Sermon: The Temple in Your Pocket
“Jesus … has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
Last week, towards the end of my sermon, I talked about how Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek instead of the priests of the tribe of Levi, modeled on Aaron, the brother of Moses. I explained how Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in the Bible, seemingly coming out of nowhere, and then disappearing after offering the sacrifice of bread and wine for Abraham. Today, as we continue to read from the letter to the Hebrews, we hear more about how Christ is different from the Temple priests of His own day, and this explains why this business about the priesthood of Melchizedek is so important.
The priests of the tribe of Levi had to go into the Temple every day to offer sacrifices first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Over and over again, the process repeated itself on the Temple mount. The priests had to continue making the offerings because of their imperfection, because the offerings were never quite good enough because they were made by priests whose own sinfulness limited the power of the sacrifices.
Not so with Christ. Finally, with His death and resurrection, the cycle is broken. Rather, his sacrifice is “once for all.” Unlike the Jewish priests, His is the one sacrifice that can be perfectly relied upon to deliver those who entrust themselves to Him.
Today, we see what the purpose of Christ’s priesthood is: “to make intercession for us.” This should be a source of constant amazement: God arranged all of human history, establishing the Old Testament priesthood as a precursor to the priesthood of Christ, to establish His Son as the one who would make intercession for you.
What does it mean, then, that Christ “makes intercession” for us? The word “intercession” literally means to go between. If someone acts as a “go-between” for two people, it is because he knows both of them well – he has something in common with each of them. He is able to bring them together by a common connection.
For Christ, the “go-between” for God and man, that common connection is His dual nature, both totally human and totally divine. He has one foot on earth and the other in Heaven, bridging the gap between man and God. This intercession, this going-between, is the essence of Christ’s priesthood. The ancient Romans referred to their priests as a “pontifex.” (That’s where we get the word “pontiff” to refer to the Pope.) It means, “bridge builder.” In His very nature, Christ builds a bridge between us and His heavenly Father.
This is not just an interesting academic exercise, a fact to memorize for catechism class. It has real effects on our lives! St. Paul emphasizes that Christ, because of this priesthood that He possesses, is “always able to save those who approach God through him.” How many times have you approached God with feeble prayers, not totally trusting that He will hear and answer them? “God, if you’re out there somewhere” … “God, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble” … “God, it would be awfully nice if …”
These are not the prayers of someone who believes in a Savior who is “always able to save those who approach God through him.” Christ tells us repeatedly in the Gospels that our prayers will be answered in accord with our faith. That is also what He means when He tells us today in the Gospel that we should love the Lord with “all your strength.” Having that kind of faith in God is not easy! It takes an incredible amount of strength, strength that we can only obtain from His free gift of grace, which is always available for the asking for those with faith.
In addition to Christ always being able to save those who approach Him with faith, St. Paul also emphasizes that it is Christ alone who is always able to save. He is the only one who is both human and divine, who is able to bridge the infinite gap between God and man, bringing those of us who were far off close to God’s loving mercy. So often, though, we turn not to Him but to the things of this world to save us.
Some turn to money to save them from the insecurity of not having enough, hoarding God’s blessings rather than sharing them with others. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, or other destructive behaviors to save them from the accumulated pain of life. Some turn to technology to save them from the boredom of even 30 seconds of unoccupied time. (Okay, maybe that last one is almost all of us these days.)
Modern life has inspired a great deal of boredom. Young people especially seem emotionally anesthetized because their brains have been re-wired to be constantly stimulated by one form of technology or another. (I recently read a tech executive who commented that, “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, [screen exposure is] closer to crack cocaine.” See: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/phones-children-silicon-valley.html). But let’s not imagine this is a young people problem. How often have you been stuck behind that annoying driver who takes up half of the left turn green arrow because she was looking at her cell phone? (Yeah, you’ve been there!) I bet she wasn’t 16.
You would think that technology would have vanquished boredom from modern life, but it has done precisely the opposite. Thanks to constant stimulation from technology, most of us now have the attention span of a goldfish. And that isn’t a metaphor, it’s real. Goldfish have an attention span of eight seconds, and so, if you spend much time online or with a device of some sort, do you.
We are so bored because the non-technological world (what I would be so bold as still to call the “real world”) just cannot offer the constant hits of dopamine that keep our brains stimulated. Reality is now boring, and we need technology to save us from our boredom.
You see, technology too can be a sort of priest, a “go-between” between one world and another. But rather than having one foot on earth and the other in heaven, it has one foot on earth and the other foot in a virtual reality. This virtual reality is controlled by a small number of people with a cultural agenda inimical to the Gospel. Rather than viewing you as a person made in God’s image and likeness with infinite value, they see you as a consumer, a word that reflects a view of human beings as being little more than bacterial microbes that consume the constant stream of content provided by big technology firms. Christ’s priesthood exists to pull you from this world into Heaven not for God’s good but for yours – to fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart for eternal happiness. Technology exists to pull you from this world into virtual reality, not for your good, but for the profits of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and so forth.
All of us have times throughout the day when we are feeling down, times when others have let us down, when things haven’t gone as expected, when for one reason or another we just don’t feel 100%. The temptation in those moments is to pull out the phone and see how many “likes” your recent post received, or whatever app you use to receive that little dopamine hit. But when you do that, you choose technology as your savior over Christ. You become the Jewish priests who had to go into the Temple over, over, and over again to offer a sacrifice that could not really save and had only fleeting effects.
When will we admit the depths of our boredom? When will we come to terms with the lack of satisfaction we derive from what this world holds out to us as fulfilling? I have yet to meet anyone under the age of 70 who would not readily admit that he or she wanted to spend less time on the phone and more time engaging with the real world. Isn’t that the textbook definition of addiction? Wanting to stop doing something but not being able?
Christ is the only one who is able to save us from the deep, existential boredom that afflicts modern men and women. And He will, if we approach Him with authentic faith. All of us have different challenges that we face in this life, and different coping strategies to deal with them, different ways that we are trusting in something of this world more than we are trusting in God. This week, I challenge you to think about what you are trusting in to save you from the boredom of modern life, what is the priesthood of your modern Temple to which you find yourself going over and over again but ultimately unsatisfied? How will you replace that futility with the true Priest – the One who “has no need … to offer sacrifice day after day, [who] did that once for all when he offered himself” and “lives forever to make intercession” for you?
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
XXXI Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVIII
On the emerging consensus against “screen time” for kids: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/phones-children-silicon-valley.html
On boredom: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/24/why-are-we-so-bored
Advice on breaking a smartphone addiction: https://www.popsci.com/cure-smartphone-addiction#page-4