Sermon: Proper 24 / Pentecost 21 RCL B – “High Priest”

Trevor Huddleston was a white man living in South Africa during the times of apartheid. A black South African tells of the time, when he was only nine years old, that he encountered Huddleston for the first time.

The young boy and his mother were walking down a foot path when they encountered a tall white man dressed in a black suit. In the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. But this day, before the young boy and his mother could step off the sidewalk the white man stepped off the sidewalk and, as he and his mother passed, the white man tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to the mother.

The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was bitterly opposed to apartheid. The nine year old boy was Desmond Tutu and that event changed his life. When his mother told him that Trevor Huddleston had stepped off the sidewalk because he was a man of God, Tutu found his calling. Many years later during an interview, Tutu says that when my mother, “told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”

I suppose, at one time or another, we’ve all got the wrong impression about a person or group. Sometimes it turns out that they are not the sort we should have anything to do with, but at other times, they turn out to be quite remarkable. For whatever reason, those first impressions lead us to make mistakes about a person’s character and if we are unwilling to investigate further we may miss out on some extraordinary opportunities.
Not only do we make those mistakes about people, but we can fall into the same error when it comes to God. We get to thinking He is defined by certain actions or inactions and use those events to define his character. Consider Job, who we were discussing last week.

You’ll recall that the devil came prancing before God and more or less challenged God regarding Job. Job was a righteous man and served God, but the devil said that if God would remove his protection from Job, then Job would end up cursing God. Therefore, God said, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” From that, we know of all the trouble that befell Job. He lost everything, but did not curse God.

Last week, we had reached the point in the narrative where Job’s three friends had come to him and were pointing out what they believed were his faults, yet Job continued to protest his innocence and stated all he wanted was to be able to lay his case of innocence before the Lord:

“I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.”

Today, the Lord answered Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

“Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens.”

God’s response to Job’s complaint, “Who are you to question me?”

God turned him over to the devil’s control and allowed the devil to inflict all sorts of harm on Job, but when Job said that all he wanted was to ask God “Why?”, God said, “Who do you think you are?”

Some read that and want to say to God, “Who do you think you are?”

Ever see the movie Bruce Almighty? Jim Carrey. Very funny. Bruce gets fired from his job and complains to his girlfriend. She tells him everything happens for a reason and Bruce responds, “That I don’t need. That is a cliché. That is not helpful to me. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I have no bird. I have no bush. God has taken my bird and my bush.” Finally getting frustrated she tells him to stop playing the martyr and he fires back, “I am not being a martyr. I’m a victim. God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if he wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm!”

God responds to Job’s questioning by asking, “Who are you to question me?” In that one response, we think we’ve got this God of ours all figured out. Like Desmond Tutu and the white man, we see God coming and we know we had better step off the path and bow our heads or he will knock us off the path and crush our heads. He’s just that mean little kid who likes to wind us up and watch us squirm. But is He really?

Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and healed him.
Jesus took the bread and fish, blessed it and they all had enough to eat.

Jesus called, out “Lazarus!” And the dead man walked out of the tomb alive.

Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist, knelt down before them, and washed their feet.

Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” And gave it to them for the life of the world.

James and John came to Jesus and asked for the seats at his left and right when he came into his Kingdom, and Jesus said to them that those were not his to give, and went on to say to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

We hear God ask Job, “Who do you think you are?” and we get this idea that we’ve got God all figured out as a mean little kid, but then Jesus tells us he has come to serve. He offers his life, so that we might live. And we must reconsider everything we think we know about God, because we know that they are both one in the same, for it is Jesus who says to us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Even so, how are the two reconciled? How can the God that allowed those things to happen to Job be the same God that died upon the cross for the salvation of the world?

We ask these questions and God responds:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements– surely you know!”

I’m afraid that this will leave you less than satisfied, but the answer is not for us to know. In this, we are like Job. God did not answer him and God will not answer us. However, we are different than Job, because we have what he did not.

Job was not allowed to stand before God and question him, but we have a high priest who can, for Jesus stands before the throne of grace on our behalf and intercedes for us, just as the priest stood in the temple and interceded on behalf of the people. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

We cannot stand alone before God and live; therefore, we must stand with and in God’s Son. Jesus. As our Great High Priest, Jesus alone – God Incarnate – stands before the the Father on our behalf and through his sacrifice we are made worthy.

The ways of God are mystery, but at the center of the mystery is Truth, is Jesus. We don’t have understand all the mysteries in order to receive the reward. We must only know the truth, which is Jesus.

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