Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Priesthood of Christ

Pentecost 25 year B 12 Sermon
A very good friend of mine, Jason Goroncy, who just happens to be an internationally respected theologian …became a Protestant around twenty five years ago …when he converted from the Catholicism of his childhood…

Jason says he ran into some really scary views of God when he converted…like the one that says God becoming human in Jesus…‘the incarnation
was God’s attempt to get the reconciliation ball rolling …and that Jesus…
having laid the foundations for reconciliation …
went back to heaven to sit down next to God in the great lounge room in the sky to watch how everything pans out.

And just before his ascension, Jesus forms a little community …to work as kind of subcontractors to the big boss upstairs.

Jesus the foreman… trusts this community to carry on his work while he’s away…and promises to turn up again when the job’s nearly done…just to check everything’s been done … according to instructions.

The implications of this view seemed weird to Jason …
because it sounded like…if God’s costly work in Jesus is to make any real difference in the world… then we need to get off our bums and make sure we get everyone we know
into a home group, or along to church or at the very least, reading a book or watching a DVD…
that tells people in graphic terms…
just how warm their future existence is going to be
unless they pray some magic words.

In other words…some protestants seemed to be saying… whereas God had once been personally invested in this little project called ‘creation’
God has now taken a back seat to the whole project…

a bit like the founding director of a company
who still serves on the board of directors in a sort of honorary position but who’s really relinquished the right to call the shots. Now the shareholders do that.

What really worried my formerly orthodox friend
is that the church’s central claim about God being trinity …Father, Son and Holy Spirit…
and the belief that God has in Jesus…embraced a fully human existence

…well these core beliefs appeared to make no practical difference to how the protestant church went about its business.

For Jason, the view of a disengaged God…
created profound problems. There was nothing to explain what God expects from human beings…that God doesn’t expect from a kangaroo, or a pine tree, or a cancer cell. [Fortunately Jason found not all Protestants share such a shallow view]…

to his relief…Jason discovered a different protestant perspective in a remarkable explanation of humanity’s role in God’s creation
written by Scottish theologian James Torrance…[i]

Earth slide
Torrance suggests God made creation… to be something like an orchestra for God’s glory…and that human beings were created to be the conductor of that orchestra, to lead the orchestra in divine praise… as the priests of creation
And now the reason the whole creation is groaning in universal travail…is because creation’s priests have miserably failed… to fulfil their vocation.

Torrance suggests...rather than abandon God’s purposes for humanity and creation…

Jesus slide
God comes in Jesus Christ…
as a second Adam to be the Priest of Creation…
to do for humanity what humanity failed to do…

to offer to God… the worship and praise
the sons and daughters of [Adam and Eve] failed to offer…
[in other words God comes in Jesus]…
to be creation’s worship leader…
and to carry in his loving heart…the joys and sorrows and prayers and conflicts…of all God’s creatures

And the reason for this…
so he might reconcile all things to God.
And only in Jesus’ life and priesthood do we truly discover
what it means to be human.

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[For my friend Jason]…this presentation of the good news was nothing short of an epiphany…[he’d] been in the church [his] entire life… but never ever realised until that moment…how deeply God’s grace penetrates into our broken humanity; [never understood before] how God assumed our humanity in all its falleness and refused to be fallen in it. Never appreciated how Jesus’ offering of praise and obedience…carries all creation
into the healing freedom of God.
Coming from a denomination full of priests
reading a protestant essay… Jason suddenly discovers what Jesus priesthood means: In his words, ‘here at last, is a true human being, given by God, who sets up shop inside the perversion and disorder of a diseased creation… and who step-by-step, blow-by-blow, moment-by-moment…loves God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength…

and in doing so leads creation itself… in fitting worship which transforms the human condition from the inside out.’

[Now you probably know that traditionally the church talks about the three offices of Christ…not only the priestly office expressed in the passage from Hebrews we just heard but also the prophetic and kingly offices.
You’ve probably heard it…prophet, priest and king.

And today we’re looking closely at Christ’s priestly office …next week on Christ the King Sunday
we’ll look at Jesus kingly office…and closer to Christmas
I’ll try to knock your socks off…
with my sermon on Jesus prophetic office.

But for today what does the priestly office of Christ mean for our life together, and for our worship?
[what is the good news in it…for us?

Well for one thing, Jason points out…it means we’re never abandoned…to work out life on our own…something that could lead only to despair. Christ’s priesthood means our life and worship [are led by Jesus…and by no other priest.]

And it means…our life and our worship…
are always about participation in the life of another.
It [most certainly] does not mean that each of us can be our own private priest...exercising our own private arrangements with God.

It means our worshipis our joyful ‘Amen’ as we share in Jesus’ own worship… As the writer of Hebrews puts it

Slide words
Jesus is our Leitourgos, Leitourgos,  our worship leader… who takes the painful groans of our hearts and our fumbling words and our tormented efforts at prayer and praise and places them into his own mouth and offers them up to God in the freedom of the Spirit...this is the worship God provides.

[And remember] Israel’s job description was to ‘be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’ a commission grounded in God’s own concern for the nations.

represents those elected by God to be the light to the world, the city on the hill, the salt of the earth…and when they were they were carrying out God’s holy purposes…so what we are dealing with here…is the concept of holiness.[ii]

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The ancient Hebrew notion of prophet, priest and king…
saw the priest as the ‘caretaker of holy spaces and holy
times’…distinguishing for the community…between what has been set apart by God for some purpose…and what was ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ [or secular]. The task of the priest or priestly community…was to ‘keep the divine Presence’ in the community’s heart.

