[This reflection is excerpted from a sermon I preached on Hebrews 12:18-29. You can find the full text here and the audio here.]
Generally, I find the section headings in Bibles less than helpful. But the section heading for this week’s scripture stopped me in my tracks: “The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.” “Wow,” I thought, “are we ever living on a mountain of fear.”
Michael Brown has been in the news lately. And we’ve also read about John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner–all unarmed; all black; all killed by police.
And, of course, problems with gun violence aren’t limited to police misconduct. The gun culture in this country is out-of-control. People insist on their “right” to have any and every kind of firearm–and to take those arms, loaded, into any and every public place.
We hear stories of rape and domestic abuse on the news and from our friends.
The mountain of fear. Perhaps it feels like we are there now–skirting around the base or even headed towards tree line where the air is getting thin.
“The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.” I would love to spend less time on the Mountain of Fear and more on the Mountain of Joy.
The actual mountains being compared here are Sinai and Zion. Where Sinai has fire and darkness and gloom and storm, Zion has thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. Where Sinai represents the old covenant that God made with the Hebrew people, Zion represents the new covenant God has made with all people through Jesus.
Sinai and Zion. The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy.
We should note that the writer of Hebrews does not tell us to choose Zion over Sinai. The writer does not offer a path for us to get from Sinai to Zion. This is not an admonition or a how-to manual. This is a statement of reality: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God.” The heavenly Jerusalem with the thousands upon thousands of angels–we’re already there. On the Mountain of Joy. That’s what Hebrews says.
We’re already there. But what does that mean? Does that mean we are always happy? Does it mean our ultimate goal in faith and life is personal fulfillment? I read a great line this week that was critiquing a recent prosperity sermon: “If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston.” It is a partial and weak faith that ignores suffering in the world. This selfish version of faith leads us to be, in Vincent Harding’s words, “missionaries of law and order, defenders of a status quo, and seekers for peace without a cross.”
The Mountain of Joy presented here in Hebrews is not a place to pursue our own happiness while we ignore the pain and suffering in the world. On the Mountain of Joy, the cross is central. When we come–as we have come–to the Mountain of Joy, we come, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
We have come the Mountain of Joy. And even here there is blood. And even here there is pain and suffering. Here there is peace with the cross. Here we hear the better word. The word of forgiveness instead of vengeance. The word of faith instead of fear. The word of justice instead of oppression. The word of light instead of darkness.
We have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God. And when it feels like we are on that other mountain; when the darkness and gloom and storm–when the fear–threaten to overwhelm us, we must listen for the better word. For the good word, the Good News, spoken through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
– – – – – –
And here is the call to worship that accompanied this scripture:
Let us give thanks
for the faithful who have come before us;
for the One who is always faithful.
Let us offer to God
all of our confidence, faith, and hope
along with our questions, doubts, and despair.
Because we do not approach a god of darkness, gloom, and storm;
We come to the living, loving God
through the new covenant offered by Jesus Christ.
So let us worship God acceptably
2 thoughts on “The Mountain of Fear and the Mountain of Joy”
Good morning Joanna I appreciate your thoughts. For the beginning of the school year we are going through the whole story of the bible using all the major mountain stories. This fits in very well…. thank you for your blog…. Lois
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For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries, saw the high mountains, the oceans. The only things I did not see were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door. Rabindranath Tagore
Lois, what a great idea to go through the mountain stories! Blessings.