Good morning, priests!
Caught you off guard, didn’t I? This does not seem like a normal greeting nor a normal sermon introduction. A good morning wish is not uncomfortable for us, but that word attached to the end may be. Call us friends. Call us family. Call us brothers and sisters. But, a priest? What in the world am I thinking by calling you and me a priest?
When we think of a priest perhaps we likely think of a specific pastoral office, most common in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. Priests lead a parish, officiate the corporate worship service, and consecrate the elements of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. They intercede to God on behalf of a congregation. You might even be familiar with the robe – or alb – priests wear in worship.
Priests continue in the tradition set by priests during Biblical times. In those days, priests were went to God on behalf of others and a community. They offered sacrifices and taught what it meant to be obedient to God. This interpretative duty would be shared with the scribes following the Exile. Keep this in mind: Priests in Biblical times were not always ordained.
Most likely you wouldn’t think of yourself as a priest. There is several reasons for this. You are not ordained and have not attended seminary. You may feel uneasy going before God on behalf of others. You might argue this is solely the pastor’s role. The pastor, serving as a church’s pastoral and professional staff, is called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for seeking God on behalf of a community, caring for the congregation’s spiritual needs, and seeking the spiritual growth and discipleship of a community of faith.
That is a lot of work. It is important work. It is work and a calling that I cherish. But, I am not alone. I am not alone in having the privilege of doing this important work. I am not alone in going to God on behalf of the community. I am not alone in caring for the spiritual needs of our congregation and community. I am not alone in seeking the growth of our churches, numerically and spiritually. Indeed, I am not alone, because we are all the priesthood of believers. We are all priests.
The theology of the priesthood of believers was foundational during the Protestant Reformation. Beginning on Oct. 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church, the Protestant Reformation brought new life and energy to the Christian movement. It also brought us back to the roots of our faith, by attempting to challenge some misguided practices during the Middle Ages. Among Luther’s many views was this idea of the priesthood of all believers. Prior to Luther, it was believed that only a priest could seek God or communicate with God for a community. Luther disagreed. Developing a theology based around 1 Peter 2:4-10, Luther argued that a priest was not the only person who could seek God on behalf of a community. The entire church has this calling. All members of the community of faith are called to be priests to one another. We are all called to seek God on behalf of the community and care for each other’s needs. In his article entitled “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility,” Luther writes that we “all have spiritual status” thus we “are all truly priests, bishops, and popes.” In other words, each of us are united by our common love of Christ and called to serve in response. There is nothing that makes a pastor spiritually different than a lay person. Because of this, we are called to care for each other and serve Christ in Christian love.
How can Luther support this? How can John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, argue this as well? How can we live into this idea of all of us being priests?
It is because of our faith in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-10 expresses this. Peter writes of God building a spiritual temple, or house, in which Jesus is the cornerstones and we are part of the building process. Peter is making a kingdom observation by using a metaphor that would have been known to the world at that time. The Greco-Roman culture placed a major emphasis on the house. A household was the center of the culture, with the father serving as the primary figure. The household included a variety of people. Peter writes that when we accept Christ, we are adopted into a new household. That is the household of God. It is a household that centers on the Father’s love and one that makes room for the community to worship and proclaim the love of Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Our baptism is our entrance into this new household. Catherine Gonzalez writes that in baptism we leave one house and join another household. When we receive this “outward sign of an inward grace,” we become members of God’s household, the Kingdom of God. Our baptism brings us into this “new family” and “consecrates” for our kingdom lives as witnesses of God’s love and grace.
Baptism grants us participation in God’s house with Jesus being its cornerstone. Any house needs a good foundation and the cornerstone is the first stone likely set in the foundation. It is what sets the entire foundation. The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece, the cornerstone, of the Kingdom of God. In saying this, Peter uses language from Isaiah 28:16. Isaiah wrote that the “true cornerstone” would renew the people. Jesus’ life and ministry was intent on bringing all people back into a relationship with the Father. This is true renewal. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus became the cornerstone of the kingdom. He is what holds it together. All of Scripture prepares for the fact that God is building a house, a kingdom, and Jesus, the Son of God, is to be the cornerstone of this new house.
Our entrance into God’s house, the Kingdom of God, comes with responsibilities. This is true in our own families. Each of us have responsibilities to care for the basic needs and development of our households. Some of these responsibilities are small, such as taking out the trash, while others are major and important, such as earning a decent living to provide for the family’s basic financial needs. One of the responsibilities each of us have is to care for the family. In our families, we are each responsible for each other’s well being.
This is true in God’s household. As members of the household of God, we are all members of God’s family. We have responsibilities to our Christian family and the household of God. This is where the concept of the priesthood of believers comes in. Because we are members of the household of God through our baptism, we are called to care for God’s household and the family. We are blessed with the calling to care for one another, to assist one another, to be a witness of God’s house to the world, and to share the love of Christ with all. This is the role of a priest that we are all called to preform.
It is not the calling of one, or a few, to care for the needs of the community of faith, but it is the calling for us all. Clergy and laity must serve side-by-side in their respective participation as the priesthood of believers. We are all representations of the church, which is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ in the world. How we live out our participation as priests will be different and unique based on how God has called us. That being the case, there are some commonalities we all share in our common ministry as priests.
We each use our individual gifts and talents. As we’ve mentioned before, each of us are gifted in certain ways that prepare us for kingdom work. It is by using our our gifts and talents that we are called to serve God in community. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that each of us are equipped to share in the work of the body of Christ. No one gift is more important than the other. All spiritual gifts are able to be used in our callings as priests. The gifts we have can share the message of Christ, can witness to Christ’s love, and serve the kingdom by serving the least in our communities. How you have been gifted is how God wants you to serve in the Kingdom.
We are also called to care for the community as priests. This is both the community of Christians and the community beyond the walls of the church. As priests, we are called to give care to those in our communities. We are a family – a collection of brothers and sisters in Christ. Because of our mutual identity in Christ’s love, we seek God on behalf of each other in prayer. We are also a loving presence to those in our community and care for their spiritual, emotional, and personal needs. Each of us are to look after one another as a family. In our modern world, we have gotten away from seeing the church as our family, but we must return to our identity as seeing the church – the fellowship of believers – as our most important social identity.
There is also a part of this with how we are for the community at large. We are all called to be witnesses who seek God on behalf of our community. The call of the entire congregation is to pray, care, and reach out to the community as witnesses of God’s love and the desire for all to be in a relationship with Christ. Truly, our identity as the priesthood of believers calls us to look beyond ourselves and look to the basic need – spiritual and physical – of those around us as an expression of Christian love.
The fellowship of Christian believers reminds us of our identity as priests. For too long, the church has proclaimed that clergy are the only ones who can seek God, who have an obligation to care for the community, and who have a special gifting to do just that. This mindset has led to the situation we face today. That is a professionalization of the clergy and laity who see their only role in the community of faith as that of a consumer who purchases religious goods. This is a wrong mindset. We are all equal in our baptism and equal in our identity with Christ. Though our callings are different, we are equal in the calling to share in the witness of Jesus Christ as kingdom citizens, who care for the needs of our community, and who seek God on behalf of others.
Let us be priests, then, in our community here at Mackville and Antioch and throughout the world.