Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 19, 2006
The Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:31-39
Sermon: "It is a Fearful Thing"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Second Lesson:
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.
It is a Fearful Thing
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost - November 19, 2006
The Baptism of Grady Robert Barrett
The sun rises over the peaks of the far mountains. The sky is full of color, reds, purples, orange and yellow. The valley floor below is in shadow, but the first rays of sunlight are beginning to touch the top of the water. Where the rays touch the water sparkles like a tiny star on a diamond being turned slowly in the light. I stand in the knee-deep snow and marvel at the beauty before me. It is quiet, still, and I drink in the wonder of God's creativity like a glass of cool refreshing water. The majesty of God at moments like these is overpowering. One can only feel awe deep in one's spirit at the beautiful tableau below. Moments like these envelop the soul and refresh the spirit. They remind us of the simple fact that God is real, powerful, majestic. These moments remind us that God is God and we are not. They are both inspiring and awesome.
These moments inspire us to follow God just as they remind us of God's awesome abilities. We'd like to stay in these moments, these mountain top experiences, but we can't. We are called to go and work. Our work is done in the valleys of God's creation.
Valley work is what this lesson for Hebrews is all about. The writer of this letter is trying to encourage the people in their walk in the Christian faith. They have kind of gotten lax in their walk. Here we see a reminder to them of who they are, where they come from, and the goal to which they strive.
The reminder of whose they are comes in one powerful sentence, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Notice that God is not dead or passive. God is alive and real. This sentence describes an acting God. God is moving in the world, working in the world. The way God chooses to do this work is through people. These people believe in God and have come to know God is real. They have indeed fallen into God's hand, because once one has fallen into God's hand there is no turning back. Oh, we might try and deny God's work in our lives. We might even try to run away, but God will not let us go.
One of my favorite examples of someone falling into God's hands is Jonah. We all remember Jonah. He was one who believed in God. God chose him to go to the Ninevites. They were sinning before God and God wanted to save them. Notice God wanted them saved. He told Jonah to go and deliver a message. Jonah was to be God's prophet. There is only one problem. Jonah hates the Ninevites. He tells God he won't go. To make the point clear he leaves his home and gets on a ship headed as far away from Nineveh as he can get. As a result, a storm occurs, the sailors find out Jonah is running away. In fear for their lives they throw him overboard. Jonah gets swallowed by a large fish and carried back on God's own submarine over to the shores off of Nineveh. It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God.
We don't know exactly what is happening in the letter to the Hebrews. At least, not to the extent that we know the story of Jonah. We do know from where they have come. After they learned the story of the life of Jesus, they were persecuted. They were ridiculed, publicly abused, and persecuted. In this world that means they were ostracized economically, politically and socially. They were arrested, beaten, and killed for their belief in Jesus, the Son of the living God. Yet, through it all they endured.
Furthermore, they endured with great Christian response. They visited those in prison even though it meant being identified themselves. They gave up their possessions as they were taken from them. They took the abuse and never gave up their belief in Jesus Christ. They had confidence in what they were doing because they believed in a heavenly reward and not an earthly one.
Perhaps the reward promised is where they begin to get lax. They have endured much, and yet, often seem to reap the rewards. The others seem to have the money, the material possessions, and the fun. The others are the ones invited to pardon. They are the ones who get better jobs and better contracts. Oh, the major persecution has stopped and they are mostly back to normal. Still, the followers of Jesus are looking for their reward. So, they began to get a little lax in their faith.
The writer of this letter reminds them there is no going back. One can't believe in the living God and shrink away from continuing to follow God. It is not possible to follow the world's ways of power and control and be faithful to God. God's way is completely opposite.
Well, what about us? Can we relate to what is happening here? Our world still operates under the old rules. Those in power have control and those who control have power. The want for money and material possessions still causes most of the pain and hurt in the world. The rich just seems to keep getting richer and the poor just seem to keep getting poorer. And here we stand. We, the Christians, stand in the world and have to decide what we believe. If we allow ourselves to believe in the push for power and control built on the backs and pain of others, then we are not following Jesus Christ. It becomes necessary for us to re-evaluate whose we are, and what we are supposed to do. We have to see that God is God, and we are not. We have to see ourselves in God's hand.
Being in God's hand might be a fearful thing for us. We might find ourselves going where we don't want to go. We might find ourselves looking at our possessions and wondering if we need them all. We might find ourselves serving food to those who are hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless. We might do those things and be chastised by others, looked down upon, and not being on the most favored guest lists at parties. For when that happens we will know we are in god's hands. ON that day we can rejoice and be glad. For on that day, our reward will not be found on this earth, but in a better place where God's presence is revealed. In a place, where like on that mountain, watching that sunrise we know God is real. For in that place we are surrounded by God's presence, filled with God's joy, and sheltered in God's peace.
In just a few minutes we are going to baptize Grady Barrett. We welcome him into God's family here present. We acknowledge God's presence with him and we mark him as God's own forever. Today, we actually pray for him to fall into God's hands, a fearful thing, and yet, a wondrous thing. I hope our prayer today is to welcome him into this fearful and wonderful place. I also hope we pray that we will be living examples , teaching him about what it means to be in God's hands as part of a family trying to be always faithful.