Cling to the Unshakeable

2019-08-25 – Year C – Proper 16 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas Isaiah 28:14-22; Psalm 46; Hebrews 12:15-29; Luke 13:22-30

Lord Jesus we ask you to come and be among us, show us your unshakeable presence, show us your help, safety, and guidance in our lives. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen

This past Thursday a magnitude 5.0 earthquake hit the Ridgecrest area, the latest aftershocks from the magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 tremors that hit in July, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Thursday’s earthquake occurred 43 miles from California City, 68 miles from Bakersfield and 70 miles from Porterville. In the last 10 days, there have been 17 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby. There have been numerous aftershocks from the July 4 and 5 quakes, the largest in Southern California in nearly two decades. An average of five earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.0 to 6.0 occur every year in California and Nevada, according to a recent three-year data sample. Thursday’s earthquake occurred at a depth of 1.5 miles. We know and have scientific data that earthquakes will occur in California. We know from past experiences that we can not tell when they will happen. We can not know how severe they will be. We can not warn people that they are on there way. We can not know the depth of damage they will cause. We can not know the death poll that will incur due to the damage to buildings, roads, and houses. Earthquakes happen and like all natural disasters, they do not make sense.

We have not yet been able to create Earthquake proof buildings, cars, streets, or houses. Sure some advances have been made and some measures have been taken to try and produce safer buildings. However, when an earthquake comes the very foundation of the earth is shaken and we can not prove the ground that we walk upon. We can not bubble wrap ourselves or our loved ones or our houses, cars, or places of work.

Earthquakes are assured and guaranteed part of living in California. You can plan for them to some extent and then just live your life waiting for them to happen. Many things in the Christian life are like earthquakes, things we do not plan for. Sickness, job loss, a broken marriage, cancer, or a myriad of other situations are things we do not plan for. No one longs for suffering. These things can seem to shake us to the core of ourselves, undo our identity, and cause us to feel unmoored.

Many of the aspects of our lives can be thought of as shakeable things. Just think back to a situation in your life in which everything seemed to change. Did you feel scared, unsure of the future, or fearful of what might come next?

The Epistle reading today from Hebrews speaks of the things that are shakeable versus things that are unshakeable. This passage opens up imploring us to help one another experience the grace of God through not being bitter towards one another. When we interact with one another it can be very easy to offend one another or to miscommunicate. So much of the human experience is having feelings inside yourself and projecting them out onto everyone else around you.

When we have feelings of shame, anger, distrust, or hopelessness, it is easy to assume others see this or are speaking into our struggles. The real truth is that most people are far more hurt and carrying around far heavier burdens than you could ever imagine. They are usually lost in their own pain and suffering.

God longs for us to not let the root of bitterness to build up in our lives as Christians. When someone holds a different opinion than you or lives their life in a different way than you, they are not judging you. Typically when we feel others are judging us, “WE” are actually judging ourselves. Perhaps we sense something is not right with our lives or our choices are not quite good. There is simply a difference between the two of you.

When you allow this perceived notion of judgment to wedge itself between you then you can miss out an encounter with another person made in God’s image. Perhaps God is calling you to change something in your life. Perhaps God is having you face some part of yourself you would rather not see. Living in a household with eight people means we have ample opportunity to step on each other’s toes, speak unkind words, and offend each other. Despite the optics of great opportunity to miscommunicate God means it for an opportunity for grace and kindness. God brings people into our lives that we are supposed to grow and change with.

The church really isn’t any different then a family, we should be a people who seek to treat one another with grace and kindness, especially when we are hurt or offended. Simply go to the person who has offended and make a statement such as this…I was hurt, offended, or felt judged when you said blank. This gives the person a chance to hear your heart and to change the situation.

Fr. Chris and I are deeply thankful to be here with you in Good Samaritan we are sure we have said or done something that has offended some of you. Please know it is not our intention to offend but rather our heart’s desire to walk with you. So come give us or someone else the benefit of the doubt to trust that God can care for your heart in the interaction. It is our desire to have peace with you.

Bitterness can eat up and destroy relationships and churches. Speaking openly with one another allows grace to abound. Sometimes, from within an apparently happy church or fellowship, discontent can arise. It may take the form of doctrinal or ethical disagreement; these can be real enough, but often they can provide a smokescreen for personal agendas. The sign is always the sense of bitterness that accompanies it.

Disagreements between wise, praying Christians can take place without bitterness; where that troubling and poisonous bitterness starts to make its presence felt, we should recognize what’s going on. The writer of Hebrews used the example of Esau to give us a concrete example of allowing bitterness to infect our relationships. His bitterness changed his life in such a way that things could not be fixed and or made right. His decisions left forever consequences.

Our life is full of consequences and sometimes they are good and sometimes they have lingering effects in our lives. Fr. Chris and I are deeply convicted to teach our children about consequences and giving them skills to make these decisions. If you come to our house you will see a flow chart showing the way to making decisions that have good consequences and what will happen if the kids choose bad consequences.

I wish I had this chart and teaching when I was younger it would have greatly helped me weigh some choices I made. Our choices always have consequences. We should be cautious about suggesting that someone who genuinely wants to repent of their sin and get right with God will ever be refused; but we should be equally cautious about imagining that someone who enjoys Christian fellowship but then plays fast and loose with the consequent moral responsibilities will be able to come back in whenever they feel like it.

