Committed to the Priesthood of all Believers
1 Peter 2:9
As we begin this morning, I want you to think about what you believe is the greatest threat to Christianity? We live in a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship however you want to worship, or not to worship at all. But just because we have freedom, doesn’t mean that we have complete safety from all harm. So, what do you believe is the most significant threat that we here in Anniston, Alabama face in relation to our Christianity?
You are probably pretty normal, and when I asked you that question, your mind drifted to specific threats that exist outside of the church. Maybe the first thing you thought was the rise of atheism in America. We are told that atheism is the fastest growing movement in America.
Maybe you thought about how materialism has crept into our lives. Our culture that says life is all about physical things and physical experiences; he who has the most, the biggest pile of stuff, wins.
What about the growing issue of immorality that is being seen more and more in our communities where anything and everything seems to be okay. And you can barely go out in the street or look at your computer or read a magazine or listen to a song or watch television without having your morals assaulted.
While I believe that all of these issues are a threat to Christianity, I believe that the greatest threats to the church are not found outside of the church. The greatest dangers to your walk with God are much more subtle and much more personal than that. In fact, I would argue that the greatest danger to the modern church is actually found inside the members of the church.
Everyone of us here this morning, and those who are watching on the internet were created in the image of God and gifted to do great things for God. You were created with a desire to be deeply involved in His work. The problem is that all too often we try to fill our souls with the spiritual junk food the world has to offer. We try to accumulate just enough religion to feel safe, and at the end of the day we don’t feel safe, or fulfilled. So we are at a catch 22, we have enough Jesus in us to feel like an outsider to the world, and enough of the world in us that we feel like an outsider or fake to the church.
The greatest threat to the church, is that we have forgotten who we are. Look again at what Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession. You were chosen to tell about the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
In our text this morning, Peter is reminding us that God designated you and I as priests. That is who you are, that is who you were called and created to be. Now, I am not sure what comes to mind when you hear the word priest, my dad’s parents were Catholic, so I get a picture of a their priest; a somber man dressed in black. But, that’s not the picture that the readers in the first century would have gotten. In the Old Testament, holding the office of a priest was a honor and a privilege.
The priest was a go-between or mediator between mankind and God. They led in worship and taught from the Scriptures; since everyone didn’t have a pocket size bible to carry around with them the priest had the responsibility to tell the people God’s will. They wore special robes that distinguished them from other worshippers and only they could handle the holy things of God like the incense, sacrifices, the furniture of the tabernacle or anything else that would be related to worship.
When Peter called the the first century readers to be a royal order of priests, he was inviting them to be involved in the holy things. Peter was telling them they were no longer separated from God. Now they were not only His children, but they were given the task and responsibility to be involved in His work. As a priest you have a right to come before God in prayer. You have the right to touch and partake of communion. You have the right to baptize others into Christ. You have the responsibility of knowing and teaching the Word of God. That’s what Peter meant when he wrote that you and I are a royal and a holy priesthood. God made sure that you have everything you need to be deeply involved in the work of His kingdom.
I want us to camp out here for a bit, because some of us were unintentionally taught some things that have caused a little bit of misunderstanding about this idea of priesthood. There is an expectation that the preacher has become the modern day priest. While you might not call me the priest, there is this thought that only the preacher can baptize or take someones last confession before they die or pray over their children when they are born.
Don’t misunderstand; my favorite part of preaching is that I get invited into your spiritual lives. I enjoy being able to walk with you through times of rejoicing and times of struggle. But I am not the only one allowed to do the holy things. Peter is saying that anyone who is a Christian is a priest, empowered by God to do all kinds of things, including baptizing folks, or praying for folks, and walking with folks on this wonderful adventure we call Christianity.
Over the last 20 years, I have noticed that in the churches where we have worshiped and worked that here is an undercurrent belief when you hire a preacher or youth minister, or children’s minister, or toilet scrubbing minister that we pay them to do the holy things. I mean we have someone we pay to minister, so why should I be involved with the youth, visit the hospital, or the nursing home, or pray with people.
Let me say right upfront that I’m guilty; the very first church where I preached expected me to and allowed me to do everything. I preached the sermons, taught the bible classes, led singing, did the opening and closing prayers, did the meditation at the Lord’s Table, planned all the youth functions, and fixed anything that broke in the building. The members of that church were very gracious as they smiled at me and said that I did a better job. Please don’t hear what I am saying as a complaint; to be honest I thought that was my job and I really enjoyed it. In fact a lot of ministers end up doing everything and for the most part they enjoy it as well. After all if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.
Looking at this 20 years later I see two main problems with this line of reasoning. The first problem is when we allow someone else to be the priest we miss life. In my grandmothers home, there was a room called the parlor. It had two uses: first when company came over to visit, if they were not good friends, they would sit in the parlor and chat. It was comfortable and adequate, but not the kitchen table. It was a place where you felt invited but not welcome. You were inside, maybe offered something to drink but you knew this was like the court of the gentiles at the temple. Their was something better just through that door.
The second use for the parlor was this was where they put the bodies when someone died. There was a time when someone died, they died in the home. The family was responsible to clean them up, and set them out for family and friends to come to the home and offer their respects. There was a time when we sat up all night with the dead. This was a time to mourn, reflect, and remember. Death was seen as a normal part of life, not something to be afraid of and to be honest we were better adjusted.
