Posts Tagged ‘High Priest’

All believers are stepping stones

Apparently I still need a priest. That title is not in my tradition although there has always been the pastor/preacher who was meant to guide or shepherd the church body (and thereby, me too) as well as deliver messages or teach by way of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In truth, the human versions are often found wanting. Naturally.

Hebrews 7:26, 28b
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. . . . made perfect forever.

On occasion, there are ministers who have crossed my path who have changed my course. In my early days as a Christian in New York, I attended a pentecostal church (much to my own dismay) led by a very old pastor from Norway. I had no personal relationship with him, nor did I find him particularly accessible, but his instruction gave me a hunger for understanding scripture and he was able to explain passages that had stumped me on my own.

Another key pastor in my life was during my early years of marriage while living in Atlanta. He was a brilliant speaker, always intriguing and interesting from the pulpit. He engaged people personally and I am pretty sure everyone who attended that small church had dinner in his home several times a year. It was how his (very southern) family operated. Everyone knew him, warts and all. Through other para-church activities, we became friends and although he was flawed in many ways, his transparency, intelligence, and knowledge of the Bible made a lasting mark. He was our tipping point.

Since then, I have sat under pastors for short periods of time and long. In recent years, I’ve known several pastors of great intelligence who I admired and who gave many words of wisdom and yet, the one thing I longed for was a more personal connection, a sense of camaraderie and kinship. But how could I expect someone who was “ministering” to hundreds or even a thousand of people to guide me? They were simply too busy, too torn by their responsibilities to church and family, too sapped of energy by the truly needy. Oftentimes, I felt like the capable child in a family who everyone assumed was fine, strong, and secure which made it easier to spend time and energy with the struggling one, the emotionally unstable one. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just how things seemed to evolve.

So, what is my relationship really supposed to be with a pastor now? Having known and followed Christ over 30 years, do I still expect a pastor to be a kind of visionary guide who will come and say, “Jesus told me” that you should do such & such? I would be suspicious of that kind of approach anyway.

All right, all right, I know that Christ is the perfect pastor/priest. Christ is the ultimate shepherd, the ultimate guide, and the one to whom I should be looking for direction. I know that, honestly I do. (I also know that the success of such a relationship depends a great deal on my participation, my willingness to listen, and my time spent in silence. This is not a Sunday morning activity alone, but daily. I get that.)

But what, then, is my relationship to these human pastors? These flawed, but loving men and now women, who have felt called to operate in the role of church leader to “equip the saints.” I believe, at this point, based on experience and a certain amount of self-sufficiency (i.e. self-taught Bible study), that I want to walk beside. I skimmed an interesting online article by Craig Bluemel (who on further browse, appears to be controversial), but I did appreciate his view of the “elders” of the church as co-workers with the pastor. That we are no longer in a time when the church should be a pyramid. We all have something to share and teach by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are all called to serve. We are indeed that priesthood of all believers [I Peter 2:9]. We need to stop looking elsewhere for “spiritual food” and spend more time looking within and sharing with others what we know.

Christ is our High Priest and will be, forever, yes. But we are the bumbling hands and feet and voice, whether trained or not. We are all imperfect. And so, we should combine our gifts and use them corporately to nurture and celebrate the Holy Spirit on earth.

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This is another place where modern Human trips up. An indestructible life smacks of Superman and other “super heroes.” Miracles in general are not the food of modernity. We are all about logic and facts and evidence. But, I can only ask those who cannot fathom the miraculous, what if?

Hebrews 7:14-16
For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.

What if there was that indestructible one who wielded enough power to sustain life (and that crosses all dimensions of living), forever?

In these mid-range chapters that I am studying in Hebrews, the writer (and personally, I don’t hear the voice of St. Paul at all), the whole point is to examine the believability of Law changing because the priesthood was changed forever with the coming Messiah. That Jesus, as Messiah, was of another tribe (Judah) and like Melchizedek (who is mentioned several times in Hebrews 7), the ancestry does not line up with the law of the time. Melchizedek had an unknown genealogy while Jesus was affiliated by his birth mother to the wrong one and the next leap is Jesus’s true genealogy as divine.

It’s funny really, the ancient peoples struggled with Jesus’s genealogy while modern people struggle with the supernatural. The people of Israel had a history of miracles; this they could accept, but his lineage was a huge problem if he was to be their true priest-king with the authority to change their laws, the foundation of their faith. While today, that’s a more insignificant problem, it’s all the other stuff: virgin birth, bringing dead people to life, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and of course, resurrection.

