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Sermon for 11th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-23

18“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. 22For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.”

Psalm 50:1-15

1The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. 3Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. 4He calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people. 5“Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.” 6Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge. 7Hear, O my people, and I will speak: “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God. 8I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me. 9I will take no bull calf from your stalls, nor he-goats out of your pens; 10For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills. 11I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight. 12If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it. 13Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High. 15Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:4-29

4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. 18For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 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, 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, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 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 heavens.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore 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, 29for our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

22{Jesus} went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

These Do Not Shake, Rattle, or Roll

The phone rings in the church office.  On the other end of the line, a still, small voice is asking for help.  The unidentified woman doesn’t say much.  She simply says that her world has been upended, and she doesn’t know where to turn.  Calls like this happen more often than you think.  Our news channels are filled with dissension, hostilities among families and neighbors, the declining economic situation, and tensions between governments around the world.  Because of the upheavals that surround us, there are a good many people today who can identify with that woman.  Things one day are seemingly going well, then tragedy strikes.  It could be sickness, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job.  It could be a natural disaster, or any number of things that can suddenly turn our world upside down.

Someone once said that the only constant in this life is change.  Change often comes in, sweeps us away, and knocks the breath out of us.  And the older we get the more resistant to change we become.  So, it’s only natural that we look for something we can cling to, something that’s familiar, something that we can stand on as we face the future.  The writer of Hebrews addresses this in our epistle reading for this morning. 

The author of Hebrews acknowledges that we live in an unstable world and even echoes St. Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.”  For many this passage is ominous, filled with terrifying images, and highlights the judgment to come.

When you see the results of natural disasters like we’ve seen over the last few years, or have come face-to-face with the devastation of terrorist acts, one may be tempted to lose all hope of any stability in the future.  When we read passages like Jesus’ words in Mark 13, “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.  This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.  These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (7-8).  It’s for moments like these that our writer says, “At 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.’  

The phrase ‘Yet once more’ indicates the removal of what is shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27).  In other words, after everything has been shaken up and turned upside down, we will see the things that we can cling to, the things which are rock solid and cannot be shaken, rattled, or rolled.

Occasionally we catch a glimpse of things that are rock solid, the things that are immovable, when we’re struggling through some difficulty.  The author of Hebrews points these out in this passage so that we will know what they are, even before the first storm clouds gather overhead.  This morning I’d like to highlight four of these unmovable things that cannot be shaken.  These four things are important for us to keep in mind when our world is rocked, and when things seem to be turning upside down.  The first of these immovable things is the throne of God.  

No matter what happens on the earth, no matter what happens in our lives, God’s throne is the first of the things that are foundational.  God’s place of authority will never crumble and fall.  The hymnist in Psalm 45:6 reminds us, “Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever …” and in Lamentations 5:19 the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.”  When the Bible talks about God’s throne, it’s talking about something much bigger than a piece of furniture.  God’s throne refers to God’s kingship and rule over all He created.

The Bible speaks of God and His place as the supreme sovereign over all creation.  In essence, the writer of Hebrews is saying, “No matter what happens in this life, we can rest assured that God cannot, and will not, be overturned.  He will remain strong and always in control.”  As we’re witnessing with the upcoming elections, the very nature of politics is that leaders change.  Most of the time this change takes place in an orderly fashion.  It’s interesting how every time a new administration comes into power, a lot of people are abruptly looking for a new job.  The newly elected official brings in their own people.  Those on the inside before, are suddenly on the outside looking in.  But this is nothing new.

It doesn’t seem to matter if a person is the best person for the job, or what they accomplished in the past.  New leadership rises to power and those that are in, are out.  It reminds me of the verse in Exodus 1:8 where the author says, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  Everything changed.  Before long, Joseph’s descendants were turned from friends to slaves.  In many ways, we’re fortunate in this country.

In other countries, change often takes place swiftly and unexpectedly.  You can wake up to a new regime overnight.  With the new person in power, all the laws change and you’re never sure where you stand.  That’s how it was in biblical times.  The Israelites, because of their failure to follow and honor God, were constantly being overrun by one nation after another.  They never knew who would rise to power and sweep through the land.  For centuries, they lived under the rule of foreign leaders.  Even in Jesus’ day, the Roman Empire put puppet kings in place to serve them.  So it makes sense that the people longed for a stable kingdom.  But thankfully, no matter what era or location we live in, God represents permanence.  

In Hebrews 1:10-12 we read, “And, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed.  But you are the same, and your years will never end.’ ”  It was unlike anything the Israelites of Jesus’ day had ever known, and it’s something that is often lost on us. 

Nonetheless, this is important to us to contemplate, because God is still the source of our hope and our grace.  So long as we remember that God is in control, then we know that we have an advocate in high places.  We have the assurance that we have someone who cares for us and will seek out our best interests.  We can be at peace because we understand that we can cling to the throne of God and find a hiding place when our world is falling apart.

When Reformed Anglican pastor Augustus Toplady penned the words of the famous hymn, “Rock of Ages,” he was caught in a sudden storm.  As the wind and rain engulfed him, he found refuge in the cleft of a large rock.  He immediately thought of God and the way He protects us in the savage storms of life.  God is our rock and our refuge, and we find comfort in the fact that He cannot be shaken.  He will always be there to protect us, guide us, and provide for us.  This brings us to the second unshakable truth, since God is a sure foundation, then His word is also unshakable.

