Have you noticed that everything is pumpkin spiced these days? Coffee shops roll out their pumpkin spiced lattes. Walk into the grocery store and you can get pumpkin spiced cookies, cereal and ice cream. Everyone is advertising pumpkin spice. They do it because people line up for pumpkin spice. I had the brilliant idea that if I gave a pumpkin spiced sermon, we’d have people lined up waiting to come in.
Dang. I guess I was wrong.
At first I mentioned a pumpkin spice sermon as a joke, but then I realized that the pumpkin spice craze actually does tie in to the Epistle reading from Hebrews (4:12-16) today.
How many people here have had a pumpkin spiced something in the last few weeks? What a about a pumpkin spiced latte? In case you haven’t tried one, a pumpkin spice latte is coffee with a lot of milk that has sugar, sugar and more sugar and pumpkin pie spices swirled through. Then it’s topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. There is so much other stuff in a pumpkin spice coffee that it hides the fact that you are drinking a cup of coffee. Some people who drink a pumpkin spice latte would never tolerate a cup of black coffee.
The pumpkin spice coffee is a metaphor for how we go through life. We put all the sweet parts on the outside and hide the real stuff underneath. People ask us how we are doing and we say, Great! Or Fine! Or OK. Or Busy! We give them the sweet stuff, the fluff of our outer lives and very little of what is underneath. We don't admit to being worried about our children. Or thinking that our job is tenuous. We hide the hard parts because we might be embarrassed or ashamed or think nobody wants to hear about them.
We hide the bitter part of ourselves because other people might not like it. Or because life is easier when we don’t remember the worst parts of it. When someone shares the hard things of life with us like some of us did in church last week (we had some personal stories of where God has shown up), it can make us uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say when we face the fear and vulnerability that are underneath us all.
Too often, we go through life seeing nothing but the sugar whipped cream. And after a while we lose our taste for what is underneath. We forget how to deal with adversity or be compassionate. We choose instead to be numb or false with ourselves and superficial with each other. But our reading from Hebrews tells us that God sees through it. We can’t hide ourselves under sugar and spice and whipped cream when it comes to God.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, 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. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
And this is a terrifying thought. We can’t hide from God. We can’t hide that time when we were cruel to another kid in elementary school or got caught trying to cover up that mistake at work or that affair or addiction or the greed. But, God knows it and that can be unsettling.
If you’ve ever felt like you were in the presence of God, you know that you become undone. You know that it is terrifying. You know that they call it the fear of the LORD for a reason. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is raw and vulnerable in the presence of God because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
If you think, well, I’m not as bad as her. If you’re pretty sure that his sins are worse than yours, you are living a pumpkin spice lie. If you think Jesus doesn’t know your mistakes, you’re hiding under a pile of whipped cream.
Because Jesus knows. Jesus, the Word of God is living and active and will take you apart. And many preachers will threaten you with this. But if they are, then they are missing the point. They might tell you that God is so big and powerful that you should be afraid of going to hell. And I agree that God can be terrifying. Anybody holding a sharp object like a two-edged sword or a surgical knife can be scary if you don’t trust them.
After all, surgeons use knives all the time, in some ways they do horrible things to our bodies. But, we trust that they are not doing it to hurt us. This reading is similar. God doesn’t lay us naked and bare and take us apart to expose us or shame us or humiliate us—we do enough of that to ourselves and each other. No. God's purposes are different. God is truth. When we are undone before God, God is showing us the truth about ourselves. When we see that truth, we can begin to heal and to change.
Hebrews says this:
“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 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.”
In Jesus we have someone who can take us to the throne of grace, not with fear, but with boldness. We can walk confidently to God despite our past and receive mercy and receive grace in our time of deepest need. With Jesus we needn’t fear the power of God. We can trust God with those parts of ourselves that we’ve been trying to hide. This my friends is the Good News of the Gospel. The Good News is through Jesus you are reconciled to God. The evangelist Brennan Manning puts it more powerfully than I ever could…
I dare you to trust that God loves you as you are, Manning says. And that is the Good News. God does love you. The sweet parts, the delicious parts as well as what is underneath, the parts you are afraid to show people. The parts that you may not like. God sees it all. Trusting in the love is what frees us to live the life Jesus calls us to. It gives us the courage to do crazy things like become a disciple, teach a class, feed the homeless, give away money or share a difficult story.
Jesus' life shows us what God does for imperfect people—heals them, feed the, calls them to be disciples. God looks at what is underneath people and says I love you as you are. You might say God can take his coffee black. No sugar. No spice. Just as it is.