What Cannot Be Shaken Will Remain — 21 August 2022

Pastor Lecia Beck
21 August 2022
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana

What Cannot Be Shaken Will Remain

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Hebrews 12:18-29 

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 

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, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time the heavenly voice shook the earth; but now has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a dominion that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. 

The first time I visited Haiti, I was shocked by the rubble. As we drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince, collapsed buildings were everywhere. Not a block went by without the ubiquitous piles of rubble and gray dust that covered everything. It had been five years since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that happened on January 12, 2010, and it looked as if nothing had been done since. Somewhere between two and three hundred thousand people had died. Most of the hospitals in the area were destroyed, roads disappeared under landslides.

Haiti had already been the poorest country in the western hemisphere and now the small gains that had been made were all wiped out. It is estimated that one and a half million people were displaced when the earth shook. Simply restoring basic services, re-establishing shelter and finding food took so much energy and resources that clearing away the rubble simply had to wait – and wait.

I was there on the fifth anniversary of that disastrous day. We observed a ceremony of remembrance. Luckner Fond-Rose, also known as Maya, was our Haitian partner, guide and in-country director of the Haitian Timoun Foundation. And he told us his story of that day. 

People who escaped the initial earthquake gathered in the streets. Frightened by the aftershocks and buildings that continued to collapse, even when night came, they stayed in the streets. And in the dark, with no lights or food available and huddled together with people who were wounded and frightened, the Haitian people sang hymns. 

Maya had been hosting a group of seminary students, just like us, who were also caught in the earthquake. Earthquakes make no distinction of race or nationality. Maya found them a safe spot in a field near their ruined hotel where they could wait for the morning to figure out what to do. In the darkness, the students’ voices joined the familiar hymns, blending their English with the Haitian Creole. None of them knew what morning would bring, but on that first night, they found solace in remembering and praising the one who is unshakable.

I am grateful that I have never experienced a disaster like that, and yet there have been other disasters in my life. There have been things that have shaken me to my core — things leaving a job when I was asked to act unethically, experiencing rejection from my former spouse, and losing a much-wanted pregnancy just as my new marriage was beginning. These things shook me so hard that my whole life seemed to crumble around me.

For our whole world, the Covid-19 pandemic was a reminder of how precarious our lives truly are. In the early days and weeks, when we did not know how this disease was spread and infection often meant death, everything came to a halt. Buying groceries or checking in with a neighbor felt fraught with danger. Our whole world was shaken. Two and a half years later, many people are still wondering how exactly to emerge and are tentatively surveying the rubble to see how the dust will settle.

Today, we heard a reading from the letter to the Hebrews and we remember how the Hebrews had been shaken. They were sure that their conversion would mean a life of peace, of contentment, but what they had inherited was persecution, exclusion, and loneliness. They thought their community could withstand hardship, but many fell away. They surely felt like they were buried in the rubble. 

Because of their hardship, some began to wonder if they were being punished by God, victims of God’s wrath and vengeance, but the author of the letter urges them to see their ordeal in a different way, that there will be a removal of what is shaken, so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Just as the threshed grain was tossed in the air so the chaff could blow away or as a 49er shook his pan of gravel in shallow water until the gold nuggets were revealed, only what is true and priceless, what cannot be shaken will remain. 

And what will remain is the kindom of God. 

This feels true in ways I do not want it to be. This feels like “What does not kill you makes you stronger.” Or “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “everything happens for a reason.” All sayings that make me want to scream. 

While I can point to ways that hardship and struggle have shaped who I am as a person, it’s a mixed bag – while some of the losses have liberated me to be more truly who God created me to be, other gains pale in comparison to what was lost. 

I don’t believe that God assesses us, finds us lacking, and then shakes us up with the hope of giving us a much-needed foundational reset. I don’t believe that God sends us trials to make us stronger or teach us some needed lesson. 

I am not sure of the cause of the shaking – though sometimes when I am honest, I can see my own part – but I am sure that when the aftershocks stop and the dust settles, I am lifted up, as Jesus lifted up the crippled woman and I find myself resting on a foundation of grace that is not my own, a glimpse of the kindom of God, the kindom we pray will come to our world and to us.

We are assured of our place on this firm foundation of grace in God’s unshakable kindom through the gift of baptism. We are taken off of uneven ground, pulled out of the miry clay and placed on solid rock. Through the water and the word, this gift of God’s grace is made visible and experienced among us. 

Today, Alex will be baptized and we rejoice to welcome him into God’s family! But we also know, in baptism, we are not guaranteed a life of peace and contentment. In fact, the charge to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made and to work for justice and peace, may bring about persecution or exclusion or loneliness, yet we know and trust that we are claimed by God with an unshakable love. 

We are united with Christ in both death and life, claimed by the one who defeated the powers of sin and death. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are receiving a kindom that cannot be shaken. Standing firm on that foundation, we can join in Christ’s work of redeeming and restoring our world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become rescue workers, lending a hand to pull others out of the rubble that has come down around them, helping them find firm ground, to stand on the gift of grace.

So let us continue worshiping the one who cannot be shaken, the one who extends to us grace upon grace, the one who holds us close and will never let us go. Amen.

Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17