Hebrews 12:18-29 (NRSV)
Verse 18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, Verse 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. Verse 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Verse 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.") Verse 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, Verse 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, Verse 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Verse 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! Verse 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." Verse 27This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Verse 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; Verse 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
What is your favorite image of God? Many of us might choose “Shepherd” (Psalm 23), “Mighty King, lover of justice” (Psalm 99), “My refuge,” (Psalm 91) or a host of other loving, hopeful images.
Few would choose the image in Hebrews 12:29, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Yet, the Bible often speaks of God as so different from us, so holy, that those who encounter God (as the people of Israel did at Mount Sinai, referred to in our lesson today) are terrified by God’s presence.
Today’s passage points to the miracle, though, that this awesome, holy God through Jesus’ blood makes a new covenant (v. 24) which opens God’s kingdom to us. The writer of Hebrews calls on us, then, to “Give thanks….with reverence and awe” (verse 28).
Both kinds of images are valid: our holy God is awe-inspiring while also being our source of hope and love!
Almighty and loving God, give me a sense of awe at your holiness and wisdom which holds the past and the future in your hands. I thank you that through Jesus I can also know you as the true source of love. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.