The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy: Bridging the Gaps

March 18, 2018

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Preached by Canon Fiona Gibbs, Area Dean of Eastleigh, using  24:3-8 Hebrews 12:18-end at Evensong on Sunday 18th March 2018, Passion Sunday, the Fifth of Lent.

A few times a year my family and I travel to northern Cumbria, to my parents’ house which sits on the Cumbrian Way. It’s in a very rural part of Cumbria, and they are often cut off due to snow. Access in and out is not the quickest or easiest, and yet it is one of the most beautiful places to live in the country.

In the storms of January 2016, the beautiful 200-year-old listed bridge collapsed and got washed away……it was part of the landscape, it was known for its name, “Bell Bridge” and it gave many rural families access to places they needed to go, as well as farmers, walkers, cyclists and others travelling to a place of work. The collapse of the bridge brought complications all round. Communication was cut off from neighbours as it was a 7-mile round-trip to get to the other side of the bank. It was a time of difficulty, a different way of life, and suddenly everything that was taken for granted came into view. Two years later, the new bridge has been built. It’s not what it was, but what it is, is absolutely beautiful in keeping with the landscape. It’s been accepted, welcomed and used, re-uniting parts of rural Cumbria that have been kept apart for the last two years.

In the passages of scripture, we have heard we read about people who were struggling against sin; sin which caused bridges in their lives to collapse – enduring hardship and discipline – yet they were people learning what it means to be a child of God as they dealt with their sin and struggle to re-build bridges and bring them back to God.

We hear what we haven’t come to (vv18-21), what we have come to (vv22-24) and how we respond (vv25-28). As believers, through the contrast of what we haven’t come to, what see what we have come to, what is ours, and ours to enjoy. There is a very strong contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion – the contrast between the law and the gospel (Tom Wright). We are invited to a meeting place of joy, grace and freedom, and above all, life, not fear, a lack of holiness and ultimately death. FF Bruce says the contrast between earthly Sinai and heavenly Zion is such that the mountain is so charged with awesomeness of God that to touch it means death. When Bell Bridge was being re-built, there were signs saying, “Do not come near, danger of death”. FF Bruce continues, “Christian’s have come to no sacred mountain which can be touched physically but to the heavenly dwelling-place of God, the true and eternal Mount Zion”.

Considerable knowledge of the OT is required in the reading and understanding of Hebrews. The reference to what may be touched reminds us of the giving of the law – the way the law came was through senses that could be touched. Guthrie says, “The giving of the law came in a way that could be appreciated through the senses of touch, sight and sound.” There was a lot of theatrical evidence of God activity – only communicating in words through Moses, yet these words still filled the people’s hearts with dread. We are reminded of our sinfulness, that really we can’t go anywhere near God. Even Moses trembled with fear; but gone now is the separation – God is approachable, inviting and welcoming. The bridge has been re-built. The reference to the firstborn could be meaning the elect angels because they were created before human beings. Those written in the book could mean those who have died in faith.

Jesus is our mediator and perfection is possible through him, through his sprinkled blood – that’s Jesus’s sacrificial act – symbolising the sprinkled blood ratifying the old covenant.

It’s a new way of coming to God – through Jesus. The blood sacrifice is about obedience (or lack of). In Hebrews, it’s more about grace and the full revelation of God in Jesus. Again, the Exodus – a partial revelation they can view, hear and respond but in Hebrews it’s talking about something that is far more realised. The Law is not abolished or Moses become irrelevant but the new covenant is better in every way, and is what the original covenant had in mind all along. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise that has been declared long before.

So, what have we realised in our lives? What do our bridges look like? What does our relationship with God look like and how is it lived out? The mountain of fear is expelled and the mountain of joy is grasped. We have to live as people of joy not people of fear.

It is the place of the living God –  it is to be the city of the living God, the dwelling place where God and His people do life. In coming to the mountain of joy, we are still coming to God, the judge of all, and we have come to Jesus – the mediator of the new covenant. We know what we haven’t come to, and therefore we know what we have come to. Now we need to know how to respond.

Firstly, do not refuse God. Listen to Him. They didn’t escape even when they refused him on earth, so how much more so if we refuse him who warns us from heaven? There is a warning and challenge to hear him speak. Listen to Him in the myriad of ways that he speaks. Listen to the warnings but claim the promise whatever cannot be shaken will remain. This time it won’t just be the earth that is shaken, but the heavens as well……so invest in a firm foundation and a Kingdom that cannot be shaken – no matter what – in the whole of your life – conversations, encounters, decisions…I want to be part of a Kingdom like that, don’t you? When you erect a tent you want it to remain your shelter, dwelling place where things are safe and in which life can happen, rather than it be flattened by the next blast of wind or torrential rain storm…. but for that to happen it has to be put up in the right way, with the right pegs in the foundations and no short cuts taken. Have you ever taken short-cuts that haven’t paid off, and you have had to un-do all your hard work and start again?

Secondly, be thankful – there is no such room for shakeable things. It’s either the Kingdom of God or leave. William Barclay reminds us that in ancient days, kings kept a register of their faithful citizens…so for the Christian they are the ones whom God has reckoned as faithful citizens – who belong.

Thirdly, worship must be acceptable and offered in reverence and awe. To the grace of God, the response is a grateful heart. It’s about heart and mind. How do we stand before God and His holiness? Through his grace. We are accepted, brought close, drawn near.

We are invited to a meeting place of joy, grace and freedom, and above all, life, not fear, a lack of holiness and ultimately death. Jesus makes it all possible. Nothing is impossible.

At the start of Passiontide in the Church of England – what better time to be reminded of the new covenant fulfilling the old – Jesus – perfect priest, sacrifice, touching the untouchables, making the unworthy worthy, the unapproachable, approachable. Once under law there was fear, distance, separation but through Jesus’s life, ministry, journey through death and resurrection, the way opened and God brought near.

Nothing is too big or too small to be brought to God. No thought, no word, no action, no worry, no prayer, nothing. God is waiting for us to reach out and invite him in so He may dwell with us. We don’t have to live life alone. He knows our every need more than we know ourselves. The bridge has been rebuilt. Residents and citizens can be united once again, and continue their journey.

What do you need to do to enable you to cross over that bridge again today? What will that mean for your journey? Something to think on in these remaining days of lent, but whatever you do, listen to Him, be thankful and worship him in an acceptable way with reverence and awe, and you will make it to the other side, to the meeting place of joy, freedom and grace.