My final sermon for my field education placement, for my “shake it up” worship service. Possibly my best sermon yet, I was really excited about the whole day. I read the text from Eugene Peterson’s Paraphrase, The Message, not because it was “new” but because I liked the way some of the verses were phrased. Hope y’all enjoy!
Read Hebrews 12:18-29 MSG
When I was in college, I lived in LaGrange, Georgia. I was a decent student, (good enough to get into Duke, at least), I was involved in the student life of the school, went on mission trips, and had a good time. But I learned next to nothing about the community around my school. Being on the literal hill of the town kept the school isolated from the community.
For weeks at a time the only place I would go off campus was the downtown Methodist church I attended a short walk away. There were weeks that I wouldn’t have to go to my car, and my first year I didn’t even have a car on campus. I lived a secure and insulated life.
Duke is not much different. My school is isolated from the city by both real and imaginary boundaries, of forest and prestige. I get so involved in my studies that I don’t have time to casually look much past my normal routine.
But sometimes the outside world walks onto your porch.
I was hanging out at my friend John’s one night last week when he stepped out to go check something. But he was sidetracked. There was a man on the porch. He asked John if he could use the bathroom, and John had seen him before, knew he was relatively harmless, and let him in.
I did not know these things.
I was in the kitchen, and so I remained in the kitchen, listening to the conversation after the man emerged from the bathroom. He asked for food and money, and explained about himself, in the wandering way that those who do not live stable lives or do not have stable chemistries tend to do. John’s house rule is to not give out money, but we offered him food, the Mexican casserole we had made for dinner.
He declined, and he went on to the next part of his life.
And I was left with the memories of times when others had come to our door. Not when I was in college, but earlier, when I still lived in a parsonage directly next to the church, remembering the insecurity that washed over me when something is asked of me and I am not prepared to give it. Kinda like the random people that came up to me in Kenya: “Hello mzungu! How are you?!? Can you sponsor me?” filling me with the icky feeling of not wanting to be generous because I didn’t want to set a precedent and knew that wasn’t my job anyway thank you very much.
But why? Why do I have to protect myself? John could have handled the guy if the situation had come to a head, but that’s not the real problem. The real problem I had was that this stranger had invaded my territory. I had a space where I was comfortable, and here was this guy coming and messing everything up. He didn’t know. It wasn’t his fault. Not really.
Was it mine? What do we do with times like these when we are forced to face something, something that isn’t our fault, isn’t what we are used to, isn’t our responsibility, isn’t a part of our world?
Sometimes God must break into our complacency in order to make us see just how silly our composed worlds really are.
God has to shake us out of it.
God shakes us into freedom. Into salvation.
While Jesus ministered on earth he taught and preformed miracles. One of the many people that he healed was one bent over and twisted from arthritis for eighteen years. Luke 13 tells us that she was so bent over that she couldn’t even look up. When Jesus lays his hand on her and tells her she is free she immediately stands straight and tall, and begins praising God.
God frees us to stand up straight and see the world as the Unshakable Kingdom cleansed by the God fire.
But we have to go through the quake.
Ever felt an earthquake?
I’ve been in a few, the first I remember was at five in the morning when I was in college. I had procrastinated, so I had set my alarm to go off at five so I could continue working, and I woke up but then decided that I needed another hour or so of sleep, so I rolled over and then my bed started shaking.
“Who the heck is jumping on my bed?” That was my first thought. Never mind that none of my roommates would have done it. Then I realized that the entire room was shaking. In Georgia. An earthquake in Georgia. I was stunned.
Fast forward four years. My parents and I are in our guesthouse in the Kakamega rain forest in Kenya. Around seven at night we are waiting for the time to go to dinner, sitting in the parlor of the house. And then the house begins to shake. Do you hear that? Do you feel that? We don’t move. We just wait.
Almost like a heavy train that shook the windows of one of my parents’ parsonages, the eager clinkering of the panes of glass in their frames, but there was no train.
And the shaking subsides. Later, at dinner, we ask those around us, did you feel the earthquake? Some: perhaps, but most had missed it. It was not until we had returned to my house and we felt others that we knew that the land was in a time of instability.
Our world was shaken. Thank God that it was not destroyed. Thank God that we were not caught in an earthquake like the one in Haiti three months ago, the earthquake in Chile two months ago, the volcano that continues to erupt in Iceland.
But what if it had been? I’m glad we are fine, that our plans did not alter because of the shifting plates underneath the ground, but what if they had.
What if the world had been shaken?
What will happen when it is?
In the story of the woman who stood tall newly healed, Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath. The synagogue leaders were furious. He broke one of the laws that they had all tried so hard to follow all their lives.
[Hushed stage whisper] “He did work on the Sabbath.” *gasp*
But Jesus won’t have any of it:
“Frauds! You untie your animal to drink water every single Sabbath and think nothing of it! So then why can I not free this woman from her own physical bonds set on her for the past eighteen years?”
Everyone laughed at how Jesus put the leaders to shame, and they should be shamed, but the leaders also had a point. It was what they were taught. It was the way things were supposed to work.
It was the rule, dangit!
Follow the rules, Jesus, we have to!
The leaders were shaken by what Jesus was doing. Jesus is bringing in his kingdom, and they are not ready for it. Jesus is shaking them up. Jesus is cleaning house. He’s bringing in a new covenant. This Fresh, New charter is ready for us to follow. Jesus proclaims his new grace granted by his death and a new kingdom that will not be shaken.
This shaking house will soon fall apart, and we will be left with all that is true. We no longer will argue over where to sit or what music to play. We won’t be full of rules that no longer make sense. [Stoop]We have been looking down in the world, so much so that we have been distracted by the way that we are bent.
God wants us to follow in the wake of the cleansing fire to come worship in the new, holy, welcoming kingdom.
Too often we are so sure of what we are supposed to be doing. We need to be shaken out of our complacency, our way of being bent to only viewing the world our ways. Our entire world needs to shake, so that what we have created—this human part of worship—can leave, so we can worship only the way God wants us to worship.
And we will worship. We won’t be able to keep it in. We will come and join in the perfectly flawless continuous celebration of worship that is unavoidable in such a presence.
Instead of coming to a fearfully shaking mountain, we will make our enemies, the enemies of the Most High God, terrified by our unified praise brimming over the edge. This worship is not one that follows rules, but follows the Ruler of the world. We will worship with the saints and all who believe in this true God.
We have to come to the one who offers the true way of worship. In the city of the living God we have the way of life. This is the grace and the gift. We have been freed to worship.
We cannot escape it. And that is the way that we will receive the kingdom, the unshakable kingdom, through the worship that is full of awe and reverence.
Free to worship without fear. Full of deep reverence.
Free to worship without being afraid.
Come to worship with the great cloud of witnesses.