Sermon for October 17, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3047 | Upside-Down Selfie with Jesus

Selfies have become the new autograph of the 21st century. Nowadays, we try to be shameless when grabbing a quick selfie with anyone we admire or look up to. The time you spend doing a selfie might only take a second with someone but Jesus invites us into experiencing his loving presence beside us for all eternity. He is always there for us with arms wide open.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3047 | Upside-Down Selfie with Jesus Greg Williams The selfie is the new autograph. Armed constantly with our phones, if we run into a famous person or even go to a famous place, we can snap a picture instantly. It’s better than the old, impersonal autograph. Here you are in the presence of a celebrity for a moment—with your arm around a millionaire like you are old friends. For about a second, it’s like you’re one of them. Like every other commodity, selfies have now become big business too. How about a selfie with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker)? That will run you almost $200. Take a snap with Sly Stallone? That’ll be $445. It can become an expensive moment, but it’s worth it for the big fans. James and John make a kind of “selfie request” of Jesus in Mark 10: And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:37 (ESV) This is a bold request; they are asking for the seats of honor, to the right and left of the king. They are hoping to bask in the presence of glory and power—to sit for a moment on near-equal footing with royalty. In a sense, to take a selfie with him. Jesus turns the conversation on its head quickly: But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:43-44 (ESV) As he often does, Jesus turns the dynamic of the culture—and human culture in general—on its head. If you would be great, you must be a servant. There is no vying for the center stage; there’s no elbowing your way in for a photograph with fame. Jesus calls us away from these status symbols and trappings of identity into true freedom where the last are first and the humble great. When Jesus finally was crowned here on earth, he did have someone on his right and someone on his left. But his crown was of thorns and he was nailed to his throne, and at each side of him were criminals. So can we take this upside-down selfie with Jesus? If we’re going to snap a pic at his side, we won’t find him at the autograph table. We’ll find him serving not being served. Taking that selfie—standing next to him in that moment—is much more costly than taking one with any celebrity, but worth every penny. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c • Job 38:1-7, (34-41) • Hebrews 5:1-10 • Mark 10:35-45

The theme this week is God made low— the creator of the universe becoming a humble servant. The call to worship Psalm portrays the almighty God “wrapped in light.” In Job 38 we glimpse the frightening depths of God’s power in creation. In Mark 10, Jesus explains that the greatest is the servant of all. Our sermon is based on Hebrews 5, which shows us how Jesus entered the complete helplessness of being human in order to become our priest.

The High Priest Made Low

Hebrews 5:1-10 ESV

Begin with the lectionary reading: Hebrews 5:1-10.

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes” is a well-worn cliché about reserving judgment on people. Well-worn enough to have a joke made out of it, “…that way, when you judge him, you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have his shoes!” But even the threadbare quality of the proverb and the tiring humor of the joke tell us that this phrase has been around a long time and is basically universally understood.

It’s no accident that some of the most effective social workers are those who grew up in impoverished communities. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most mission-driven police officers are those who were criminals in their youth or at least grew up around crime.

Take Edson Arantes do Nascimento (known as Pele), for instance, arguably the best soccer player in history. He learned his sport in the slums of Brazil, playing with a sock stuffed with old rags because his family couldn’t afford a ball. After achieving fame, he never forgot where he came from, donating to philanthropic causes and speaking out against racism. What he learned through that firsthand experience never left him. It became part of who he was.

A similar experience is at the heart of the gospel – Jesus became one of us. His name was Immanuel, “God with us.”

The thematic language of this chapter in Hebrews concerns the Jewish priesthood, so it may seem a bit removed from our experience. But if you look closely, you realize you are reading the story of Jesus very much as a human being – as someone who was walking a mile in our shoes. Even in the midst of the complex religious language around the priesthood, Jesus’ humanity comes through – with “loud cries and tears” (verse 7).

