The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s142e06 Sunday 30 29/10/06 St Barnabas Orange East
'a high priest .. separated from sinners' Hebrews 7.26
It is interesting that God's view of righteousness and justification are entirely different from the view of those who killed Jesus. The people who had Jesus killed were not the illiterate masses sinners because they were theologically inept - but those people who had attained very strong theological qualifications. The problem is that those who had Jesus killed did what they did, not because Jesus separated himself from sinners, but that Jesus readily associated with those they considered sinners.
If it were those who were so schooled in orthodox theology, those who loved God so assiduously, who could get it so wrong so that it was they who had Jesus killed, then it ought to cause us to pause when we defend orthodoxy, when we proclaim our love for 'our' God, that we too be might possibly be getting it all wrong.
Another classic text is: 'When (the Advocate) comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.' (John 16:8-11)
Again the people 'the world' who were wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement the ones who didn't believe in Jesus were not the illiterate masses, but the literate ones, the ones who could read and write and argue theologically the ones who knew who were the sinners and who were the saints and for all their learning and discernment they were wrong - dead wrong.
So when we hear the term 'the world' and are want to associate this with others, people who don't come to church, others who are less 'au fait' with my tradition, less accepting of the orthodoxy to which I ascribe, then there is no guarantee that it is not us who are part of 'the world', it is not us who would crucify Jesus anew.
The first of the ten commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" was precisely the one that those who had Jesus killed most ostentatiously observed.
In the gospel accounts, in the house of the Pharisee, Jesus finds faith in the woman who bathed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair rather than his orthodox host. (Lk 7.36) And lest we think that we 'Christians' couldn't be like that Pharisee, how does Jesus regularly address his disciples? 'O ye of little faith'!
A priest is one who makes connections between the divine and the human and so the concept of a high priest who is separated from sinners is a contradiction in terms. 'Orthodox' theology tells us that we are all sinners - so such a high priest would therefore be entirely useless to any of us. Our reading tells us that the priest makes sacrifices 'first for his own sin, and then for those of the people' so the priest makes connections between God and humanity as we are. The other term for a priest is a 'mediator' and by definition a mediator cannot be separated from either party.
But there is a separation, and it comes through those who separate themselves of from God as God really is, because this God accepts others on an equal basis. In the extreme form these were so scandalized by Jesus associating with anyone else, they had him crucified. They separated themselves off from this God who accepts all precisely because God accepts all and not just them and their cronies.
Again our reading tells us 'he is able .. to save those who approach God', so the only need is our desire to approach, to include ourselves in that connection already made.
So when we read occurrences of the term 'the world' as opposed to God or the 'spirit', this needs to be immediately placed beside the theologically erudite who opposed God and the Spirit, that Jesus so accurately portrayed, opposed enough to have him killed.
When we read the claims of Jesus like: 'whoever has seen me has seen the Father' - this identification is meant to assure us that Jesus is not being naughty by associating with others often 'others' are rather more fun than 'religious' people anyway. No, Jesus reflects accurately where God is found not in churches, places and people who separate themselves off from others, but amongst others, all others.
This is the joy of the resurrection, that Jesus and this love for all could not be contained in a box - hidden away in a grave so that others would be denied him. The joy of the resurrection is that Jesus continues to be found in all people, people of faith and people of no faith.
Earthly priests and our high priest are identical to the people amongst whom they minister. This is obvious in terms of human clergy and it is the truth that the incarnation expresses in terms of Jesus. This is another way of expressing my favourite dictum that we are at one with God when we are at one with others. I sometimes say that for me Jesus was the secular humanist 'par excellence' and it is precisely because of this that he stands in a unique relationship with God as Son.
As I knelt to receive the sacrament last evening, it came to me that (of course :-) the Holy Communion is the prime example of our High Priest, Jesus, being at one with us that he is not separated from us sinners at all he gives himself to us completely in that most intimate of unions, the giving of his body and his blood. It is therefore in the Holy Communion we continue proclaiming the risen Christ's priesthood, continuing to be at one with us, again and again, as we receive the sacrament. Down through the centuries, the risen Christ has come to generation after generation, eternally re-enacting the incarnation, in you and in me.
And this leads me to again point out the scandal of using the Holy Communion as the prime way we separate ourselves off from those of other denominations, the prime way we separate ourselves as 'Christians' from others, the prime way we separate ourselves off from other people.
And in doing so, I think that we have actually got it all wrong.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"