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Sermon - 10/29/06
Dick Lauer
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Hebrews 7:23-28

This morning we're having 'Chapter 2' of last week's sermon.  Last week the scripture was about Jesus as a High Priest, and again this morning the scripture (even though it's a few chapter further into Hebrews) is still about Jesus as the High Priest.  They really wanted to make a point of this in that writing of that letter of the Hebrews, so that people would really think about that, apparently.  I guess it's good enough for two Sundays, in a very real way.  It's going to be a little different emphasis than Dan had on ministry last week, but it really dovetails together in some ways.

It's nice to be here and share with you and have this opportunity, and give Dan an opportunity to be away this morning.  The scripture is, again, from Hebrews, from the 7th chapter, and here's what it says:

Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. 25Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.

Now we don't use the word 'priest' very often in our church, do we?  We don't call our ministers 'Priest', in a very nice way.  Maybe if we're upset with them we might, but in our church we really haven't emphasized the role of ministry or minister with the word Priest.  It has some pretty special meanings and connotations in the old Old Testament, and still does to a lot of church people today.  

Christ as a High Priest is similar to last week's scripture.  If I repeat anything Dan said, don't worry, because repetition is good for the soul.  It's good for learning.  I also want to apologize as I don't have a PowerPoint like Dan, using all these pictures and graphs and different things in some of his sermons.  I don't have any PowerPoint, I guess I'm from the old school.  So you'll just have to listen to me for the next few minutes J.

Anyway, I'd like to share with you a little bit this morning.  As I think Eliza said last Sunday, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ historically has a week in which they emphasize and set aside every October.  It's not quite as strong as it used to be, in terms of its emphasis, a week called the "Week of the Ministry".  And in this ministry, the church brings this to us to help us to think about ministry, and think about our minister, and to have an opportunity to express appreciation and affirmation for what our minister and our ministries do on our behalf, and on behalf of God in their life.  And also to explore whether we are adequately affirming them and compensating them for the work that they do on our behalf on and on behalf of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

It's interesting, because the pension fund of the Christian Church has been one of the major stalwarts in this week.  They're the ones that have been putting out a lot of the literature and bringing materials to the congregation to help us celebrate the week of the ministry.  One of the reasons they do that is because the pension fund is concerned about financial compensation for our ministers in our churches, and helping our churches to say 'hey, we ought to be supporting our ministers adequately'.  The pension fund has had a program, they still have a very active program, in taking offerings -- usually from other ministers -- to help ministers that retire that had very low salaries, very low income as ministers and missionaries, and so we have to supplement their pension.  And that kind of tells a story of how we've paid our ministers over the years.  It was pretty low, and ministers in our church have never quite taken a vow of poverty, but they've been kind of kept pretty close to that level.  

We were compensated in a variety of ways.  I remember one time when I was pastor of a church back in Indiana, and we had a long gravel driveway.  At a meeting one night one of the leaders in the church asked me if I liked chicken.  And I said 'Yeah, I like chicken'.  And so the next morning I was sleeping in my bedroom with the window open, about 4:00 a.m. in the morning, I heard a car drive up the driveway, the door open and closed.  A few minutes later, the door opened and closed again and the car backed out of the driveway.  And so when I got up that morning, I went to the back door and opened that back door, and there in the breezeway there was a gunny-sack flopping around.  And I discovered there was a live chicken in that gunny-sack!  That's one of the ways our people used to compensate our ministers, was from the gardens and the chicken coop and things like that.  They felt like that was very, very helpful to our ministers.

But our ministers also bought into, you know, low income themselves, I'm guilty of it myself (confessing here), that is that ministers were often the first to sacrifice themselves when it came to finances.  What they would do, is when the budget-making time came along in the church and the budget was tight, the minister would say 'Well, you really don't need to give me a raise next year, that'll help the budget'.  And that really did help the budget in a lot of ways, but ministers are really guilty of doing things like that over the years.

Today, we're doing a little better.  But we still need to have a Week of Ministry with an emphasis on our clergy and our ministers, but we want to do it with a little different focus this morning if we can.  As we think about ministry today, I'd like for us to lift up one of the main principles that historically the Christian Church has held up and lived by over the years, and that is the concept which is embodied in this little phrase called 'priesthood of all believers'.

A priesthood of all believers has been kind of a hallmark, historically, in our church.  One of the ways we interpreted that was that pastors don't have any special place, but there's an equity between our ordained clergy and all of us, the laity in the pews, the laity of the congregation.  There's an equity there and ministers don't have any more authority or power than anybody else in the church.  They have a special role in their calling, to perform and so forth, but it doesn't make them any smarter or better or any more worthy in any way.  And one of the things that's helped to do is to keep a low image of our ministry sometimes.  On the other hand, its helped us to have the emphasis and our people really believed that was true.

