They're Everywhere: The Priesthood of All Believers
They’re Everywhere: The Priesthood of All Believers by Rev. L. John Gable
October 23, 2016
I’m quite certain this has happened to you. You board an airplane and as you are getting settled and fastening your seatbelt you make small talk with your new seatmate (who just happens to be sitting far closer to you, in a much tighter space, than any two strangers should ever be asked to share.) Eventually the question is asked, “So, what do you do?” For a pastor this is always somewhat of a loaded question because there are only three possible outcomes if, in fact, you own up to your profession. Some I know do not, they say, “I sell insurance,” which they have found is always a conversation stopper. However, if you confess to being a pastor your new friend will either: 1) smile and say, “that’s nice,” then turn to look out the window; 2) will pull out their Bible and want to talk “church” for the duration of the flight, or 3) be genuinely interested and want to have an actual “faith sharing conversation.” Needless to say, there is a moment of pause when the question is asked, “So what do you do?”
I recently heard about a pastor who answered that question in a very creative way. He said, “I work for a global enterprise which has outlets in nearly every country, city and town. We have hospitals, hospices, homeless shelters, feeding programs, do marriage work, offer educational programs, as well as work for justice and reconciliation. We basically care for people from birth to death and do a great deal in the area of behavioral alteration.” “Really,” came the response, “What is it called?” He smiled and said, “It is the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Friends, I want you to think about this for a moment, because we ARE the Church of Jesus Christ, which means, wherever we are the Church is because Christ is in us.
This is a concept which the Church, and each of us individually, must consider more deeply and take more seriously because we are Christ’s representatives, not just when we gather in here, but perhaps even more importantly when we are scattered out there. We are His witnesses to the world around us; not we should be, or could be, or ought to be, but we ARE, which means we need to come to grips with and embrace and live in to our high calling.
In the passage we just read from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Jesus says, “You ARE the salt of the earth!” God has made and called and empowered you to preserve goodness and truth, to add flavor and zest to life, and to find your value and worth in who you are as a child of God and follower of Christ. Don’t forget or forsake that high calling!
“You ARE the light of the world, called to shine the light of Christ everywhere you go. So don’t hide your light under a bushel basket, but let your light shine so that others will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Remember who Jesus was talking to when He said those words; not a bunch of stained glass saints, but His own rough and tumble and fundamentally flawed disciples, the likes of you and me. They, and we, ARE called to be Christ’s salt and light in the world.
In First Peter we read much the same, “You ARE a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…once you were not a people but now you are God’s people.” This is who we ARE. Now, I can almost hear you saying, “How braggadocios of us to say these things about ourselves.” That’s just it. We aren’t saying this about ourselves, God is. This is what God calls us, which means it is not about what you think of us or even of yourself; it is about what God thinks of us. And furthermore it is not about us at all; it is about Him. It is not about what you have done or are doing; but about what God has done for you, and now in and through you.
So, when you perform an act of kindness or mercy; when you speak a healing word of comfort or encouragement or forgiveness; when you serve the least, the lost and the lonely, you ARE the Body of Christ at work, incarnate.
Friends, this is the truth we need to understand and accept about ourselves. This is who we ARE as followers of Jesus Christ. We ARE His witnesses. Not because of who we are or anything we have done, but because of who He is and what He has done for us, so we need to step up and live in to this high calling.
Again I can almost hear you saying, “Who am I to be that? I’m not qualified or capable. I’m not a pastor or a priest. I’ve never been to seminary; I’m not trained to do that.” Then get beyond that way of thinking. Again, it’s not about you. It’s about Him and what He needs you to do and be in the world for His sake. You can question God’s reasoning all you like that He would choose ones such as us, but you can’t argue it. He has chosen the likes of you and me to be His representatives in the world today, and that is what we ARE.
