October 10, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING: Hebrews 4:12-16
This morning’s lectionary readings seem to be poking around at one of those traits of God that we are never too comfortable exploring. We love thinking about the love of God, but what do we do about that part of God who, like any parent, has to confront their children with a hard look at the child’s behavior that is less than acceptable and maybe so destructive it will almost inevitably lead to disaster?
It is in times like this that the word that comes to us from God is sharp and pointed so that it pierces.
So in the Lectionary readings from various places in the Bible, come phrases like: “God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness.” (Job) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalms) “For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins.” (Amos) And then this from Hebrews: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (4:12)
It is a hard topic, but important. We recoil from a God of justice and correction probably because we heard too much of it when we were young. But because we, like everyone else are prone to behavior that is hurtful to God, ourselves and others, we hear those pointed words from God sometimes.
Perhaps it is good to point out that the “word of the Lord” here is not referring to Jesus who was called the “Word” by John. Neither is it referring to the Bible which some call “The word of God.” This is the word of God, the word from God comes from any number of places but that penetrates into the inner part of us and speaks truth to us when we would rather hear something more pleasant.
It is the word that is like a double edged sword the Hebrew writer says. So, this is the uncomfortable word of God which speaks truth to us – which shines brilliant light on the dark corners of our character and says: “We need to talk!” And your inner self flashes on images of a principal’s office somewhere, an angry parent, or a police person with pad in her hand.
We are sadly a culture of people who have become less and less comfortable with the truth – especially are we reluctant to hear the truth about our imperfect selves. We have nearly become convinced that if the truth makes us squirm, we have a right – indeed a responsibility – to alter that truth until it is more comfortable even if the truth is now a lie. Anything to keep from being seen as guilty – even if it is the truth.
This manipulation of the truth is the stock and trade of the defense attorneys. We hear: “Let me phrase that another way” meaning: “Maybe this will sound more to your liking.” We are told: Never admit to blame after an accident. Our children become experts at distorting an incident so it reflects badly on a sibling. The advertising agencies have long ago lost a grip on truth. And we – we almost never give the truth the time of day when the spotlight is turned on us. Maybe we welcome it for a neighbor or a spouse, but not ourselves.
And yet, still in this moral vacuum, the word of God continues its persistent work of piercing our consciousness with the point of the sword of truth – or, as I have characterized it in the sermon title – the scalpel. It is the scalpel that I think is more familiar and perhaps helpful to get this point across (if you will).
The scalpel is “wicked sharp!” It is meant to be able to divide good tissue from infected, decaying tissue and cut one from the other. By its very nature and intended purpose, it causes pain and discomfort. It wounds. It makes you cry out. It sets you back for a while to recover. It may well cause you to be ashamed of yourself so that you want to hide because the truth was exposed to the light of day and we can’t avoid seeing it for what it is.
“And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” 4:13 (The Hebrew writer explains).
The very idea of being caught naked before another is such a powerful image. And to be naked before God is almost enough to invoke terror. What would God think if God saw me (my soul) totally exposed?
And yet, on the other side of that terrifying image is another image painted in brighter shades and colors entirely! Think about it! What if I could stand before God (the one who sees and knows every detail) and stand there absolutely naked, hiding nothing, and know that no matter the extent of distortion, the twist, that all is well? Can you imagine it? Is there anything else that could possibly make you feel more whole and clean?
There is nothing more longed after than the state of being seen and being loved all at the same time! I will never forget the woman who came to me for counseling because she had never once for years stepped out of the house without first putting on an entire regiment of make up! “I could not stand it if someone were to see me like I really am. I could never be loved if they only knew what I really look like!” Ever feel that way?
I ask you: “What difference might it make if you knew that there indeed is one who sees you and loves you just the way you are?”
The scalpel is a terrifying thing, to be sure. Its potential for causing pain is beyond imagination. But in the hands of one whose intention for good and healing is unquestioned and unquestionable, it (and the laser which has taken its place) is an instrument without parallel that is literally at the forefront of the battle for wholeness.
The Hebrew writer changes metaphors at this point and instead of the image of a surgeon, he calls upon the image of the High Priest. The surgeon deals with physical decay whereas the High Priest deals with decay of the soul.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 12:15 It is not a surgeon on our side, but a high priest. One commissioned to stand between us broken, vulnerable, and imperfect human beings and a God who stands before us perfect. The High Priest, of course, is Jesus who forever knows our flaws and forever has our backs!
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 4:16
Here’s the promise: COME NAKED AND COME BOLDLY! You cannot be healed without seeing yourself and also being seen. Like you, I wish there were another way. But the promise is that if you come that way, what greets you always and every time is mercy and grace. Mercy and grace in abundance. Enough for whatever ugliness you have and more. Always enough to cover every flaw.
And that, my friends, IS THE TRUTH!