In the early days, the Christian Church didn't even have clergy.  When we started out, we just had lay people.  The Elders ruled the congregation and evangelists went out and started churches but they didn't have ministers for the churches.  So we sort of grew into having clergy every Sunday, and grew into having pastors -- that sort of evolved, and in that evolution this emphasis of a priesthood of all believers has been very strong.

And its been characterized by simple little things -- for example, how many clergy in the Christian Church have you seen with a clerical collar?  Wearing a pulpit robe, like Dan does at the 11:00 [traditional] service is really a fairly modern phenomenon in the Christian Church -- they wouldn't wear robes in the pulpit because that would distinguish them.  And the concern was that we wouldn't distinguish between pastor and people, and anything that would separate us apart would help to make it un-equitable and on the same playing level, so that we didn't see people in that unique or very different way.  And that was I think a good thing.

In a real way, what we were saying was that lay people could do anything a minister could do.  Or, maybe to put that in a little more positive vein, we could say we're all ministers.  Each with special gifts and our own callings.

If we think about our pastor Dan, and our clergy, think about how they are called out and called to this ministry in a special way.  I think in this ministry there's several things that distinguish the calling of a pastor.  One thing, for example, our pastors are called to be prophets.  To speak the truth.  Dan does that, doesn't he?  In a very real way, he's one of our real wonderful prophets in our church and in our community.  I think another calling that distinguishes the pastor is the fact that a pastor is a priest.  A priest in the sense that he is passionate, he is concerned for every person in the congregation and in the community.  He seeks to have a presence with people in their joys and in their sorrow and in their troubles.  The pastor is one who is committed to keeping confidences under the parishioners, and one who is committed to uplifting everyone in prayer and concern with God.

At the same time, a minister is not only called to be a prophet and a priest but a teacher.  Especially with the scriptures and bringing the meaning of the scriptures into the situation of our life as we live it day in and day out.

A minister is called to be a leader, to call us out, challenge us.  To help us see something new and different, the possibilities in life.  To call us into those arenas.  I remember one day at the regional assembly the session ended and it was time for people to go out and find a place to eat.  And they were leaving and going out, and I looked out there was a car going down the driveway with a minister running along behind it.  He said "Hey, wait for me, I'm you're leader!". 

That brings us to something else that I really want to bring to us with with the heart of the message today, and that's the second chapter.  And that has to do with this concept of a priesthood of all believers.  Because you and I have a calling also, in a very special way.  It's pastor and people together in our community that makes it work.

There was a minister who was preoccupied one Sunday morning with his thoughts because the church building needed some real repairs, and they needed about $4,000 to make those repairs.  It just so happened there was a substitute organist that day because the organist was sick.  They sent this substitute organist over and it kind of put the minister on edge, he wasn't too happy about that.  So throughout the service, he said here's the bulletin, here's the service, you'll have to figure out something to play after I make this announcement about our need for our financial situation.  And so they got into the service, and pretty soon the minister paused in the service and made an announcement, and said "Brothers and Sisters, we're in great difficulty.  The roof repairs cost twice as much as we expected and we need $4,000 more.  Any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up".  So at that moment, the substitute organist played The Star Spangled Banner!  That's how the substitute became the regular organist J.

We're a team.  It's pastor and people together in a very real way.  And we have our calling.  There are quips on the Internet, you know, we like to say we want to serve God in a special way.  But one of these little quips says "Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisors".  Another one says:  "Quit griping about your church, if it was perfect you couldn't belong".  Another says:  "A lot of church members who are singing 'Standing on the Promises' are just sitting on the premises'.

And here's the one we really want to lift up, which says "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called".

He qualifies the called.  You are called.  Who, me?  Yes, you are the ones exactly that God looks for.  Just like our pastor, you are called.  You are called to be a prophet.  Share the message of Jesus Christ through your life, bearing witness to that message the way you live.

You're a priest.  You and I are the priests of this congregation, to this community in very real ways as we reach out to be a support to one another, to be present in people's needs and share with each other's joys and sorrows and concerns.  You are called to be a priest.

You are called to be a teacher.  To witness to the word in each situation you find yourself in.

You are called to be a leader.  To identify, develop, and utilize the gifts that God has given you.

Pastor and people together in the ministry of Jesus Christ and his way at this time, now.  Christ is the High Priest that has paved the way.  Given us the opportunity to be together and to trust in God and to act accordingly.  Christ the High Priest has paved the way so that we can tell the story, setting the pace boldly, intentionally.  

Christ the High Priest has paved the way for us to be able to uncork the treasure of God's love and share it with the world around us.  Amen.


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