Prayer and Preaching, p. 260
Reading: Hebrews 12:27—13:6
Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens. This phrase "yet once more" indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that are made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 6 So we can confidently say,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?"
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The bad news: things gonna get shaken up. The good news: there's something that doesn't shake and won't crumble and remains, stands, lasts. Thanks be to God that what you have received is what remains when all else is shaken to bits: a kingdom and you don't get one of those without a King. And your King lasts and so His kingdom lasts. You last. Your King and His kingdom lasts in the midst of all kinds of stuff that doesn't, that falls to pieces and crumbles to dust. And so in Him you get to offer to God worship that is acceptable, worship with fear and with awe, never forgetting for the least instant that your God is, after all, a consuming fire. A fire that lasts.
Images of the fire that fell from heaven to consume the cities of the plain; images of the fire that fell on the offering of Manoah and his wife; images of the fire that fell on the water-drenched offering of Elijah and evaporated all the H20 in sight! And images of Jesus on His cross: "I have a fire to cast upon the earth and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!"
That fire is everlasting love, and as awesome as such love it, it totally burns up everything that is not love in the end; what doesn't make it through love's fire is what is shaken and what finally fails. So the writer to the Hebrews is telling you not to be dumb: if it's all about love (and it always is), then doesn't it make sense to let everything you do be done in love. Keep loving each other as brothers, sons and daughters together of one Father. And that means there's no such thing as a stranger. As we sing in the great hymn by Luther, which I misunderstood for years: "That with hearts united we love each other, Every stranger, sister and brother." That's not a list of three categories of people so that you love the stranger, your sister and your brother. That's saying that every stranger IS your sister or brother! So hospitality. Kindness. Sharing what you have been blessed with with them. They are all "my peeps." Yours too. Especially the household of faith, but also everyone that God calls to belong to the household of faith. That doesn't leave anyone out. And when you do this hospitality to the stranger, there are times you end up getting a visit from an angel. And angels come to serve you. When you are living in hospitality, it is not you are serving your guests, but your guests who are serving yuou, letting you live in love. Images of Abram at the Oaks of Mamre lifting his eyes in the heat of the day and then running to greet the three strangers who showed up at his tent. The Son of God and two angels! And so the misfortunes of others are yours too: someone locked up; you're locked up with them. Remember them, pray for them, visit them, encourage them. Someone mistreated for the name of Christ? You feel the smart in your own body, because, after all, you are one body with them in Him. That person's pain is yours. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. That's what love does. That's the gift of what lasts in Jesus.
And love doesn't just do. Love also doesn't. It doesn't use another person to gratify some sexual or emotional itch in a casual and careless way. Love honors the marriage bed. Love knows that God judges those who stray sexually either outside or within marriage. Love doesn't traffic in other's bodies with zero concern for their person. Love honors marriage, and the persons who are part of it.
And love doesn't pretend that the money and stuff is all there for me, for me to keep piling up for myself in the fear that there's not going to be enough. Ha! Love knows better. Love knows a contentment with what one has, because what one has is the Lord! The King. Unshakeable. And so the kingdom, unshakeable. And He's never going to throw you over for something else. "Never will I leave you, never forsake you." Never. Not ever.
And in response to that love that is like a consuming fire and yet that only consumes everything in your lives that isn't love, you begin to learn what it is to live without fear. Like Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego you learn the dance moves in the fire. What is there to be afraid of in THAT fire? If you have HIM, that's the one thing needed, no? And isn't He the one who is dancing in the flames beside you? The flames then don't hurt you or set you ablaze. The flames free you. Love frees you. Jesus frees you.
Because isn't the name of this Love just Jesus? Isn't He the fire? Isn't He the one who loves you as His own brothers and sisters? And shows you the amazing hospitality of inviting you to His table to sit with Him and share in the most astounding feast of all? And isn't He the One who refused to ever deal with anyone as so much meat for sexual gratification, the One who never walked by a person in need out of fear of not having enough for Himself? Isn't He the one who in the perfect fire of divine love that He Himself is, dances in your flesh with joy to entice you to let loose the fear that is always going around trying to grab up all the shakable stuff; to let it go, and to hold instead a hand with a nail scar and let Him lead you on the dance of your life? Finish then, Thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be, let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee, changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise. Love divine. All Loves excelling. What lasts. Love. Jesus. You in Him and He in you.
Hymn of the Day: #700 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
For Michelle and all who mourn, for Amy, Craig, Paula, Roger, Ruth, Allen and Jan
Missionaries: Pr. Adam and Christine Lehman in Spain