This principle is the third leg in our three legged stool of the principles which formed the foundation for the 16th century Protestant Reformation, now in its 499th year. Next year will be the big 500th year celebration. If you were with us in the past two weeks you will recall we have talked about the first principle sola Scriptura/ Scripture alone as the source and authority about God and the way of salvation and Christ-like living; last week we looked at the second principle sola fide/faith alone and sola Christus/Christ alone as the means of our salvation: grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone, there is no other way. And today we look at a principle called “the priesthood of all believers.” In an age when the Church was governed and controlled by priests and bishops and cardinals and Popes, in which the laity were largely illiterate and the Mass was celebrated in a language only spoken, understood and interpreted by the religious elite, it is no wonder that Luther’s new understanding of Scripture would have radical repercussions. He read Scripture, such as the passage we just read today in I Peter, and recognized the power and authority Jesus gave to His disciples, and later the Church, and came to the realization that the real work of ministry is not given to the select few, but to all who name the name of Jesus and put their trust in Him as Savior and Lord. This is the ministry of the very Spirit of Christ at work in each of us; hence he began to speak about “the priesthood of ALL believers.” We are called to be “little Christs,” which really is a fairly accurate translation of the word “Christian,” we are called to be “little Christs” to one another and to all we meet. No longer do we need a priest to serve as the intermediary between us and God; Christ has done that work for us. Whether we find ourselves in the pulpit or the pew we have equal access to God. Oscar’s and my role among you is not one of spiritual status, but of office and function. You are as close to God as I am, many of you perhaps even closer. There is no difference in our status or relationship with God simply because I have an “R-E-V” in front of my name and a degree behind it. Admittedly, as pastors, we do have an office to assume and a function to fulfill among you. In ordination we are given certain responsibilities among you: to faithfully preach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments; but the essential spiritual gifts and calling are given to all believers in baptism. In the water of baptism you are claimed by Christ as part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”. In baptism you have been called and commissioned to do ministry in His name. You ARE “little Christs,” God’s representatives on earth.
This is our unique and individual calling as Christians, one we must take seriously and live in to faithfully, but we do not do it alone. Not only are we supported and empowered by the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, but we are also called to share this ministry with others in the Church. The Church is not just a gathering of individual believers; it is a community of faith, a people of God. Luther rightly spoke of the Church as being “a fellowship of mutual conversation and consolation,” which aligns perfectly with our understanding of “the priesthood of all believers.” Have you ever opened up and shared a burden or a concern or even a joy with another brother or sister in Christ, not a pastor or priest, and the words they spoke to you were so perfect, so healing or kind or corrective, that you knew they were from God, “God- inspired,” God breathed? That is what Luther was talking about, the practice of “mutual conversation (speaking with one another about matters of meaning and importance) and consolation (offering comfort and strength and encouragement).” That is the work of the Church and every one of us who belong to it. “Whenever we make ourselves available to others, listen without judgment, and comfort another in their time of need, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are serving as Christ to them in our words and our actions.”
I see you doing that every week right here every time you welcome a stranger, feed a neighbor, write a note of encouragement, speak a word of faith, read with a child. In these and a myriad of other ways you are fulfilling the high calling of the “the priesthood of all believers.” We have all been touched by the kindness of others to us, feeling as though we had been touched by Christ Himself. So don’t minimize or belittle the impact you can have when you extend those same acts of mercy to others in Jesus’ name.
God has claimed and called us to be His representatives and that is what we ARE. This week I want you to consciously and deliberately look for opportunities to extend acts of mercy and kindness to someone else, and when you do so I want you to say to yourself something along the line of what Mother Theresa instructed the Sisters of Charity to say when they approach the destitute and dying, “I am here as a member of the Body of Christ to be a distributor of the Lord’s compassion.”
You can do that, because it’s not about you; it’s about the One who has sent
You; the One who is doing His ministry through you. You are His light shining in the darkness, “so that others will see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” or as Peter wrote, “so that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
We can do that. I know we can, because God has told us we can, because this is who we ARE, not because of what we have done or can do for ourselves, but because of what Christ has done for us.
So go out and be who you ARE- the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…to God’s honor and glory, now and always. Amen.
O Lord, we have listened to Your Word and loved it; we have found comfort and inspiration in song and prayer; we have enjoyed the companionship of those who, with kindred minds and hearts, have praised and worshiped You. Now help us to understand that as we leave this sacred house of God we shall become Your Church on the street and in the world.
Lord, hear our prayer offered now in the silence of our hearts, in Jesus’ name.