The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r143.htm
s143e03 Lockleys Sunday 31
"Christ came as a high priest" Hebrews 9.11
I confess I find myself recoiling from this identification. Even though I am ordained a priest in the Church of God, my view of the priesthood is one of an arcane otherness that seems so alien to the Jesus of the gospels. Even though I received my training at the local theological college which was ostensibly "high church" it is odd that my reaction to priesthood remains one of alienation rather than identification. I have been happy with vestments and genuflecting - though increasingly I am questioning the need for these. I have never been in a parish church where there were a sufficient number of ritually-minded people to have "bells and smells" and no tradition of doing so, so I am content to be without these. If I was to be in a parish where they were used I would be happy to do so. In fact I even have a biretta - not that I wear it at all :-)
I am happy to count myself sacramental, yet, for all my devotion to the sacrament of the Holy Communion, when Jesus said "This is my body" and "This is my blood" - he surely wasn't thinking in metaphysical terms. I don't have a particular problem with the doctrine of transubstantiation, I just don't think that Jesus thought in those terms and he was not saying those things and acting as he did to restrict admission and / or acceptance of others based on their fluency in metaphysical conversation or acceptance of metaphysical theories.
I guess I'm here grappling with mystery. One of the constants about mystery and otherness is that this implies that no one, even the most learned and wise, can ever fully comprehend God. Again it is only a matter of scale that this implies that no denomination or expression of faith can fully encompass the truth of God. Indeed I have come to the conclusion that this is the reason for mystery and otherness - to say that no one (and seeing "one" in it's most general sense) can understand and possess God.
God's "holiness" is not about arcane otherness, God playing eternal "hide and seek" with humanity - and of course God always wins because God has got the perfect hiding place, heaven. I wouldn't want to play with a God like this, one who always wins.
Of course it is humanity who tries to play "hide and seek" - hiding from God - and God always finds us and all people, to love, not to berate. Isn't it interesting that the best part about "hide and seek" is the hiding and the being found. The person doing the seeking has less fun. It is God who takes on this less exciting role.
But the flip side of this is that there is ever the pretence that there are certain individuals who do understand God. The sin of Adam and Eve is not that they ate the apple, not that they were naked at the time, but that they wanted to be like God. And it is the particular sin of those who count themselves as religious.
Indeed it is the sin which eternally besets me, for I want to be like God, in that I want to be as loving and open as God is with others - and I still fail even this.
Wanting to be like God is not such a sin as it is unnecessary. God loves me without all my trying. If we make the trying into a work, we expect others to do the same and everyone is engaged in an exercise in futility. We can spend our time and energy trying to be like God rather than loving our neighbour.
I was reflecting on the question about paying taxes to the emperor or not, recently, and it suddenly came to me that - for them - the question was precisely this, do we pay our state taxes or not? I suppose that the world view is a little different now a days. The question presumes that they had an option about paying their taxes but I doubt that this was any more true then as now. What was not an option for them, being good and faithful Pharisees and Herodians, was to pay their dues to God. Here we are a little different, for on the scale of compulsion - what we give to God is up to us. The question reveals a distinction between the views of the Pharisees who probably paid their taxes out of compulsion but would have said that they should be exempt because of their religion, and the Herodians who would be more supportive of the State.
So often we take the reply of Jesus to primarily affirm that we have to give what is God's to God, but that wasn't the question at all. The real answer of Jesus was to give to the emperor that which was the emperor's. Even the woman with the two pennies gave them to God.
So again the real question for those of us who count ourselves as religious is do we see ourselves apart from the institutions of the State by virtue of our faith or do we participate in the affairs of State because they have their right and proper place? I think that the answer to this question is clear from our gospel story.
To take a simple example. I confess I have some difficulties with the Anglican Church in this Diocese because it has avoided, for a number of good reasons, having clergy covered by the State "Work-Cover". The Diocese takes out separate insurance - actually to cover parishes to provide alternate ministrations from someone else should the ?normal? member of the clergy be unable to fulfil their usual duties. It probably doesn't mean much in practice financially, but recent conversations have shown me that the sort of assistance "Work-Cover" does provide goes well beyond the insurance scheme. If the church had lots of spare clergy with nothing else to do but care for their colleagues - the insurance scheme might be OK, but sadly we don't and the clergy we have all live busy lives. And the reality is that to have a separate arrangement sets us apart, and it might be perceived that we are trying to be above the law. More seriously it assumes that we in the Church are self sufficient and that the State has little to contribute to us. We, in the Church, are able to comment on affairs of the State of course!
I have been talking about the priesthood being about relating to all others, not just a particular part of a congregation or some individuals within it. When we describe Jesus as the high priest, it means that he relates equally to all. Jesus is a high priest to you as much as he is to me and to everyone else. If Jesus was killed for associating with others, his resurrection means that that attempt was in vain, and the risen Christ will be found amongst others still.
One of the truths which the Old Testament does better at proclaiming than some representations of the New, is that God deals with us corporately. In the Old Testament God dealt with the tribes of Israel as a group of people. The gospel is often portrayed as God now dealing with us as individuals - about our personal relationship with the divine. But I would want to say that the direction is rather different - that the New Testament is about God dealing with all of humanity - to love and not to berate. But even the ancient people of God were to be a light to the Gentiles, so even this all-encompassing view is not altogether new.
One of the joys of our political system is that there are a series of "checks and balances" - we have people representing the working classes as well as the employers amongst us. Neither of these groups get their own way all the time. We have a three tiered system of government - which again means that no one is all powerful - that no individual or group gets their way at the expense of others. In some ways our governors and governor general are more effective "high priests" than clergy who celebrate the sacraments, for they represent the whole of humanity here in Australia. Their positions of impartiality and concern for all reflect God's viewpoint better than clergy, who most often have little option but to deal with the particular needs of individuals and the congregation to whom they minister.
The priesthood of Christ is all about God wanting to be found, not wanting to be ever just out of reach. Many people do indeed find God in the ritual life of the Church, but this is only just one more way God makes sure that no one misses out being found.
God wants to be found and to find us all - for us and God to enjoy the game and the discovery - and especially that others, all others, can join in too.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.