The lectionary readings for Sunday include Hebrews 12:18-29. Chapter 12 is the second to last chapter. In these verses, the writer, a pastor, offers the basis for the command he issued in verse 14:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
The goal of life is to “see the Lord,” the maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen, the author of the plan of salvation which culminated in the sacrifice of the Son of God in Calvary.
The life is one of striving, toiling, labouring. For what? For peace. With whom? With “everyone.”
Peaceful co-existence isn’t always possible. The book of Acts, the earliest history of the church, tells us many disciples died for the faith.
Polycarp turned people from Gnosticism to Christ. Telemachus ended gladiatorial fights. Polycarp was burned at the stake. Telemachus was stabbed by gladiators, then stoned by spectators.
What made Polycarp and Telemachus so courageous in opposing things they considered harmful? How is their motivation different from that of their predecessors, the Israelites, the people of the “Old Covenant era”?
Many Old Covenant (Testament) era Israelites lived their lives God-ward, meaning they sought to do God’s will “on earth, as it is in heaven” – I am using the language of the prayer Christ taught us, The Lord’s Prayer.
Their concern was holiness. Their motivation was fear, dread. They knew holiness as purity, something people don’t possess. They knew holiness as danger to be avoided. They obeyed their calling to warn people.
They knew people long to worship God, and they knew it must be in prescribed ways – otherwise, “worship” would amount to insult and result in pain and death.
God must not be approached without invitation and purification. Even an animal which strayed onto Mount Sinai must be killed.
That is why the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Sinai in 12:18-21. He tells his readers the mountain they have come to – Mount Zion (v 22) – is unlike Mount Sinai. He begins with what Mount Zion is not.
Mount Zion is not like Mount Sinai, which conjures thoughts of “fire, darkness, gloom, tempest, trumpet, stoning, trembling” (12:18-21).
Unlike Mount Sinai, Mount Zion is like a gathering of people for a festival. Mount Zion conjures festivity, joy, angels, saints, perfection, acceptance with God, presence with God (12:22-24).
What is the point of the letter?
The point is to endure suffering.
The point is to recognize the plan of God fulfilled at so great cost, in the sacrifice of His own Son – verse 24 speaks of the blood of Christ – in order that we might become co-workers with God (1 Thessalonians 3:2).
The point is to recognize that we each have a part to play in the continuous fulfilling of God’s plan. That there will be shaking for the purpose of clearing (verses 26-28). That we must beware the consequences of “refusing him who warns from heaven” (verse 25).
What does it mean to live as a church member in Kuala Lumpur at a time when the air waves are filled with news of corruption in high places? Of corporations like SRC International, of institutions like the Navy, of various ministries which award dubious contracts?
We have to see it and explain it as a shaking. We have to see it and explain it as the patience of God in the face of the arrogance of man.
Zion doesn’t make Sinai obsolete. Zion overcomes Sinai.
Wrongdoing calls for punishment. But the extent of wrongdoing is so broad – we even had a Chief Secretary who said he received a salary for doing nothing – that we cannot punish everyone. We must find ways to move on, move on along better paths, with more oversight and controls.
We have to join discussions about crime, punishment, reparation and restoration. We have to learn and apply the language of law – as peacemakers. We cannot sacrifice justice for peace.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)