It is the logic behind the daily service in the tabernacle and keeping the Sabbath…holy times…where God becomes vivid…even tangible…where God’s presence is manifest… where infinity enters space and eternity enters time and [and where God makes space for humankind.][iii]

And my friend Jason sees tremendous implications for us as a priestly community…in a world that’s forgotten
God is truly living in our midst…and cares deeply about all creation…

[But Jason suggests] our Christian understanding of holiness must go further than ancient Israel…because for us…God making space for creation and creation making of space for God…all comes together…
in a particular life called Jesus of Nazareth. [pause]

it’s true that for many religions…human priesthood is about marking out and maintaining certain boundaries
of predetermined notions of holiness…But for Christians …holiness is radically re-defined… by a particular life …which takes shape in our world. The life of Jesus Christ For Christians…incarnation defines holiness…

So viewing holiness through the lens of Christ’s incarnation…what does holiness look like?

Well, the first thing we might say is
Jesus’ life and particularly his resurrection…
reveal there’s no place in creation
where Christ is not Lord. The idea there are ‘God spaces’ and ‘not God’ spaces…is fundamentally inappropriate
for a Christian understanding of God and Creation.

Like the story in in Mark’s gospel where after freeing a demon-possessed man and causing 2,000 pigs to commit suicide…Jesus is immediately accosted by…
the father of a dying girl.

On his way to see the girl…Jesus is almost crushed by a crowd…in which is a woman who’s been haemorrhaging for 12 years. According to the Law she’s ceremonially unclean, and so is everyone and everything she touches. This means whoever comes in contact with her
is excluded from the temple and its worship.

Jesus represents hope in a long line of doctors and miracle workers she spent all her money on for over a decade.
For twelve years this woman’s been treated like a leper in her community…for twelve years she’s been untouched … and untouchable…unable to hug her kids…unable to pour a drink for a friend. No one’s invited her to their home.

Now this woman doesn’t want to know Jesus. She’s not seeking a relationship with him…she wants to be healed. She wants to be restored to her community. She wants to be able to go to her kids’ birthday party and make love with her husband. She wants to be able to prepare a meal for her family and enjoy a day out with her friends.

And she hears reports of this guy in town who heals people and so, at the absolute end of her tether, she goes along to check him out…and she moves in on Jesus from behind... anonymously in the crowd.

This is the man who deliberately touches unclean lepers and corpses. The man who made a point of eating with prostitutes and calling ‘sinners’ his ‘friends’…
who deliberately goes out of his way to do almost everything that the Hebrew Scriptures prohibits us – and especially priests – from doing.

But will he allow this woman to touch him, to pollute him, to make him ceremonially unclean? Because that’s precisely what she does when she touches him. Yes he will…

And in that action, Jesus restores this woman to her family, to her community, and to God. And the same thing happens again when Jesus takes Jairus’ dead daughter’s hand… something Leviticus is clear priests shouldn’t do.

So what is this priest of God doing touching a dead girl?
Like the woman with the issue of blood He is restoring
her to her community…and by so doing so…reminding Israel that priestly ministry…is not only radically restorative but risky. Like offering bread to everyone…

Viewed this way the good news of the gospel is about reconciliation to the table…about restoring all creation to the community of God manifest in Jesus Christ.

Clearly with Christ leading our mission and our worship …God isn’t just sitting around waiting for the church to get its act together, to enlarge the family business and extend its share in the marketplace.

Rather, in this liberating invasion of the cosmos we call incarnation… in Jesus God invites the priestly community to participate in God’s own movement towards the world… summoning all creation into the life of God’s reconciliation and wholeness.

So what does this mean for us…for the community which shares in Jesus’ priestly ministry?  It means we’re not distinguished by our political views, moral decisions, our conduct or piety...but by our radical esteem for the Incarnation of God in time and space in Jesus Christ…
the one who continually corrects our understanding
of what it means to be human

In light of this… my friend Jason suggests…
Christ’s priestly community is constituted by and for a love so radically centred on others…
that it refuses to imagine life apart…
from blessing its enemies…and forgiving those who would crucify it…A community which risks even its life to ‘become contemporary with Christ’.[iv]

As I said last week… Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to a feast…and Jesus priestly ministry reveals the great extravagance…the reckless, scandalous expenditure of His life for the sake of the world’s life.

He gives away His life and the world finds new life in His life and in His gift of His life to the world. My friend Jason suggests that the church must be a priestly community or it isn’t the church at all.

The Rev Dr. Jason A. Goroncy delivered this address to the elders of the Southern Presbytery, Windsor Community Church, Invercargill, 17 August 2012, with his permission I have adapted it as Part One of a three part series on the offices of Christ. The resources Jason used are represented as endnotes.

[i] James B. Torrance, 'The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship' in Theological Foundations for Ministry (ed. Ray S. Anderson; Edinburgh/Grand Rapids: T&T Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 348–69.
[ii] Jonathan Sacks, Kehunah and Kedushah: The Priestly Role [2012]; Online: This and the following citations from Sacks are taken from this article.
[iii] Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), 363–85. See Jason A. Goroncy, 'The Elusiveness, Loss, and Cruciality of Recovered Holiness: Some Biblical and Theological Observations', International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no. 2 (2008), 195–209.
[iv] William Stringfellow, A Private and Public Faith (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 19.
Murray Rae, Kierkegaard and Theology (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 180.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (ed. Eberhard Bethge, et al.; trans. Isabel Best, et al.; Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; vol. 8; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 56. See Stringfellow, Private and Public Faith 80–81. Also William Stringfellow, Instead of Death (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 101: ‘The biblical witness is always a witness of resistance to the status quo in politics, economics, and all society. It is a witness of resurrection from death. Paradoxically, those who embark on the biblical witness constantly