Sermon: Proper 25 RCL C – “Necessary Information”

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. Banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour. An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain. Amount American Airlines saved in ’87 by taking out one olive from each salad served in first class: $40,000. Polar bears are left-handed. Exactly how much useless information is out there?

A recent study states that the amount of information up until 1900 could be measured as a 1 inch bar on a graph. The information gathered from 1900 to 1950 could be measured as a 2 inch bar on the same graph, while the information presently available would measure higher than the Washington Monument, which is 6,665.5 inches. That is a lot of information, yet Finagle’s laws of information state:

1. The information you have is not what you want.
2. The information you want is not what you need.
3. The information you need is not what you can obtain.
4. The information you can obtain costs more than you want to pay – and round and round we go!

The library at Nashotah House, where I went to seminary, presently has a collection of approximately 125,000 books, 40,000 electronic books, and subscriptions to about 300 periodicals. I would wager that about 98% of all those books, all that information, is related to some aspect of God: theology, the church, prayer, preaching, Christology, and more. Yet if someone could retain and comprehend all that information, would they really know everything about God?

In the beginning of the third chapter of the Book of Exodus we have the event of Moses and the burning bush. Moses is out tending his sheep and he looks up on Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, and he sees this strange site, a bush that is on fire, yet is not consumed. So he goes over to it and the voice of the Lord speaks to him from the bush. The Lord tells Moses of the abuse of the Israelites in their slavery in Egypt and he appoints Moses as the one who will go and speak to Pharaoh about the freeing of the people and Moses then asked, “But who am I that the people will listen to me?” God says, “Don’t worry, I will go with you.” In response, Moses essentially asked, “Ok, but who are you?”

Scripture reads, “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

God defines himself as “I AM.” In some respect it is as though God were asking Moses to fill in the blank. “I am God. I am mighty. I am love.” However, in another respect it is not God saying “I am this, that, or the other,” but instead asking, “What am I not?” I am everything.

In our walk with God we often attach titles and adjectives to Him. We say things like, “God is Love” – “God is mighty” – “God is eternal.” But after a while we begin to understand that God is so far beyond “Love” that he is not love. Yes he is mighty, but is that Superman kind of mighty or is it more? He is eternal, but he is outside of time, so is he really eternal or is he just, “I AM”?

An anonymous quote speaking of God reads, “Describe him as you will: good, fair Lord, sweet, merciful, righteous, wise, all-knowing, strong one, almighty; as knowledge, wisdom, might, strength, love, or charity, and you will find them all hidden and contained in this little word… is.”

The point: the more we know God, the less we know God. The more information we have of Him makes us realize how little we actually do know. Consider this: if you stand off from a mountain several miles you get the general outline of the mountain. As you move closer and closer, more details pop out at you. That ridge line. A clearing here or a spring pouring down a steep ravine. But as you get even closer you can only see what is right in front of you. All these details you thought you had a grasp of are lost to sight. When you find yourself “nose to nose” with the mountain, you can’t see anything except a few feet around you. You know there is more to the mountain than you can see, but because you are closer, you lack the ability to take it all in.

It is the same with God. From a distance you think you have Him all figured out, but as you are drawn deeper into a relationship with him you realize that there is an infinite amount of information about God that you don’t have a clue about. And this is where you and I can make a grave error. As we draw more near to Him, instead of understanding that we actually know less of Him, we can convince ourselves that we know Him. That we have Him all figured out. Big thumbs up to Buddy Jesus!

What does that error look like? Take our Gospel reading for today: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee was one who was very learned in the things of God. The tax collector, not so much and generally looked on as a plague of society. You would think that the Pharisee would be the one that was vindicated before God, yet the Pharisee makes that grave error. When he prays he believes that he knows the mind of God, how things work – he’s on the team and the starting quarterback after all – and so he is all puffed up. When he prays he says to God, “You know me and I know you. We’re tight and thank heaven I’m not like that poor schmuck over there. You and me, we’re good.” He views himself as a righteous dude, because he thinks God views him as a righteous dude.

Yet the tax collector could not even look up toward heaven when he prayed. In the temple he stood as far away as he could. He did not pretend to “know” God, but he did know himself and so he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All the information that the Pharisee had regarding God did him no good, because even with all that information he never knew the one thing he needed most of all: God’s mercy. What was the second point of Fragile’s law of information, “The information you want is not what you need.” The Pharisee needed this one piece of information and he too would have gone away justified, but instead it was the tax collector – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” – who went away justified.

We’ve read recently about how the Pharisees complained to the disciples because Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. On one occasion, scripture says, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I know this sounds contrary to what we often hear, but Jesus does not love us because we are righteous, (because we never are in our own strength) nor does Jesus love us because we know all there is to know about him, because we go to church, Sunday school, say the Rosary five times a day, know that polar bears are left handed, etc., etc., etc. Jesus loves us because we are the sons and daughters of the Living God. Heirs and co-heirs with him of the Kingdom of Heaven, and his greatest desire – outside of his obedience to the Father – is that we always be with him. As he prayed, “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

In order to receive this extraordinary gift, we don’t need a library’s worth of information, just two little bits will be fine: 1) we are all in need of God’s mercy, and 2) in order to receive God’s mercy, all we must do is pray the tax collector’s prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

For some, that is too easy, too simple, but if it were some great task that we had to complete, then we would wrongly believe that our salvation was of our own making; therefore, God accomplished the work for us and only requires that we receive the reward. This day, the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life are freely offered to you. Do you receive them?

Let us pray: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

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