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Confusion in the Pew!

It was my turn to read in church. I like to do it. Today, however, one of the passages was just flat-out weird. I am reminded on days like this that God may be God, but religion is of the people.

So y’all can share in my brain-scramble, here’s the epistle for today (RCL in RSV, for those of you keeping track, Hebrews 12:18-29):

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. 25 See 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 shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." 27 This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 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; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The back and forth between Scary God and Nice God, phrase by phrase, makes me a little creeped out. I’m not one to turn down fancy rhetorical flourishes, but the blazing fire in that first verse followed immediately by darkness and gloom seems a little abrupt (however, the St. John of the Cross in my head is totally eating it up.). We go from stoned beasts (presumably bad) to sprinkles of blood (supposed to be good?). Oh, and by the way, listen up because Daddy’s on his way home. That’s going to turn out a good thing, since Daddy’s a… consuming fire?

Then there’s the whole philosophical question of what exactly is going to be removed and what the heck will be left after the –ectomy. The translation actually used in church today read something like “that which is created” in place of “as of what has been made” in verse 27. So, if God created us, we would be part of what was created, right? And if God’s removing all that, that’s pretty much it for us, not to mention the neighborhood/universe.

It’s times like this that I realize that my faith is both weak and strong. It has to be strong to continue to exist in the face of some of the wacky scriptures, but it remains weak enough that I wonder why. Good thing that I have a sense of God as totally beyond my understanding…

However, I did hear a quite lovely sermon that focused in on the Old Testament reading about the call of Jeremiah. What a relief!

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