Hello, Priests.

Isaiah 61:1-6

Hello, priests!

That’s right – priests.  Did you hear it in the Scripture for today?  Isaiah 61:6 says:

“…you shall be called priests of the LORD, you shall be named ministers of our God…”

If this is ringing a bell, you might remember similar language from 1 Peter 2:

“…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9).

Both of these passages are about ALL of us.  They don’t say, “I’m going to call a few of you to be pastors, priests, specially chosen…”  No, it says we will ALL be called priests – all of us who follow Christ.

To figure out how in the world this could be possible, we have to go back to the Old Testament and follow through into the New.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout – Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665

Priests are prominent in the Old Testament.  Among leaders, they’re clearly in the top three.  They’re referred to about 700 times.  Seven hundred.*

If you start reading through those 700 instances, you might begin to notice that they had a kind of go-between role.  They were mediators between the people and God.  In Leviticus 10:3 Moses reminds Aaron and his priests that they must be holy, because “through those who are near me I will show myself holy.”  The priests were the ones who could go behind the curtain, close to the presence of God.  They kept themselves holy and set apart so that they could approach God in a way a common, less-holy person could not.  Isaiah 61 suggests that one day, the people will be called to be priests like that.

Now follow through from the Old into the New.  As you read through the gospels you’ll learn about another mediator, but this time one who did it perfectly.  That curtain that only certain priests could step behind?  It was torn in two at his death (15:38).  Jesus opened a direct path between us and God, so that we don’t have to go through anyone else – we can approach God, just as we are.

Keep reading in the New Testament and you’ll discover that call for us to be priests – remember 1 Peter 2?  Part of that call is to be mediators.  We don’t go behind a curtain – because of Jesus, there isn’t one.  Instead, we mediate by praying for each other.  We lift each other up to God.  We do this following the example of Jesus, who prayed for his disciples (see John 17).

I personally take this call to mediate – to pray – seriously.  We keep a prayer list at our church and I try to lift it up every day.  But the point here isn’t about what I do as a pastor – is about how we’re all called to be mediators, praying for each other.

So I’ve invited a fellow priest to share with you today; a woman in our church named Connie.  Here’s what she has to say about prayer:


Pastor Mary asked me to talk about my prayer life.

Like many people mine started at home with prayers at meals and bedtime and church. That didn’t change much until the late 90’s when I joined OSL.  The Order of St Luke proclaims itself as Wesleyan and Lutheran in its spirituality, Methodist in its origins, sacramental in its practice, and ecumenical in its outlook.  The members engage in healing prayer with those who are physically ill, emotionally troubled or in other distress, often with the laying on of hands –but more importantly for me, fostering community of worship and mutual care.

Regular prayer for me began as an obligation that became a habit that has become a passion.

I began to write down the names of the people I prayed for and if a reason was given I’d note that too.  Over the years I’ve filled several books of prayer and chances are if you’ve ever asked me to pray or someone else has asked on your behalf your name will be in one of those books.

According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The stories he uses to explain this are somewhat humorous as presented by Luke. He says think of it as going to a friend to borrow bread from in the middle of the night because you’ve had company arrive unexpectedly and you have nothing to feed them. The friend moans and whines and reminds you it’s the middle of the night, but you go on knocking and begging anyway until your friend opens his door and gives you what you need BECAUSE YOU KEPT ON KNOCKING (Luke 11:5-8) – Luke also points to the judge who was pestered by the widow wanting to be heard – SHE WAS SO PERSISTENT that he relented and heard her case.  

Prayer is an important part of my life and has become so much a part of me I feel as if many of the thoughts I have are some sort of prayer. Thomas Merton calls it a watchful listening of the heart
In essence as Luke’s writings convey to me – pray, pray, pray – be persistent – don’t give up the passionate persistence of prayer.


As priests, we’re called to mediate… but also to other important work.  If we go back to the Old Testament and start reading again, we’re sure to notice something they did very often:

Offerings.

This is probably what they’re best known for.  Just flip open to the first 5 chapters of Leviticus and you’ll see offerings of the burnt, grain, well-being, and sin varieties.  The priests made offerings, in part, out of gratitude to God, and in another part, as a way to make up for sins.  And Isaiah 61 suggests that one day, this might be the work of all people as priests.

Now follow through from the Old into the New, where you’ll discover a perfect and everlasting offering.  Hebrews 7:27 puts it well:  “Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.”  Jesus himself was the perfect offering.

Keep reading through and you’ll discover a call for us to be priests – don’t forget about 1 Peter 2, and part of that call is to give our lives as an offering.  You might remember how Paul puts it in Romans 12:1:  “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…”  There are many ways in which we offer ourselves to God, but there’s one in particular that we get to do every week, right here in worship:  putting money in the offering plate.