Decisions and actions have consequences. God desires to give redemption and freedom yet we still have to live with the consequences of our actions.
The opening verses of this passage, then, urge the readers to sort themselves out, to become the sort of people spoken of in one of the great prophetic passages, Isaiah 35. ‘strengthen the weary hands,’ says the prophet, ‘and make firm the feeble knees!’ (35:3). God is doing a new thing in your midst—read the whole of Isaiah 35 and see—and you must stand up and get on with the job. There is no room for spiritual laziness. Those who walk on the way of the cross are constantly called to live their lives engaged in the work of the Lord.

What is God calling you to study right now? Who is God calling you to serve right now? Is there a young woman or man who need encouragement or help? Does the church need your gifts and skills? (YES!!!) God will always have meaningful work for you despite your life, despite your perceived limitations, or lack of time. Don’t allow your past or present brokenness to keep you from growing with God. Struggle towards him and you will be in good company. If you find that you are sailing through life for long periods of time you are probably not seeking after God.

I hate struggling or floundering. I like things to run smooth and flawless. When I was a small child I used to time myself doing everything. I loved and still love efficiency. The first few weeks of something new like the beginning of school or the beginning of summer break I feel like I am coming undone. Everyone is floundering, mourning difference, and longing for things to be the same as they were and they lean on me emotionally.

My response should be that of the prophet Isaiah in which I say strengthen my weary hands and make firm my feeble knees. However, I feel like a person running for my life trying to duck behind objects avoiding the need or a person swinging a sword trying to do combat with all the complaints.
It’s in those very moments of our lives when God can train us and change us for His good and His glory. It’s in the struggle and in the real moments of needing God that we can find him. Some days I come to church in real need of His presence and I cling to the bread at the Eucharist asking Him to make me new. I love being an Anglican because I love that I can come to this altar rail and receive the presence of Christ. I love that I am not alone but that my life matters and is being shaped by Jesus.

We are supposed to follow after peace and holiness. Peace with all people is a fine ideal; but this writer, like Paul in Romans 12:18, knows it won’t always happen. You must pursue it, chase after it, do all in your power to accomplish it. And holiness—well, as Hebrews says, this is what’s required if you’re to stand in the presence of the holy God. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And don’t lose it all to a moment of madness like Esau did in giving away his birth rite. Seek after holiness, look for godly books to shape your perspective of Jesus, and ask him what you are supposed to learn.

We saw, right at the beginning, that Hebrews was making a strong contrast between the law and the gospel, between Moses and Jesus; not that the law was a bad thing now happily abolished, or that Moses was to be dismissed as an irrelevant or bad teacher, but that the new covenant which has been established in and through Jesus is ‘better’ in every way.

Jesus brings about the fulfillment of all the law and expresses it in the gospel. Our way is the way of the gospel, a way of truth, a way of light, and a way with good consequences. Following Jesus means being truth bearers and being people who point to the rescuer.

The fact that God is named as ‘the judge of all’ is not meant, here, to be a fearsome thing. As the Psalms say time after time, the fact that God is the judge of all is something to be celebrated. Everybody, deep down, wants the world to be put to rights.

N.T. Wright says, “God’s intention was to bring people to that full humanity, that ‘perfection’ or ‘completeness’ for which sin needed to be dealt with, consciences purified right down to the bottom, and the whole life brought into glad conformity with God’s design.” Our lives are broken and in need of a grand master to fix them and to heal them from the ways of the world. When we go to the Master and allow him access to our hearts he can heal us, show us a way forward, and give us peace. He is never done with us, there is always more that can be repaired.

The Hebrews passage speaks to how God sometimes does this in our lives. Sometimes our lives seem to be shaking like an earthquake. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives are just huge. The heaven and earth alike must be ‘shaken’ in such a way that everything transient, temporary, secondary and second-rate may fall away. Then that which is of the new creation, based on Jesus himself and his resurrection, will shine out the more brightly.

This new creation will, of course, include all those who belong to the new covenant, and, through them, the new world which God had always promised. We often see God as an indulgent parent when in reality the true God is not tame, nor does he spoil his children. He is like a fire: the holiness of God, emphasized through the Temple ritual, is not undermined by the fact that, in the new covenant, his people are invited into his presence in a new way.

Only when we remind ourselves of God’s holiness do we fully appreciate the significance of what Jesus achieved. When people have spoken of God without stressing his all-consuming holiness, the meaning of the cross is downgraded in proportion. Jesus’ sacrifice was huge and our access to God is incredible. Holiness with God is not something to be feared but rather something to be longed for.

So many things in our world are truly shakeable; our health, our finances, our families, our hopes, and our dreams. The writer of Hebrews nails it when he says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Our God can not be shaken our faith in Jesus can not be taken from us. Our longing for Jesus will only draw us more fully into the holiness of God.

So may you be challenged today to seek out God in a new way. May you be challenged to struggle with God and to cling to the things that are unable to be changed. May you be nourished by Jesus in the Eucharist and given what you need for the journey that lay ahead. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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