Responding to the Call

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 5:4 No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5 In the same way Christ also didn’t promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

You are my Son.

        Today I have become your Father

O (Observation): The call to serve the people of God comes from God…even for Jesus. Aaron served God’s people by communicating with God and bringing the people’s joys and concerns to God. Also, for the sake of order, priests throughout the ages have spoken to God on behalf of God’s people. They offer contrite hearts to God.

Eventually, we have seen God’s desire more clearly. We no longer need sacrifices – Jesus made sure of that. God never needed sacrifices, just a people willing to admit their brokenness.

A (Application): Instead of sacrifices, we bring our collective broken heart to God. And priests help us to do that.

Who are our priests? These are people of God who sense that called has called them to carry these broken hearts and help them to connect to God. These people who are called by God to be priests are also acknowledged and accepted by the surrounding community. In other words, that call is both internal (sensed by the individual) and external (verified by the God-follower community).

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, that process of discernment is aided by what we call the “Candidacy Process.” If you are sensing that your baptismal call is leading you into service of the Church, check out our resources on the ELCA website.

And if you do sense God’s call, let me know…I’d love to help you process that a bit.

Here’s my number: 615-617-9697.

P (Prayer): Lord, in our baptism, you call us. Help us to respond to your call. Amen.

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All-Access Pass

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S (Scripture):Hebrews 6: 13 When God gave Abraham his promise, he swore by himself since he couldn’t swear by anyone greater. 14 He said, I will certainly bless you and multiply your descendants. 15 So Abraham obtained the promise by showing patience. 16 People pledge by something greater than themselves. A solemn pledge guarantees what they say and shuts down any argument. 17 When God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change, he guaranteed it with a solemn pledge. 18 So these are two things that don’t change, because it’s impossible for God to lie. He did this so that we, who have taken refuge in him, can be encouraged to grasp the hope that is lying in front of us. 19 This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, since he became a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

O (Observation):  God promises to Abraham that God will bring about many descendants from Abraham.  Abraham had little to do with this, other than to be patient and let God prove trustworthy.  Generation after generation are born, and we have proof of God making good on a pledge.  

Knowing that God makes good on pledges, this gives God’s people hope.   That hope includes access to what was known as the “inner sanctuary” of the temple.   This was the “holy of holies.”   This space was where only the high priests could be admitted.   And this was also where God was believed to be most fully present on earth during the times of Temple worship of God.  

And yet, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the temple curtain was torn, and God made it known that ALL have access to God – Jesus being the first with full access to God.  Now, Jesus makes it possible for all of us to access God fully.  

A (Application):  When was the last time someone broke a promise to you?   When was the last time you broke a promise you made to someone else? 

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”   “Yeah, I can help you move.” “Yeah, I’m open that day.”

Unfortunately, as a parent, I break promises to my kids: “I’ll be there in a second,” “we can go to the playground after school,” “we will go out to see that movie.”
Whether for time or budgetary issues, I break promises, and that hurts me and my kids.   My pledges are not always kept.  I repent of that and wish to be wiser in my commitments.  

But thanks be to God that God makes good on God’s pledges to us all.  God continues to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants.  And in some amazing turn of events, we are seeing many different groups of folks blessing one another.  

The world isn’t perfect, but I can see some perfect things in the world:  the innocence in my 5 year old; people helping in response to natural disasters; my wife, as she begins working as an educational assistant for special education (and putting up with me on a full-time basis).  

Blessings abound, since we have full access to God, just as Jesus does.  God promises to make many descendants from Abraham.  God also promises to bless the world through Abraham.  

What blessings can you see?   How has God blessed you?   Or perhaps a better questions is this: How is God working through you to bless others?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to have hope in your pledge to be present in the world and to have access to your full presence.  Amen.  

The Priestly Role

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 4:14 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. 15 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. 16 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.

O (Observation):  The priests of the church were typically separated from the people in early times, so that they could properly observe liturgical rites (I.e. Worship).   The priest would be the “go-between” between the people and God.  

Of course, God has always been close to the people (never just far away).   Yet the priest helped God’s people see the connection between God and the people.  

With Jesus as the Great High Priest now, God’s people know a bit more fully that they can “approach the throne of grace with boldness” to receive mercy and grace.

A (Application):  The unfortunate outcome of having priests is the notion that one cannot speak directly to God, or that somehow the priest needs to be the elevated one who speaks to God on behalf of the people.  

For a time, this was something the Church took advantage of for selfish gain.  Think of it as “job security.”   

However, the Church has made it more clear over time that God is close to all, and has always been.  We have always had access to God through prayer and meditation.   And yet, most people say, “Oh, I’m not good at praying” or “I’m not good at meditations” or “I don’t have time to pray.”   Well, with that mindset, no, it will never work out for you.  

But let me ask you this:  Have you ever wanted something that someone else had (in terms of a peace or a spirituality that you admired, and wanted to make it your own)?   If so, have you approached that person?   If they didn’t respond, did you ask again?   

This is very important stuff.   Find someone who you think is someone God has put into your life to show you how to pray or meditate or give extranagavtly or build healthy friendships or serve selflessly.  Whatever the practice is that you are feeling God calling you to…go find someone who does that well.  

