Tracing genealogy has become a popular hobby. I have done some research in libraries and seen people pour over records for days searching for another link to their family's past. I have to admit that a couple of time I secretly hoped to discover a link between my ancestors and Orville and Wilber Wright, but nothing ever developed. For many people it is very fulfilling to know where their family came from and to what bloodline they belong.
In today's Bible text St. Peter speaks of a great heritage that is shared by all believers in Jesus Christ. In this first letter he wrote that we are all living stones built up into a great temple. What is more, we are a holy priesthood offering up sacrifices to God in that holy temple.
The priests of Peter's day were the Levites. Levi was one of the sons of Jacob. He was Joseph's brother and his descendants made up one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The family of Levi received no real estate in the promised land. Their job was to conduct the worship of God. They prayed for the people, taught the word of the Lord, and offered up sacrifices for the sins of the people. There were literally thousands of priests in Israel. One in twelve men were of Levi's tribe. They depended on the offerings of the people to feed their families. God provided well for them until they ignored his commandments for worship and allowed the worship of false gods and idols to enter in. Then they were destroyed along with the temple where they served.
In the golden age of the temple of Jerusalem, what a glorious thing the nations of priests was. Worship was led by choirs of hundreds. There were those who played instruments for worship, those who offered sacrifices, those who taught, and those who cared for the needs of the people.
Peter writes to us that all who belong to Jesus are declared to be his priests. He said that we, as the saints of God, are a holy nation of people, chosen to be royal priests of the King of Kings. Therefore, all of us hold a very special office established by the Lord. You may not feel special. You may think of yourself as an ordinary, everyday person, even sinful and unworthy to serve Christ in such an honorable position. This is the truth. But those God called to be priests he also sanctified, washing away their sins and refining them to shine like stars.
The priests of Peter's day underwent a ritual washing every time they went to serve at the great temple. There was a great basin of water at the entrance to God's house where they were cleansed before offering their service. Only certain priests could enter the temple itself. And only one priest could go into the special room called the Holy of Holies on a certain day of the year called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
But now the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has cleansed all of his people for priestly service to God. When Jesus died on the cross, water and blood flowed out of his side, signifying the cleansing of Christ's blood for our sins, and the washing away of that sin, as we celebrate in the sacrament of Baptism. Now we are all his priests: men, women, and children--set apart as special people to serve him forever. In the twelfth chapter of Romans Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices as a spiritual act of worship. As priests we are to give our lives and all that we are to the Lord's business.
Have you ever seen a person who is raised up to perform a special task, but refuses to serve? Surely you have heard of them: the crooked politician who agrees to serve the people but gets caught serving himself, the policeman who breaks the law, the physician who is more interested in profit than in healing.
That's bad, but there is something worse: a priest who doesn't want to serve the Lord. What about a royal priest who has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, blessed with all sorts of heavenly gifts, but is more concerned with serving his or her self than serving the God who put him in that high office?
You and I are that reluctant royal priest. We come up with all kinds of reasons why we can't serve the Lord in our priestly duties. Maybe we say we are too busy with our own affairs. Maybe we don't want to offend anyone else by declaring the praises of the one true god. Maybe we don't like controversy--who really does? These are all good reasons not to serve, but not for priests of God. We have been cleansed to serve God, not ourselves.
Or how about a priest who lives an unholy lifestyle. There has been much attention given lately to celibate pastors who overstepped the boundaries and preyed on the sheep they were to protect. But all of us are priests to Jesus. We are to sacrifice our lives to the Lord by living faithfully in loving acts of service and keeping ourselves from evil. But how often we soil ourselves with immorality, moral, sexual, and by the pollution that comes out of our mouth in the words we speak and what we say about other believers.
This text also says we are living stones, built together into a great spiritual house. Christ is the cornerstone on which we are built. One of the things I like so much about this church's structure is the wall that stands behind me. Those stones are limestone, each carved to fit together into that wall that you see. But what if those builders had used no mortar to hold those stones together? Would you come up here and kneel down at the altar if there were a chance that one of those stones would fall down upon your head and kill you? Certainly not. No, we take great care to cement those stones together to make a safe church in which to worship.
But they are merely stones. We are the people of God. We must be mortared together with those God places us with--our families, our church. We have to be cemented together in love for Jesus, and, therefore, love for one another. If we do not love our brother or sister who sits next to us in this house, then we do not really love our savior. If the stones become loose, then the wall is unstable, and dangerous. We are to let the love of God flow in us, so that we love and protect every other stone that is built on Jesus in this church. There is no other way. Lately it seems we have forgotten this truth. But it is not to late to change.
We are all priests to Jesus. God gives us holy mouths to declare his praise. He gives us holy hands to offer his gifts. And he gives us holy lives, purified through the blood of Jesus, to offer up in service to his purposes, loving his people. That's the blessing Jesus has bestowed on us all. We have to work together, trusting one another, showing real love for one another, going the extra mile for one another, and sacrificing for one another. That's what God's priests do. The power comes from God's mercy, which made us his people.
Whether or not your family has a great American heritage or not, as a Christian every one of us is part of a great nation, for God has chosen us to be his priests. He supplies everything we need to serve him, and has bound us together as a beautiful, radiant church. Let us serve God together in love. Amen.
Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.
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