October 10, 2021
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
You know, the tech world is awfully crafty. Say, I’m interested in buying some new golf balls. I’ve developed a terrible hook and all my golf balls are in the marsh at Moody Gardens. Okay, so I start googling, I read some reviews. I go on Amazon and do some comparison shopping. You know, every day normal online stuff.
And then, well, you know what happens. Instantly, every single ad I see on Facebook is for golf balls. I go on Instagram, golf balls are far as you can scroll. I can’t go to a website without being bombarded with commercials for golf balls. They know. They know what we want, when we want it, and why we want it. They might even know us better than we know ourselves. They know when the weather is changing and we all might be interested in a new sweater. They know when hurricane season starts and we might be interested in a generator. They know. The internet is a giant advertising machine. And yes, just to clarify, the ads you see are different from the ads I see. I remember describing this to one dear parishioner and she was shocked that I didn’t see ads for pots and pans. Because the internet knows. Call it Big Brother, call it data mining, call it whatever you want, but we’re all seemingly okay with it. This is the deal we have made in the modern world. We give our data, we give our browsing history, and they give us a great deal on a box of Titleists.
We have no privacy. And that’s precisely what we pray every single Sunday – “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” (BCP, 323). Oh my goodness, did you just hear that? Jeff Bezos, take a seat. To God, all hearts are open, all desires known, and from God no secrets are hid. The Lord God Almighty knows all, sees all, perceives everything. As the letter to the Hebrews says, we are laid bare before God. We have no shelter, no protection, from the overwhelming sheer magisterial presence of the Almighty. “The word of God is 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” (Hebrews 4:12-13). God has no need of data mining, because God already knows.
This is one of the great gifts of the Christian faith. God is near to us, God desires to be in close communion with us. Whether we like it or not, God is near and God knows all. But at our spiritual peril we forget that God is Other, God is different from us. It is God and God alone who peers into the depth of our souls, our hearts, and our minds. You can turn off your iPhone. You can choose to shop at Target instead of Amazon. But God will never rest, never quit, never stop looking at you and for you. “Before [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:13).
This is who God is. Personally, I find this terrifying. Terrifying but good. It is good news because because God isn’t trying to sell us something, God doesn’t want to take anything from us. God isn’t using his knowledge of us for his own gain. God knows us, God is near to us, God peers into our souls because God wants to carry our burdens for us. And if God is going to carry that load, God has to see all the baggage that we are hefting around. God has to know the pains, the hurts, the scars of life that are holding us back if he is going to do anything about it.
And yes, God does want to do something about it. Those pains, those hurts, those spiritual scars that you carry, the ones that only God knows – all those are offered up before God and burned away. That’s what the letter to the Hebrews is getting at: “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (4:14). Remember what the high priest was called on to do in the Old Testament. The high priest took the sins, the pain, the hurts of the people and offered them before God. All of that would be burned away with fire. All that would remain of the people’s sin offerings would be ash.
That’s precisely what Jesus has done for us. Jesus sympathizes with us, because he has lived with us. Then Jesus takes all of our woes, our burdens, our stuff to the cross and offers them to God; just as the high priests of old made their offerings to God. And God burns them out of existence.
It’s just as the prayer goes on to say: “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name” (BCP, 323). That is one of the most terrifying and most honest prayers we can muster. Not only do we acknowledge that God knows everything about us, but we pray that God would do something about it. “Cleanse us,” we pray. We are praying that the Lord God who knows everything would take us, as an offering, and burn away all our sins.
God will make this happen. God knows who we are and God will cleanse us. That will happen either willingly or unwillingly. And the willing offering of ourselves to God is the path of discipleship. In all that we do and in all that we have, we are called to offer ourselves to the Lord God. This means the three things we treasure most. Our bodies, our money, and our time. At the end of the day, in death, God will claim all three of those. We will not have a choice, so we may as well get started and offer ourselves now. We can offer our bodies to God by caring for them. By eating right, by trusting our doctors and medical professionals, by exercising. God gave us these bodies, so we ought to take care of them as best we can. We offer our money to God, to churches and to charities. We turn that money over to God in gratitude. And get over it – God already knows what you have anyway. Stop kidding yourself, you can’t hide it. And our time, we commit times to prayer and worship and service. Giving our time is a sign of when God will have all of our time, for all eternity. When we are offering our bodies, our money, and our time to God, we are making space for God to move ever closer to us.
And that’s how our little passage from Hebrews wraps up – “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” (Hebrews 4:16). We offer all that we have and all that we are to God. And Jesus, as our great high priest, will take us, cleanse us, and present us as pure and righteous before the throne of the living God.
I know that you’ll go home this afternoon, and when you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching tv, you’ll be bombarded with ads. Maybe for golf balls, maybe for pots and pans, maybe for who knows what. Each individualized to you. All those advertisements, all that data mining, all those tech companies, they only want things from you. When you are feeling that enticement, remember that God does not want anything from you, but God only wants you. Choose this life, choose this path of giving yourself to God. “Approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”