A Call to the Priesthood

Here is the meat of my sermon. I'm still working on it. This doesn't have an intro and conclusion yet, although I'm pretty sure of what I'm going to use. I post it here beforehand to hear your thoughts, critiques, and whatever else you feel like telling me. Did I miss something important? Did I say something I shouldn't have said? Your comments on this post will, more than likely, influence what a church has to endure on Sunday. And if you're going to be at the Antwerp Community Church you might not want to read so you can be surprised. But I have no problem with you reading ahead of time.

1 Peter 2:1-10

1 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.6 For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
8 and “A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But 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.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Too often we have turned God into a being that is so distant from us that we designate men or women to become intermediaries between us and God. Somewhere along the journey from the time of Christ until now we have made God and his truth into such a mystery that we need specialists to interpret it; we need professionals to head up loving those that need to be loved. We have, albeit not consciously, turned many of the things of God into things that can only be done by the experts, the trained clergy, the "priests" of the church. And we might not label our pastor's with the title "priest", but we still give them all the power, authority, and responsibilities that the pagan cultures give their priests.

When I was a youth pastor, there were multiple parents who came to me and asked me to talk with their children about making a decision to follow the Lord. I remember having teens in the youth group asking me to go and talk to their grandparents in the hospital about coming to the Lord. Although I don't mind being given the opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus, these instances tell me that we have a problem. And I don't think this experience is unusual to my ministry. This tells me that we have either a serious education problem in our churches or a dangerous misconception of the priesthood - or even worse - we have a dangerous misconception of the priesthood and a serious education problem. If you are a believer, you are just as qualified as an ordained minister to be a witness to Christ. And if you are in a relationship with the person that needs to see and know the Lord, you are more qualified. Let me repeat that because it is important. If you are in a relationship with the person that needs to see and know the Lord, you are more qualified than people like me who have been trained for years on how to be an effective minister. Each one of us is a priest, a member of the priesthood of believers. Just like the priests in the Old Testament were used in making sacrifices to make people right with God, we are called to sacrifice ourselves to help people see God.

Paul wrote, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritualworship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Paul doesn't appeal to just the paid pastors or the leadership in the church. He appeals to all the brothers and sisters. He asks them all to present their bodies a living sacrifice. We were told by Peter to come to Jesus, the living stone, to become a royal priesthood in order that we will offer up spiritual sacrifices to God. And here we are told by Paul that our spiritual act of worship is to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. What a different place the church would be if the believers really did that. What a different place the world would be if the church was as God planned it to be.

But we are held down, oftentimes, by our misunderstanding of the priesthood. We leave the sacrificing to those paid to do it. But we see here that we are called to be part of the priesthood. We are all called to sacrifice.

And before I get to far into this, I want to give a disclaimer in order to not be stoned after this sermon. Living out being the priesthood of believers and still accepting the role that the leadership in the church plays is a tough concept to grasp. I still wrestle with balancing the two on a regular basis. But I do not want to be clear that by no means am I denigrating those who give their lives to serving Christ by being in the paid ministry. Most of them are where God has called them. I'm not talking about them or to them here today. If I was, I would have a different message. I'm talking to a group of believers who have the potential to change the town of Antwerp by standing up and being the priesthood of believers.

One of my favorite deceased authors, Elton Trueblood, wrote in 1952, "A way in which the ministry is unique is that, in perfoming it, the amateur often has advantages which are deinied to the professional practitioner. In many fields, such as natural science, the increased professionalism of the individual makes him more trustworthy whereas in the life of religion the increased professionalism may make him less trustworthy...Most words of a clergyman are minimized simply because he is supposed to say them. A pastor's convictions are discounted because he is supposed to have a professional stake in the effor to make them prevail. Sometimes people sink so low as to remark that this is what he is paid for; he is on the side of the angels by virtue of his employment. The contrast in effect is often enormous when a layman's remarks are taken seriously, even though he says practically the same words. His words are given full weight, not because he is more able exponent, but because he is wholly free from any stigma of professionalism."

And what Elton Trueblood wrote in 1952 is still true today. As I've said, I've been on the other side of the fence. I've been a paid youth pastor. Again, another disclaimer. I want to be clear to get this across. I think there is a role for a pastor. I'm not saying let's stop having pastors. What I'm saying is let us stop exalting pastors above everyone else. Pastors have a role to play in equipping and training the flock to be the priesthood, and with that role comes some weaknesses that a healthy body of Christ can remedy.

I noticed when I was a youth pastor that people, oftentimes, disregarded what I felt let to share. They disregarded my loving actions. In the back of many people's minds, I assumed, was the thought that I was being paid to do what I was doing, that I was being paid to say what I was saying. That isn't true. People go into the ministry, not for money, but because they are trying to be faithful to the call God has placed on their lives. The fact that many people disregard the actions of a paid minister shows us how important it is for us to live in such a way that Christ is shone through our lives where we work, play, and live. The message we share with our actions and our words cannot be misconstrued as us being paid to do it. The gospel of Christ needs to be proclaimed in the streets, not only by those paid to do it, but by everyone that is a follower of Christ, by every member of the priesthood of believers.

Watch out for the potholes.