Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 25, 2013)
In the Hebrews reading, we get three images of God through the three mountains of Sinai, Zion, and Calvary. Only Zion is named, but a close reading shows clear allusions to Sinai and Calvary. The author of Hebrews presents a spiritual geography with each mountain presenting a fuller picture of God without superseding the image that came before it.
Our reading says we have come, “to the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So I pause to ask, “What did Abel’s blood say?” After Abel’s murder, God tells Cain, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood.”
Abel’s blood cried out for justice through revenge by way of a curse. Jesus’ blood shed on Calvary cried out not for vengeance, but for justice through love. His sprinkled blood cried “enough” to the sacrificial system, paying the price of sin once, for all.
From the cloud hovering over Sinai, to the incense shrouded sanctuary in the Temple on Zion, to the darkness-enveloped Calvary, each mountain speaks of an encounter with the Holy. Theologian Rudolph Otto described “the Holy” as mysterium tremendum et fascinans—God is fearsome and yet fascinating. The people of Israel were both drawn to and fearful of God on Sinai and on Zion.
On Calvary, we encounter not the judgment of an uncaring judge, but an outpouring of love, as Luke will later record the words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. As with Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus is neither safe nor tame, but good. God is a consuming fire. For those of us who through our baptisms were buried with Christ in his death and raised with him in resurrection are to respond in thankfulness and worship “with reverence and awe.”
I am wondering how worship this Sunday may be an awe-filled encounter with God through word, sacrament, and the flawed texts of our sermons. For after our worship, will we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem?” Or will it have been an encounter far short of inspiring awe?
My preaching (while not using the image) tends toward “What a friend we have in Jesus.” How might the sermon work with the music and liturgy to draw the congregation into an awe filled encounter fearsome and yet fascinating?
Frank Logue is a member of the APLM Council having served previously as its secretary. He is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia and blogs on congregational development at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org
Photo by Frank Logue