Let’s look at this passage today, even its most peculiar feature Melchizedek, and see what it means to have a high priest who came low. Let’s look at:

  • Christ out of nowhere
  • Christ right here
  • Christ out ahead of us

Christ out of nowhere

Most of us can’t even quite pronounce the name Melchizedek let alone understand why the writer of Hebrews is so excited about him. He is mentioned so casually here that the readers must have had a strong Jewish context to understand the reference.

Melchizedek was a historical person who came essentially out of nowhere to comfort and encourage Abraham, thousands of years before. (See Genesis 14.) Abraham had been through a brutal battle and this disorienting story shows Melchizedek walking up to him in the desert one day:

 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20 ESV)

Abraham, called Abram at the time, was the start of the story of Israel. He was the only one we know of who worshipped the God of Israel and had heard from God. It must have been very lonely, and he was constantly having to convince family members and others that this God was real and cared about them. And then this guy comes from nowhere, speaking the same language about God that Abraham spoke. No one else had experienced that, at least that Abram knew, and suddenly Melchizedek is there. As suddenly as he appears, he disappears from the narrative.

The next place he appears is in a Psalm:

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.  The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:3-4)

Here the psalmist is writing about a conversation between God and a shadowy priest king figure, who is never fully explained. He then designates this figure a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

So, we have a shadowy figure who is somehow associated with a mysterious personage in an enigmatic exchange. Everybody following?

Distraction is always a temptation here. We want to explore the mystery and try to guess the secret code of scripture and unlock it. But I think that’s counterproductive and leads us away from the heart of what’s being told here. What we see in Hebrews is the writer trying to connect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel and therefore the story of the world. He’s interpreting it with the context he knows, not trying to give us some mystic riddle.

Boiling it down, the author is saying that Jesus is not like the priests they knew, who came from the tribe of Aaron. He is something else entirely, part of the larger, global, and admittedly mysterious world of Melchizedek. Essentially, this story is bigger than us. The gospel is not just a story of the political situation of Israel in that day, nor is it just the story of our own personal devotional journey today – it is all those things, and much more.

Jesus is our best friend who comforts us, loves us and “has a wonderful plan for our lives” (as the Four Spiritual Laws puts it). He’s also the Lord of the universe who holds quantum reality together and strolls through the planets as King. One of the best ways to express that to the audience of Hebrews was to identify him with Melchizedek, a figure somehow greater than even Abraham, which they couldn’t imagine.

Melchizedek is a much deeper theological discussion that we don’t have the right to ignore just because it’s complex; however, the error on the other side is to become obsessed with it and let the mystery of it distract us. Neither extreme is helpful. For now, the point is that the mystery of Jesus is greater than any system we try to cram him into.

Christ right here

Chapter breaks, verse numbers and subtitles weren’t in the original manuscripts of scripture and can sometimes be unhelpful. The discussion here of Jesus as High Priest actually starts in the end of chapter 4, where it says:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)

The author then turns to discussing earthly priests, which were probably a familiar class of people to the original audience. They grew up with priests, and the temple life was woven right into their own. The author reminds them that a priest can identify with them:

He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. (Hebrews 5:2-3 ESV)

So the priest is able to empathize with the people because he is one of them. The priests were the people’s representatives before God and kept the ritual connection to the God of Israel. Their role was vital and highly respected, and the author here reminds the reader that the priests are just people, even to the point that they had to give sacrifices to cover their own sins. Because of this they could “deal gently” with the people – because they are just like the people they serve.

Read about a page of the history of Israel and you’ll find out that priests often forgot that, and let their pastoral spirits be choked by pride. Look around the greater church for a minute, and you’ll see examples of pastors who seem to forget to practice humility. But the author of Hebrews points to the true reality that these people are just that – people.

The exception is with Jesus. The priests are just people because they are sinful and corrupt just like the rest of us, but Jesus never was. Jesus never sinned, and therefore didn’t have the experience of sin that – ideally – birthed empathy in the priests.