I personally take this call to offerings seriously.  There are some bills that I might put off, hold until the last minute… but our tithe – 10% of our income – is not one of them.  But the point here isn’t what I do as the pastor – it’s about how we’re all called to give offerings.

So I’ve invited a fellow priest to share with you today; a woman in our church named Sheila.  Here’s an informal recap of my interview of her:


Me: Why do you give?

Sheila:  God has given me so much.  It just feels right to give.

Me:  Is it ever hard to give?

Sheila:  Yes.  Just this week, God asked me to give a homeless person my winter parka.  I said, “God, I need that!”  But God told me, “He needs it more than you do.”  So I gave it to him.  

Me:  How do you know what to give?  

Sheila:  Sometimes I look at my budget.  But I’m a widow, and I’m poor.  So I think of the widow with her two coins, and how she gave them to God.

Me:  How does it feel when you give?

Sheila:  I feel… a sense of accomplishment.  


There’s one more ministry of priests that we need to discuss before we’re done here.  So let’s go back to the Old Testament one more time and skim through the role of the priest.  Let’s look at those offerings again.  What were many of them intended to do?

Forgiven sins.

Priests officiated over these offerings so that the people could be forgiven.  And the people were always needing to be forgiven, because the people were always messing up.  Isaiah 61 suggests that one day, the people might all be priests who are called to a ministry of forgiveness.

Now follow through from the Old into the New, where you’ll find people still making mistakes (just as we do today).  Fortunately, something happened at the end of each gospels that allowed us to be forgiven, anytime and always.  I’ll let Hebrews 10:11-14 explain for me:

“And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God,’ and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

Jesus made our forgiveness possible.  Thank God!  But we can’t stop reading there; soon in the New Testament we’ll be reminded of our call to be priests.  We don’t even have to read all the way to 1 Peter 2 to hear it; Jesus also made it clear that our forgiveness is linked to our ability to forgive others in the Lord’s prayer.  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

I personally take this call to forgive seriously.  If you have ever worried that you offended me, then seriously, don’t worry.  If I noticed it, I forgave you.  And if it was a problem, then I already talked to you about it.  But the point here isn’t what I do as the pastor – it’s about how we’re all called to forgive, right?

So let’s do it.  Right now.

Margie is a fellow priest who happens to be our church secretary.  She shared this guided forgiveness prayer with me this week.  So I invite you to bow your heads, close your eyes, and pray along… because we are priests, and priests participate in forgiveness.


First:  think of someone who has hurt you, including yourself.

Take a few deep breaths.  Imagine that person in front of you.  Then pray along with me:

“God, this is your child [Name].  You created them just like you created me.  We are both your children.  We all make mistakes.  I make mistakes.  I choose to forgive, to let go.  We all make mistakes.  We all have weaknesses.  I forgive [Name].  I let go.  I let go of all the anger, the pain, the resentment, the negative energies and emotions I’ve been holding.  I let go.  I choose to release and forgive.  God, please bless [Name].  Give them peace and happiness, give them spiritual growth and awareness, give them love, generosity, abundance, and prosperity.  Give them forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.  God, please bless [Name].”

If this is someone who is still in your life, imagine yourself embracing.  If it is someone who is no longer in your life, then imagine the two of you turning and walking away from each other in peace. 

Be still and let this settle in your heart and soul. 

Gently open your eyes.   

Take a deep breath.

Now close your eyes again.

Think of someone you have hurt.  It could be the same person.

Take a few deep breaths.  Imagine that person in front of you.  Then pray:

“God, this is your child [Name].  They are your child just as I am your child.  We are all still growing and learning.  We all make mistakes.  I, too, make mistakes.  I, too, have weaknesses.  I forgive myself for these mistakes, and I want the forgiveness of [Name].  I ask for their forgiveness.  I ask for their compassion, their tolerance, their patience, and their understanding.  As I choose to forgive, I ask their forgiveness.  God, please bless [Name].  Bless them with compassion, and mercy, and a kind, loving heart; bless them with love, and generosity, and sweetness, inner healing and inner beauty.  Bless them with your Light and love, abundance and prosperity.  God, I am grateful for the forgiveness of [Name].  As I choose to forgive, I ask for their forgiveness.”

If this is someone who is still in your life, imagine yourself embracing.  If it is someone who is no longer in your life, then imagine the two of you turning and walking away from each other in peace.

Pause, and let this settle into your heart and soul.  Gently open your eyes. 


We are called to be priests.

We are called to lift each other to God in prayer.
We are called to give offerings to God.
We are called to forgive ourselves and each other.

We are priests, as Jesus Christ was a perfect priest.

May we pray, and give, and forgive as he did.

Amen.

* See John E. Johnson’s article, “The Old Testament Offices as Paradigm for Pastoral Ministry,” p. 187.

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