Today we pay professionals to take the bodies to a funeral parlor and the parlors in our homes have become the living rooms. Death has become, unpleasant and we pay someone to take care of it for us.
There used to be so many things that we did at home: births, deaths, making music, and telling stories and over time we have turned those things over to the professionals since they will do a better job anyway. In an effort to get better quality, or to get someone to do things we consider unpleasant he have hired a professional and in the process lost our connection and ability to experience real life. We also miss those real life chances to meet God. The things that were at one time natural have become a commercial enterprise.
The second problem I see from this type of Christianity is that when the staff becomes priests, they end up stealing from the church. Ministers often times rob the congregation of their ability to do ministry. We get so wrapped up doing the work for the church that we forget to do the ministry we were called to do.
Last week in our staff meeting we were looking at Ephesians chapter 4. In this letter to one of the early churches, the Apostle Paul writes a pretty good job description for those of us in professional ministry. We read in Ephesians 4:11-13 that a minister is to, Prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. If you have your Bible this morning circle or if you are using a tablet or phone then highlight the word mature. You ministers are supposed to prepare the members of the family to do works of service, so that we can be unified and mature.
In our culture we tend to count maturity by how old someone is, or how long they have been a Christian. We probably need to redefine that a bit, part of growing up, part of becoming mature, is learning to take on responsibility.
Every parent here knows children have an innate ability to scatter clutter throughout the house. There have been times when I have walked through our living room and found various balls, school books, tennis shoes, cups, and other things scattered all over the floor. If one of the boys are in the room, I usually ask them to pick all the stuff up. Their response is classic young adult speak: That’s not mine. What they are saying, in essence, is it’s not my job.
But let’s say tomorrow I’m at the building , the boys are at the school for Basketball, and Trista is home alone. Now lets say she walks into that same living room. On the floor she sees basketballs scattered among 15 pairs of shoes. DO you know what she does when she enters that room? She picks them up. She didn’t put them there. It’s not her stuff. It’s not her fault that it’s scattered all over the floor. But she picks it up anyway, because she’s the adult. She’s a grown up. That’s what grown ups do.
A few weeks ago we talked about being committed to service. In that sermon I mentioned a few ways you can serve. The point of that sermon was not to give you busy work, I understand that you schedule is hectic enough already. But I wanted to make the point that we will only grow as a family, when every member is involved in the work. That’s not my hair brained idea, that just a simple truth.
One of the more dynamic churches among our Restoration movement, is the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. It is the 7th largest church in the United States with a membership of over 32,000 people and they hold 8 worship services every weekend on 5 different campuses. Every week they have dozens of Bible studies, they average over 100 baptisms a year, and everyday they have people in their building doing some sort of ministry.
Jeff Strite went to visit the Southeast Congregation and he tells a story that I believe that it gives a little insight as to why it is such a dynamic congregation. He says if you want to know their secret you just have to visit go into their bathrooms. I know that sounds a bit weird, but he said while he was there he and his wife stopped to visit their facilities and what he saw amazed him. It was a big bathroom. And along one wall there was a long row of 10 sinks. At those sinks he saw 8 men washing their hands and checking their appearance in the mirror. But what caught his attention was that 6 of those men took paper towels and wiped up the water around the sink or cleaned the mirror. It made such an impression on him that when he got back with his wife, who was also coming out of the restroom he asked: “Did you notice anything unusual?” She said, that she had seen several women doing the exact same thing in their bathroom.
That might not seem like a big thing to you, but it really was. Why do you think that men and women who had places to go, and people to meet would take their time to clean up a sink knowing that a cleaning service was going to come in during the week? Because there is a big difference between folks who are renting a space and folks who are taking ownership of a space. When we take ownership we are acting like adults, or priests. These folks knew that this was their church and as far as they were concerned, when something had to be done there, they saw it as their responsibility.
As a church we’ll only attain our full strength, we will only be a healthy congregation when we realize we are called to be priests of God. Maturity means that we realize that there is work to be done in the Kingdom, and it is my personal responsibility to be involved in that work. There are jobs that need to be tackled, visits to make, conversations to initiate, ministry that needs to be done, and we understand that we’re the ones to do them. There is not a job to big, or to small, or to unpleasant that excuses us from the work.
The danger we face is if we don’t, we will forget the purpose God has called us to. And instead of being mature workers in the Kingdom, we are stuck in immaturity. We forget how to do anything more than just exist, how to be served instead of taking up the towel and serving. But the biggest travesty is that we forfeit the abundant life that Jesus came to provide for us.
In our text this morning Peter calls us back to our purpose, to proclaim the praises of the One who saved us from ourselves. We live in a world that doesn’t know God. It is our responsibility to be involved in the work of the kingdom. I love how Peter ends this section of the text: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
Greenbrier does not occupy this space in this community so that people will say, “What a great church this is”. We don’t exist so that people can say, “What a great bunch of people go here.” We exist so that people can look at us and say, “What a great an awesome God!” That can only happen when we are mature enough to be deeply involved in the work of His kingdom.
This morning I want to encourage you to take a step forward in your maturity. I want to challenge you to deepen your relationship with God so that He becomes very real in your life. Meeting with God on Sundays morning, is a great thing, but it has got to be more, it has got to be deeper than that. This morning I am calling you to deepen your level commitment and take on the mantle of service as we strive to be committed to the Priesthood of all believers.