But what he did experience was the results of sin. And that is the subtle theme the author is getting across here. Jesus experienced the pain, hunger, sickness, anxiety, fatigue, fear and every other aspect of living in the fallen world – though he never participated in the sin that brought it on.

He didn’t share our sin, but he did share our weakness. He knew the limited, sometimes frightening life of living in this fallen world. Therefore, he knows us. He isn’t a superhero who dropped in, fixed everything and left. He was born into our world and knew the fear and weakness of our world to the point that it killed him.

  • When you are tired, know that “Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” John 4:6 ESV
  • When you are scared, know that “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:44 ESV
  • When you feel like God has abandoned you, hear Jesus say: “Why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 ESV.
  • When you weep, remember, “Jesus wept.” John 11:35 ESV

Christ is right here—Jesus was and is right with us. He can truly say, “I know how you feel.”

Christ out ahead of us

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (Hebrews 5:8 ESV)

This verse makes most of us do a double take. How could Jesus learn obedience? Wasn’t he already perfect? What did he need to learn?

Again, Jesus was one of us. Although he never sinned, he learned to be human by becoming one. He learned life by the same skinned knees and sleepless nights and false starts that we do.

He went through the full experience of being prepared for his vocation as the savior of humanity. The uncertainty and confusion of human life was the way there. The details of how exactly all this happened, we don’t know, but we know he was thoroughly one of us.

Instead of scorching the earth and starting over, God worked through our brokenness to heal it. Jesus blazed the trail of what it means to be human—to show us how to be who we were created to be, and to make it possible through his death and resurrection.

This is Jesus out ahead of us, fixing the world from the inside.

One commentator said it well: “Creation got spoken into being. Salvation got shrieked into being.” God could have wiped us out and started over, that would have been much easier. But instead, he brought and is bringing the new humanity to birth with all the shrieks and sweat and blood it takes for that to happen.

Christ out of nowhere—The mysteries of Jesus and the gospel are far too big for us to understand. The gospel isn’t just a pleasant message telling us to love each other—it’s world-transforming, radioactive, somehow familiar and completely strange at the same time.

Christ right here—Jesus walked among us in the weakness caused by sin he never committed. He knows what it means to be human and so still walks among us by the Spirit—lovingly patient. He knows what we’re dealing with in the human experience. He’s been here.

Christ out ahead of us—God didn’t start the story over; he wrote himself into it. The creator of humanity became human to show us what it means to truly be human. He blazed a trail we could never blaze and now the point is to follow.

The high priest was made low—correcting, healing and ultimately affirming what it means to be human.

Exactly! w/ Marty Folsom
October 17 – Proper 24
Hebrews 5:1-10 (NRSV) “Better is Better”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “The High Priest Made Low”

  • Have you ever known anyone who made it through a difficult experience and then went on to serve others struggling with the same thing? (Example: former addicts who are sponsors in recovery groups; wealthy people who grew up poor and donate money). How can they serve more effectively because they know these experiences firsthand?
  • Hebrews 4:14 says that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses. Do we think of Jesus this way? How is this a comforting reality?
  • Melchizedek is a person who came out of nowhere and encouraged Abraham, bolstering the epic story of God and humanity. Who has God brought “out of nowhere” to encourage you? Maybe spoken through circumstances, even people you would have never expected? How has that become part of your story?

Questions for Speaking of Life: “An Upside-Down Selfie with Jesus”

  • Have you ever taken a selfie with a famous person? What was the moment like?
  • Why do you think James and John made this odd request of Jesus (Mark 10:37)?
  • Jesus’ answer and the following story of his crucifixion turn our worldly ideas of greatness and power on their heads. How can we live the Jesus way, with servant greatness? Is that burdening or freeing to us?
  • If you were going take a selfie with Jesus today, where do you think you’d find him?

Quote to Ponder:

When we see the face of God, we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love.” ~CS Lewis

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