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Encounter with God: Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:18-29)

By William H. Willimon
At the base of this pulpit, there is a Christian symbol consisting of three triangles. It's a symbol for the triune God -- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One of you, on Parents' Weekend, was heard to ask his old man, "Why have they got the warning symbol for nuclear radiation on the pulpit?" Sure enough, it does look like the international warning symbol for radiation. It's not a symbol for radiation. It's a symbol for God, the living God.

But you take care. Don't come around here unprotected without lead underwear and all your modern, flattened, rational wits at your disposal because I promise you that I (and the choir, the organists, the architect and everybody else who conspires to enable God to get in here) will do everything in my power to expose you to this "consuming fire." Only thereby will you be enabled to rise above your present situation, to be free from your slavery to what is, to roam, to soar, to be saved, to hear.

When I was in seminary, in preaching classes, they told us, "The task of the preacher is to close the gap between the Bible and the modern world." The preacher is the one who stands in the pulpit and holds the old Bible in one hand and today's newspaper in the other. In twenty minutes I'm supposed to close the gap between the old, outmoded, irrelevant world of the Bible and the new, fresh, modern world where you live. The preacher stands with one foot in the old Bible and the other foot planted in the modern world (a recipe for a hernia if ever I heard one!).

No! Whenever we do that, the traffic invariably moves in one direction on that hermeneutical bridge. It's always the modern world telling the Bible what's what. We come up with a bunch of modern questions and then go rummage about in the Bible for acceptable answers. Thereby the modern world determines truth rather than the Bible. This is odd. I remind you that the modern world gave us not only Galileo, the telephone and TV, but also Dung Chou Ping, Hiroshima, Auschwitz, and the murder of millions of Native Americans. This is the modern world that I'm supposed to make the Bible credible to? No!

I've decided, since being in this big, dark, beautiful, overpowering place, my task is to make the modern world credible to the Bible, to dare you to listen to this troublesome voice more than to your own, to open up the gap between you and God rather than to close it, because it's in the gaps -- in the great big, threatening, dark, open spaces -- that you are free to roam, to envision, to dream dreams, hear a new word, see a new world. It's in the gaps -- stripped of your defenses, modern secular veneer peeled away, naked and unsteady -- that your great, loving God can come and shape you. Come to this kingdom that cannot be shaken.

"Thus let us offer God acceptable worship, with fear and awe; for our God is a consuming fire."

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