline protestants, and Americans have removed the awe from God. We have made him, a ‘nice god, who does nice things for nice people.’ In fact, a prominent Theologian wrote in his commentary for this passage,
Within the context of Hebrews, this sharply etched contrast between earthly Sinai and heavenly Zion is understandable, but the preacher will think carefully about this terrifying portrait of Sinai and ask whether it does full justice to the Old Testament.
What he is saying is, “Do not tell people that God is so mighty and terrible to face because it will drive them away.” This would mean that there would be force that would demand a morality which we, in our American independence, would reject in the name of personal “freedom.” But I continue to ask what is our idea of freedom? Is it free to be texted, instant messaged, and SKYPED? Is it to freedom to clone humans when we aren’t really sure what the outcome is? Is it really freedom to have children by a man who isn’t going to stay and carry the load? Is it really freedom for us to be used by another human being through work, sex or some other vehicle? Is this really freedom?
What we need to remember is that a God who is as mighty and terrible to face as our God is, also is the one who is powerful enough to come to earth and give himself for our sins on the Cross and be raised from the dead. He is powerful enough to live today in heaven at the right hand of God and in our hearts urging us on to live a more holy life. Why must God be either powerful or a pushover? God can be mighty and loving. God can be an imposing figure and an inviting, loving Savior. In his love he can be demanding of his people. If you think about it, who wants to follow a God who isn’t at least somewhat impressive and awe inspiring? Who really wants to follow a God who doesn’t know as much as us, ask as much as us, or can’t give as much as us? That is not a god, that is an inferior person.
He can be both the God who terrifies us on Mount Sinai and promises us the heavenly Mt. Zion. He showed his power as being unapproachable on Mount Sinai, but then he made his power approachable through the God-man Jesus Christ. Even in the Old Testament, before he sent the armies of Assyria and Babylon to take his people into exile, he sent prophets begging them to change their ways so he wouldn’t have to send a foreign army to discipline them.
A young man walks onto the basketball court and starts talking to his friends. He is telling them how his mother keeps warning and warning she is going to do something and never does. So, he just ignores her teaching. Another young man tells him that his mother beats him about the smallest things. Because he knows he is going to get beat, he just ignores her teaching. Another young man, one who mainly watches them fight over the basketball, tells them that his mother is firm, but patient. She sometimes disciplines him, but more often she is patient and warns him. But he knows that she will punish him if necessary. Because of that, he listens to his mother. In fact, he’s got to go because his mother wants him home, now.
God is like this last mother. We as the church need to remember that God is not our good buddy, he is our God. He is mighty enough to exact discipline on us, but instead he invites us to come and worship him. In our worship we hear his words instruct us as to how we are to live. We also hear how when we fail to live up to God’s expectations, we can come back and apologize, correct our life and all is forgiven.
I have been trying for over thirty years to remind people that God is an awesome God. He is merciful and slow to anger, but he is powerful and mighty. He is a God who is able to cast us into hell for our constant lack of obedience, but has chosen to give us forgiveness in Christ Jesus if we take it and live an obedient life.
Much like the Hebrews to whom St. Paul writes, I think we sometimes have been tricked into thinking that we can do whatever we want to do and God will just look the other way. We can be flippant about God and its O.K. we think. But this is not true. God is worthy of awe and reverence, especially when we come to worship.
So, take heart, my brother or sister. This God whom you have go to worship is mighty and merciful, holy and humble. Rejoice that the One you have come to worship is beyond comprehension. The loyalty and dedication he demands, he deserves. You are not wasting your life in going to church with reverence and awe. You are right to believe he is hovering over the altar, worthy to be worshiped. Believe! Believe. The Lord is mighty and merciful, strong and slow to anger. He awaits you to come and worship. Amen? Amen.
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