Reading: Hebrews 12:14-29
One thing that always inspires me is how Jesus talks about His Kingdom. He says that the Kingdom is at hand, and he talks about people entering God’s Kingdom. There is a real sense that God’s kingdom is so close that it can touch and change the Earth. Though earth and sky might be shaken, God’s kingdom is never shaken. God’s kingdom was here before our nation was founded, and will be here when it falls.
The fact that things fall is hard for us. We always hope that the things we do and build will last forever. Many of us hope to have some sort of legacy that will never be buried — and, yes, it is good to have a legacy, but never is far too long. Earth and Sky will be shaken, it will be removed. Any legacy we make here will be shaken. All that endures is God’s kingdom — and as the writer of Hebrews says: “We are receiving this kingdom.”
Like many times in scripture, bad news is tempered by good news. Those of us who worked hard to do good in the world, or to build a legacy cannot help but be a little sad when we realize that everything we do is going to be shaken. Sometimes we are shaken first, sometimes we see everything falling apart around us — but no matter what, it is sobering. There is so much that we can mourn.
The good news is, as we already said, “We are receiving this kingdom” that cannot be shaken. Even as we watch our legacy fall away, and even as we know that everything we knew and loved on this earth will someday fall away — we have faith that there is Something that is lasting. We have faith that there is Someone who is eternal. We believe that if we make a place for Jesus in our life in this world, Jesus will make a place for us in the next.
The writer of Hebrews gives some advice to us, because we are receiving the unshakable kingdom. When we are promised something Good, it tends to come with advice and sometimes even warnings. Before we get to the writer’s advice, I’ll offer one piece of my own: Don’t forget what is lasting. Yes, mourn those things that are important, but temporary, but remember that we are being given something greater than what we have lost — something greater than what we will lose.
First thing that the writer recomends is that we pursue peace with everybody. It is hard to pursue peace, because it is so easy to think in terms of a contest. We look at our coworkers, our neighbors, and sometimes our family as opponents — we see a need to fight for our rights, and our share, forgetting that if the world is being unfair to anybody, it isn’t us.
Another reason that it is so hard to pursue peace gets into the very definition of the next piece of advice: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble”. If we are ungracious and become bitter then that will cause trouble. Bitterness disrupts peace. We cannot very well pursue peace with others if we live in a state where we cannot have peace within ourselves.
Peace with others, and ourselves really does come from embracing Grace. By ourselves, we often don’t seem to get grace right. Last night, Gerry sent me an email which included quite a few things, but one striking thing that it included was a list of reasons that people don’t go to church. Some of these reasons were superficial things that don’t really seem to apply to us such as the productions that are put on every Sunday Morning are nothing but white noise, or falling into church jargon that nobody really understands. What really shows as failing in grace is the observations that many Churches seem to lack a vision outside of the church property. Grace sees others, it is ungracious to be blind to the world. Another thing that shows a lack of grace is the battles that the church has chosen to fight. The final reason is that for all the talk about love, the church very often sounds hateful. For all the talk about forgiveness, the church sounds judgmental — this is not grace, this is not making peace with our neighbors, it is polemic — it is taking on the attitude that we must win.
Grace is found in recognizing that God created humanity in God’s own image. Grace looks and sees God’s image. Grace knows that you cannot rightfully claim to love God, while hating those made in God’s image. A grace filled person also sees herself clearly. She know that she has been forgiven, and thus it is right to forgive others.
We must not be like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, psychologists at Stanford ran a rather simple experiment, they left a child alone in a room with a cookie or a marshmallow, and offered a second just like it if the child could resist eating the first for 15 minutes. This experiment was repeated several times throughout the children’s development — and they found that the ability to wait was an important life skill.
Esau failed this test in a big way. He had something of great value, and he sold it to have a simple bowl of soup. Hunger might be a huge motivator, but it is hard to believe that a grown man, in a family that had flocks, servants, and a farmer would not have food available. It takes time to cook, but is the time spent cooking truly worth the birthright?
We who are adopted into the name Christian have a place in the unshakable Kingdom. Our birthright is that we can assemble in the city of the Living God. The writer of Hebrews was reminding everybody that only one thing lasts forever — and what lasts forever is their birthright. In the end this is a big secret be being gracious: recognizing that there are more important things than winning. Winning purely for the sake of winning is taking the smaller reward. Even in the short term, before the unshakable kingdom, if we cheat, or ungracious, the bad behaviors will be remembered longer by those around us than our victories. May we never think so much about winning that we forget our birthright.