Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Consuming Fire Hebrews 12:28-29

This morning offers a special worship experience at First Baptist Church. Our choir and instrumentalist will lead us through a service of thanksgiving. It is not a service of pilgrims and indians. Rather it is a day of thanksgiving for who God is and what God means in our lives. Below is a homily that I will bring as a part of the service.
Grace and Peace, Tom
“A Consuming Fire”
Hebrews 12:28-29

Wow! This morning we have already experienced a remarkable day in worship. In song, scripture, and prayer we have rejoiced in the life and faith we find through Christ Jesus. We now come to hear what God might say to us. Our passage this morning is found in Hebrews, the 12th chapter, verses 28 and 29. These two verses speak well into a moment like this one. Hear it with me. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our "God is a consuming fire."

We have a Thanksgiving family tradition that I am going to encourage you to consider when you sit at the table with others in just a little while. The tradition is that we go around the table and each share what we are thankful for this year. I remember as I child being thankful for my bicycle and my puppy dog, but as I grew older I came to appreciate the people that filled my life and gift of God that made me a child of God. This probably became clearer to me in my season as a missionary when Beth, the kids, and I held all of our worldly belongings in a dozen footlockers that could be shipped anywhere in the world in seemingly 48 hours or less. Our home, our furniture, even our car belonged to someone else. Now days there are more things that claim and clutter our lives, and sometimes I think we are a little less for it. There was a surprising freedom in having to be more dependent on God and others. I hear this kind of freedom when our passage in Hebrews begins; Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. The writer understands that our rejoicing – our thanksgiving is born in something that is not shaken by the flutter of the stock market, burned in a brushfire, or broken by a tornado. Our thankfulness is founded in receiving a kingdom – a place in God’s family – that is safe and secure and can sustain the struggles of real life.

This kind of thanksgiving has a predictable result. The writers sees it and writes; and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. Worship, like this morning, should act as the normal, natural response to our thankfulness. If you can imagine, it would mean that every worship experience is a service of thanksgiving. I love how Charles Trentham, a Baptist scholar from the previous era sees this part of our passage. He says; “Worship is impossible until we feel the grandeur, the majesty, and the wholly otherness of God. When we dwell on these qualities, a reverent awe will fall over our souls.”
[1] The songs that we have heard this morning witness to the majesty and wholly otherness of God. They summoned us to worship, to come into the presence of God with awe and reverence.

We have been tempted to claim that reverence is being quiet and still in worship, sitting on our hands, stilling our spirits, so that worship might fit comfortably in our cultural context. This is simply not what the passage is talking about. Instead, the speaks of something radically different. Psalm 5:7 tells us: But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. The prophet Jeremiah pronounces: “To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your fathers.” (44:10) The idea of coming to worship God in awe and reverence demands we come with the humility that God is God and we are not – that we need God – that our relationship with God is not just a pleasant addition to our lifestyle – but the defining factor. It is the kind of reverence that draws us to our knees, acknowledging our desperate need for the mercy and grace of God. It is the kind of awe that understands the purity and the holiness of God and claims the wonder that God has chosen to make us his children through Jesus Christ. The writer makes this clear as he finishes this passage.

He closes with the great phrase, for our "God is a consuming fire." No, I am not claiming this phrase because the actual fire two doors down the street on Robinson this morning. This phrase is drawn from Deuteronomy 4:24 and in its original context was offered as a stern warning – a pronouncement of judgement for those outside of the law of God. But we need to hear it very differently in this context. The writer of Hebrews uses this passage as a transition between words of challenge and words of encouragement. Instead of the picture of warning of being consumed by the fire of God’s purity and judgement, we are invited to claim the picture of a way of life where God’s way and our way become one in the same. We are so consumed in and by our relationship with God that it impacts every moment, every decision, and every act. We become so consumed by our relationship with God that we the purity of God burns away anything that might separate us from the presence of God – the will of God. It means that the presence of God in our lives burning life a fire within us.

So this morning and this Thanksgiving I invite you to REJOICE! To celebrate a kingdom that can not be shaken – and a God who is worthy of our reverence and awe. Come and be claimed by a consuming fire of faith that will fill you with thanksgiving and summons you into the presence of God.

[1] Trentham, Charles A., Hebrews, The Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 12, (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1972), p.91.

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