Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hebrews 4:14-5:10 Mini-Sermon

Just wrote this for a class and thought I'd share it.

Don't Cut Out the Middleman
In so many ways we are encouraged today in a little practice called “Cut out the middleman” (or woman!). It’s based on the notion that we know what we want ourselves, and don’t want to have to pay someone extra to tell us what we want or need because we already know. Whether it’s car insurance or kitchen cabinets, we are encouraged to “buy direct!” from the manufacturer. The old way, that of an agent or retailer getting in the way, trying to mediate between us the customer and the manufacturer, smacks too much of some patriarchal, paternalistic way of thinking, that we need to be guided by an expert to choose rightly. We hate this idea because we are the experts now; we have all the information we need to make the right decision. “Cut out the middleman!” is our battle cry! Now, this may all sound like some editorial in the business section of the newspaper, or beyond that, definitely in no way connected to Scripture, but I hope to show the profound connections between this trend and our text today. The direction of today’s message is that we need a “middleman” between us and God, and his name is Jesus, who mediates between us as sinners and God.
If one spends any time watching TV, one is bound to see commercials for insurance, of many different varieties. These commercials (and the companies they advertise) fall into two basic camps: the old school “friendly insurance agent” based approach, and the new “pick your own policy” based approach. The first approach is all about the heartwarming comforts of relating with an actual person who is “on your side,” who knows you and your needs, and works hard for you behind the scenes to make sure you are getting the best policy for the best price, and who is there for you whenever disaster strikes. It may not be the cheapest, but it’s the kind of security worth paying a little extra for. These commercials often go out of their way to show the humanity of their individual agents: they have a family too, with the same sorts of concerns and worries you do, and are often depicted in small-town diners with American flags in the background. In this approach, the middle-person is important because they provide a service for you that you don’t want to do, or don’t know enough to do, yourself. And in a pinch, when an accident occurs, you want the reassurance of an actual person on the other end of the line who will sympathize with your situation and work to resolve it. I remember one of these commercials in particular that was so loaded with feel-good symbolism that I started to tear up.
The second approach is all about getting the exact sort of coverage you need for the absolute cheapest price possible, because the “middle-person” has been cut out of the equation. It’s all about how much money you can save over those nearly pre-historic companies who still work through individual agents. You’ve got a computer and a cell phone – you don’t need anyone to pick your policy for you, someone who maybe adds more coverage than you need to pad their own pocketbook a little. The style of these commercials are either quick fast-paced action (you’re on the go – no time for human interaction!) or overly simplistic, in a white room depicting shelves and shelves of individualized policies, waiting only for you to claim yours. Everything about them is quick and efficient – if you need to file a claim, a response team will be there in thirty seconds! You’ll get your check before you can blink. The trendy and quirky nature of the ads suggests that anyone hip and not too old-fashioned does insurance this way. One that stands out in my mind is a person who has been given the sort of barcode scanning gun they give to those registering for a wedding. That person is empowered to select and customize their policy exactly how they want it, nothing more or less. Of course, the sort of people to whom this product is advertised never expect to have an accident anyway, so all in all it’s a moot point, just a legal annoyance.
When we look at Scripture, however, we see that the situation is much different, and that it takes a much higher view of "middle-people." In the Old Testament, priests were considered absolutely essential in performing sacrifices and purifying the temple. Without them, the sin of the people could accumulate to such an extent that God might abandon the temple. In this way, the priests were God's agents on earth, doing for the people what they could not do themselves. In the New Testament, and particularly the book of Hebrews, the camera recording the drama of salvation history zooms in on one "middleman" in particular: Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is a totally unique middleman, unlike any other.
Yet Scripture does more than just show us who the perfect "middleman" is, but also explains why we need him. It tells us that accidents do happen, that suffering occurs, no matter how prepared we are or how hard we believe that such accidents can never happen to us. It strips away the illusion that we can pick and customize the plan of our life to such an extent that we don't need anyone or anything else but ourselves. It reveals to us how foolish our notions are that we have all the facts and knowledge necessary to make the right decisions in life, but instead shows us that we need a powerful mediator, someone working on our behalf. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's look at why the writer of Hebrews suggests that Jesus is the perfect "middleman" for us.
First of all, Jesus is able to empathize and have compassion on us and our struggles because Jesus has faced life's difficulties as well, yet he was without sin. Not only did Jesus experience all the suffering a human life encounters, Jesus faced the ultimate suffering, crucifixion bearing the sins of the world, in order to grant us eternal life. Jesus is not like that well-meaning friend who says "I understand" when you tell them of a particularly difficult time in your life, even if they have never encountered anything similar. Even worse, that friend may go on to relate a similar (in their mind) story of suffering they faced. Jesus does not do this. Instead of empty words, Jesus delivers with saving action, truly showing how much he relates to the suffering you and I face. This knowledge, that Jesus draws near to us in our suffering because he suffered too, gives us the strength to come to him with our suffering, and we know that he is mighty to save and comfort us in our trials.
Next, the author of Hebrews relates to us how important it is that Jesus was appointed by God, and not self-appointed, to be our mediator and middleman, there for us in the midst of life's accidents. As God's own Son, Jesus shares a special relationship with God, such that our Priest is a very member of the Triune God. This has great importance for us, because we know that Jesus' work as God's agent on our behalf is effective, and not like the priests in the Old Testament, who had their own sin to deal with in addition to ours. Since Jesus is God, our middleman is not like others, providing us access with something beyond. Amazingly, as God Jesus provides us access with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity. We don't have to worry about whether or not our prayers are answered or our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving are heard. We know they are because as we relate to Jesus, we relate to God.
Third, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our great middleman "forever". He's not like pastors who come and go, or friends who come and go, and especially not like insurance companies, from which we come and go. God installed Jesus as our mediator "forever". He will never stop working on our behalf. Elsewhere in Hebrews the writer says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." This means that the work Jesus did on earth, saving and healing the hurting and the sick and those in need of love and acceptance - Jesus is still doing that work, in heaven and with all the might of the eternal God. We can rest assured that our Savior and God in heaven loves us and saves us with an eternal love, undying and unquenchable.
So in all, friends, as we look to Jesus our great high priest, the mediator who makes things right between us and God, may our blessed Savior help us to see him and know him, that we might run to him in our time of great need, and find there healing and restoration. Amen.

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