But, I say again, what if that kind of power did exist? What would we do in the face of an indestructible life, that is, directed, perpetual energy?

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When the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem (70 AD), as much as I understand such things, the high priesthood dissolved for the Jews. And yet, the Christians, both East and West, have carried forward a similar hierarchy through the institution of Popes, Bishops, and Patriarchs, but none after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:1, 5a, 6
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men [and women] in things relating to God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. . . . So too Christ (the Messiah) did not exalt Himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed . . . As He says also in another place, You are a Priest [appointed] forever after the order (with the rank) of Melchizedek.

I confess, I’m not the best one to write or discuss authority structures in the Church. I’m a bit of libertarian in those circles and not well versed in its history. But I do understand that one of the key roles of the Messiah is his Melchizedekian inheritance: he is both High Priest and King. He is both judge and mercy-giver. He can make the laws and forgive us for breaking those laws. He is Human and Spirit, King and Priest; Christ is paradoxical.

Melchizedek, priest and King of Salem (Jerusalem), lived in the time of Abram, 2000 BCE. And this role has been assigned to the Christ to come.

But what do we know of Kings in our age? Who do we have to model this role? What do we learn from the kings and queens of Great Britain (and their protectorates) or the Kings of Belgium, Sweden, or Norway, or the absolute monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Oman, or Qatar? [Incidentally, the Pope is also considered the absolute monarch of Vatican City.]

There are a zillion protocols for approaching a Royal, such as bowing, curtseying, proper address, proper distance, and so forth. Do I imagine King Jesus in this way? I usually ignore this perspective, don’t you?

And on the High Priest side, my only exposure to priests has been local Catholics and Episcopalians who are generally laid back around town and wouldn’t expect me to bend and kiss a ring or insist on addressing them as Father or Brother. That’s not to say the same for the “higher” priests. The protocols for the Pope, bishops, and patriarchs are equally submissive and quite extensive. Do I imagine Priest Jesus in this way? Not really.

None of these human examples of high priests or kings give much meaning to my Messiah-King. But isn’t some of that my own fault?

Are we all too casual in this day and age? Have we gotten too comfortable with our mauve carpeting and coffee club church services? Have we spent too much time humanizing Jesus/God (e.g. paintings of the laughing Jesus) or emphasizing his gentleness (drawing of Jesus with the lamb) or putting emphasis on our “family status,” making Him just one of the guys?

This is one reason why I am trying to spend more time on and in my relationship with the Holy Spirit. This is not king or priest, but a spirit union with me. This One is sister, brother, counselor, lover. Yes, I understand we learn about Jesus in those same ways, but honestly, I think we’d better understand His role as Melchizedek too. And in that semblance, I doubt I’ll be jumping up into his lap like Santa Claus.

Something to think about today.

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If I am supposed to have more confidence in the Christ, who acts in the role of high priest for me (whatever that means), and who supposedly has bona fide empathy with my temptations, then I’d better be clear on what they are.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Secretly, I’m pretty sure I don’t really believe Jesus experienced all of my temptations and I’m guessing I’m not alone in that deep, dark truth.

Do I really believe that Jesus was tempted by anything like a Dunkin’ Donut or Creme Brulee? Did he worry about the number of calories consumed in a day or the sense of body betrayal when my favorite clothes no longer fit? Was Jesus ever tempted to give up and become a beached whale on the couch because nothing seemed to work?

Was Jesus tempted to run away from all of his responsibilities? Did he consider suicide? Was he tempted to get drunk and stay drunk because life was too overwhelming? And what about all the plights and dangers of love relationships, broken relationships, or marriages built on lies and convenience?

Or what about getting old? Did he look in the mirror and pull up on the crows’ feet around his eyes or stretch the skin around his mouth and consider plastic surgery? Did he stare at old people being helped out of cars with walkers and wheelchairs and contemplate such a future for himself?

I know I’m being ridiculous and yet, am I the only one who chafes, even just a little, at the idea that Jesus, Human for 33 years, could sympathize or empathize with the details of my life’s temptations?

The answer is right there of course. It’s not in the detailed temptations at all, but in the one big temptation that encapsulates them all: being in charge. The temptation is to do it “all myself” and to solve all my problems alone. It’s “kicking against the goads” [Acts 26:14]. It’s following the Eve and Adam story line.

How am I tempted? I am tempted to be a god and manipulate my environment and I am regularly disappointed in the results. And so, yes, it is this person who is asked to come to the Throne of Grace and ask for mercy and help. And the courage to surrender.

Each day.

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