Then, once you’ve followed someone long enough, continue to adapt to your own style of prayer, service, meditation, giving, etc.  

The priest’s function – in my opinion – is to teach others how to pray, how to sense God’s closeness, how to pass on the gifts of grace in baptism and Commmnion, so that others can learn to do the same.   

So, what’s stopping you from taking the next step? From having that next conversation?  From seeing how close God and God’s mercy really are?

P (Prayer): Lord, you are close.  Show us.  Teach us how to connect.  Continue to send brace and patient leaders for your Church.  Amen.  

Jesus – The Great High Priest

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death. 16 Of course, he isn’t trying to help angels, but rather he’s helping Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way. This was so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, in order to wipe away the sins of the people. 18 He’s able to help those who are being tempted, since he himself experienced suffering when he was tempted.

O (Observation): The concept of the the priest – the intermediary between God’s people and God – is lived out by Jesus.    Jesus is the High Priest, the one who intercedes for God’s people, who makes satisfaction on their behalf.  

The priest would offer sacrifices to God out of joy for praise to God, or as a sign of repentance.   Either way, worshipping God was the goal.  And now Jesus is recognized as the priest for ALL.  

In Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest, seeking to satisfy God by offering himself as the sacrifice for all.  

A (Application):  Some debate exists over whether or not these texts are helpful. Perhaps this text can be helpful if we see that Jesus empties himself, thus surrendering himself completely to God. Perhaps not to satisfy God’s anger, but rather to be the example for us to follow.  

Jesus, as the High Priest, grants all of us access to God and God’s mercy, by being raised from the dead.  Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death, and through our baptism, so have we. 

P (Prayer): Lord, you have freed us!  We thank you.  Amen. 

Saint and Sinner

  

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 34:11 “‘For this is what the sovereign Lord says: Look, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a cloudy, dark day. 13 I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from foreign countries; I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land. 14 In a good pasture I will feed them; the mountain heights of Israel will be their pasture. There they will lie down in a lush pasture, and they will feed on rich grass on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will make them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. 16 I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them – with judgment!’ ”

O (Observation): Jerusalem has been overrun.  This is actually happening for Ezekiel and the rest of God’s people who have been scattered now to surrounding countries.   

God declares words of hope to the people of Israel, and judgment against the priests of these days.   In this passage, God is challenging the priests who have ignored God’s people in this extremely difficult time.  God calls them out for taking the spoils for themselves, and ignoring the spiritual needs of God’s people. 

God says, “I’ll take it from here, thanks.  You have done enough damage for now.”   God promises to gather the scattered flock and bring hope to those who have very little hope.    And for those prophets and priests who lived only for themselves, they will be harshly judged.

A (Application):  As a pastor and a husband and a father, I realize that my heart is always in several places at once:  at school or home or sports or music with my kids; with my wife as she cares for other people’s children or doing her Zumba or leading choir or sitting on the couch with me after the kids go to bed. Not to mention what might be going on in the lives of individual members of the congregation I serve, or for the congregation as a whole.

With the many blessings in my life, I can easily drift into that which is most comfortable for me, my wife, and my children. I can even do the same thing with the church I serve. I can choose to just be around for the good things, and ignore the difficult stuff.   

This passage reminds me that I am to be dedicated, but that I also fail at times.    I’m both the priest who serves diligently (as husband, father, and pastor), AND the selfish priest living for myself only.  

This makes me (I hope) humble.  This text makes me want to abide by Martin Luther’s explanations to the commandments: “We are to fear and love the Lord, so that…”  The fear comes with a healthy dose of knowing my place in the world as a pastor / shepherd / servant of my family and congregation.   The love comes from knowing that as I fail, God will care for my family and my congregation.   

How does this work for you?  When do you feel like your really doing what you’re supposed to be doing?  When have you failed?   Either way, we are the Lord’s…

P (Prayer): Lord, we are sinners, and yet you make us saints.  Be with us in our struggles. Amen.  

Christ: Our Priest… Forever

  S (Scripture): Hebrews 7:23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness, but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever.

O (Observation): The author of Hebrews points out a difference between priests appointed by humans, and THE priest appointed by God AFTER the law.  Obviously, human priests come and go, but Jesus lives forever, and is thus our priest forever.  Jesus needs NOT make a sacrifice for his own sins – he did this once and for all – before making a sacrifice for the sins of the people.  

Jesus truly is the priest of all priests.  

A (Application):  Has someone ever spoken up for you?  What did that feel like?   What if someone spoke up for you, but you didn’t deserve it?   

These questions point to what I experience when I’m praying the Lord’s Prayer (when I’m not reciting it by rote : )  

I’m reminded of a God who is for us. …a God who is with us and saving us…even before we knew what God was up to…even while we are steeped in sin. Jesus intercedes for us. And now, we are free to forgive others and seek glimpses of God’s Kingdom actively arising in our midst.  

What will you do with this freedom?

P (Prayer): Lord, we give you thanks for bringing us to a point where we are able to join you in your work in this world.  Give us strength and courage.  Amen.