In Mark 13:31 Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Peter echoes this in his epistle when he tells us, “The word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25).  The Bible is living, powerful and eternal.  We can read it to find strength and courage in any circumstance in any generation.  It declares the truth and gives us a peek into God’s plans for all creation.  It reminds us of God’s call to righteousness and points us to the path that will lead us to Him.  The writer of Hebrews reminds his audience that it was on the mountain of God that the first words were given.

 When we want to know what God expects of us, we can open the scriptures.  God’s message doesn’t change.  Our understanding may grow, but the truth remains.

When we look for God, there’s no better place to find Him than in His word.  When we turn on the television, or read the newspaper, or search the internet for information, we find a lot of messages expressed in politically correct language.  No one wants to offend anyone, so we water down our conversations and end up saying little if anything.  We don’t want to risk offense, so we don’t challenge anyone.  But God never hides the truth.  Nor does He beat around the bush.

God’s word is out there for all to read and then the Spirit puts it to work to open hearts and minds.  Want to know what to do to rebuild your world, turn to the Bible.  Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27.  He suggests that building your life on the Word of God will help you stand tall during life’s greatest trials.  It will hold fast and cover you when you need it most.

We need to hear God’s unchanging truth when our marriages and families are under attack and falling apart.  We need to hear God’s truth when consumer debt is feeding greed and pushing people into bankruptcy.  We need to hear the truth when people are turning to drugs and alcohol to fill an emptiness within them.  And when God’s word disrupts our lives and routines, we must always remember, we cannot get mad at the messenger, God said these things, not the one speaking the word of truth in love.  The Bible is God’s instruction book on life and it’s here to guide us into a deeper relationship with Him.  God word is a rock that never changes.  The third foundation we can take comfort in is the church.  

In Matthew 16:18 we read “… I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”  In recent years many denominations have been rocked by scandals.  Church bodies have struggled over doctrinal issues.  God’s faithful have been pushed aside by secular society as being irrelevant and even marginalized.  Nonetheless, the true followers of Jesus always show up when there’s a need and people are lost and suffering.

I remember reading stories that pulled at my heart during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back in September 2005.  As you remember, people were displaced and literally left without anything: no home, no clothing, no job, no food.  Then one night there was a story on television that mentioned over 10,000 meals had been prepared and served at one of the shelters.  The area churches had gotten together and made it happen.  Many of the volunteers themselves had suffered from the effects of the storm, but they answered the call to reach out and help their neighbors.  These people responded to the call of God and became the body of Christ.

The truth is, ministries come and go.  Church buildings will be built and torn down again.  Pastors and church leaders will serve and then move on to new callings, but the church, the body of Christ will always be there when needed to serve, praise, glorify, and worship God.  To the author of Hebrews, the church wasn’t a place.  The mountain of God was where the people gathered to worship.  In verse 18 he says, “You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire …” for God is not in the mountain.  God is omnipresent, that is to say, He is everywhere.  The point being, it was within the assembly of the people that the worship of God happens.

That’s what Jesus was affirming at Caesarea Philippi when He lifted up Simon Peter’s declaration.  He was saying that the church will be built on the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.  Whenever and wherever the faithful are gathered, the church cannot be shaken.  It’s the most powerful force on earth, for it is the body of Christ.  

We are the hands and feet, ears and eyes, heart, and soul, of our Lord.  Truly nothing can stop the church when God is at work.  The true church, those who faithfully follow our Lord, cannot, and will not, be turned upside down.  God’s church, His people, are secure, permanent, and abiding.  This is why the church survived the persecution in Rome, the Protestant Reformation, and the various schisms over the centuries.  God continues to bless all the fragments and makes a more bountiful whole.  The church is stronger today than ever before and people are still coming to saving faith.  The final security we have, is the promise of eternal life.  

For those who believe and serve God, we have a promise of a bright future.  1 John 2:17 says, “… the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”  And in John 10:28 Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As Christians, we have eternal life and we cannot be shaken, Christ is our strength,  He is our life and our salvation and He cannot be moved.  When all that can be shaken is removed, we will remain, and we shall dwell in our eternal inheritance in that city whose architect and builder is God.  What better more assuring news can we trust in today?  It means we will have the ultimate victory over life’s greatest enemy.  It means no matter what trial or tribulation we face, it will never be able to overcome us.  Like Christ, who stared death in the face and came away victorious, we too shall be more than conquerors. And God’s promises will not fail.  God’s throne, God’s word, God’s church, and the gift of eternal life are the solid, unshakable things we can believe and trust in when all else in this world seems to fall away.

The Bible assures us in several places, “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised.  Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses” (1 Kings 8:56).  And in Psalms 33:4, the psalmist reminds us, “For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.”  In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not your own understanding.  And finally, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35).  In an upside-down world, no matter what may come, we can, as children of God, always trust in God’s eternal throne, the unfailing nature of His word, the strength and support of His church and the promise of eternal life.


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