In this time of global pandemic, closed borders, economic collapse, isolation, and loneliness, ordinary people like us are needed to do God’s priestly work. (Listen.)
It wasn’t Donald, as he boasted and blustered and bribed his way to the top. It wasn’t Vlad, with his iron fist and steely will and heart of stone. It wasn’t Boris, as he manipulated fear and stirred up trouble and tore people apart. And it wasn’t Scottie from marketing, with his smooth talking smugness at his own success. Instead, it was the one everyone forgot, the one rambling the hillsides, the one who stank of sheep.
Samuel was almost taken in. For he looked at all the big guys, and they reminded him of Saul. Big and blustering, towering above everyone else, we’d never seen anyone like Saul. We trusted him to lead us. And even though he let us down, and even though God said he was no good, we wanted another one just like him. Someone to take charge; someone to fix everything; someone to tell us what to do and where to go. So we looked at the big guys and each time we thought, “Maybe he’s the one …”
Instead, we got the runt. The sort of kid whose own father leaves him out of the line-up. The sort of person whom preachers and prophets and politicians never see at first glance. The sort of guy we ourselves overlook. The sort of person most like us: David.
For David enters into the breadth and depth of human experience. Throughout the cycle of David stories, we see him loving and sinning and dancing and weeping. He plots, fights, suffers, escapes. He plays tricks and sings and prays. He’s by turns joyful, angry, conniving, vicious, gentle, passionate, righteous, loyal. He’s a victim; he’s a bully; he’s a murderer. He repents with a heavy heart. He’s a sexual predator, loving father, passionate friend, violent warrior, product of a brutal Iron Age. Love him or hate him, he’s totally earthy, deeply authentic, and fully engaged with God: and there’s something of David in every one of us.
Samuel anointed him as king: but don’t be distracted by the king thing. For as he lived and worked and loved and prayed, and even as he sinned and repented, David was a priest. Not a temple priest, not a formal priest, not even a named priest: nevertheless, he was priestly. God was central to his life, and his life was a witness to that reality. Through his life and work, his passionate prayers, his bloody victories, his deep loves, his dancing with abandonment in the presence of God, and in so much more, David was fully alive in God. The people around him saw God’s love and grace pouring out through him, and responded; and even now, David’s God-songs continue to give voice to the depths of our hearts.
The work of a priest is this:
- to witness to God’s powerful daily presence and to help others be witnesses, too;
- to make people’s connection with God visible and to put language around it;
- to bring people’s needs before God in prayer;
- to dare to speak God’s word to people; and
- to keep things earthy and real.
David did all this, because being a priest is what God-followers do. Way back in Exodus, God said to Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests,” (19:6); and this calling is later extended to all who are gathered up in Christ (1 Peter 2:9). And so being a priest is our calling, too. You can be a shepherd, king, doctor, gardener, pathologist, aged care worker, parent, or shelf-stacker; you can be employed or unemployed or underemployed; you can be joyful or grieving, slow or quick: whoever you are, whatever your position in life, you are called to Christ’s priesthood.
This is what it means to let God shape your life: You don’t have priests; you are priests. And everything I do as your pastor aims to equip you in your priesthood, to remind you of God’s constant presence in your life, to put language around it, and to help you give voice to it, too.
So as COVID-19 leads us to isolate households, cancel meals, and shut down physical gatherings, remember daily your priestly calling. Remember the deepest reality of God in your life, and let that reality shine in all that you do. For as we face the prospect of physical sickness, isolation, loneliness, and economic collapse, we cannot rely on Scotty from marketing, or Boris, or Vlad, or Donald, to place our lives in a wider story, to give language to God’s loving presence, to soothe our real fears, to teach us to share, or to make us nourishing soup. These men have spent years breaking up flocks, driving sheep apart, putting sheep in competition with one another, and keeping the best pastures for themselves. They do not fight wolves; they dine with them, and they have never shown an interest in the welfare of the sheep. So now, more than ever, God needs a nation of priests:
- Priests who proclaim through word and deed God’s passionate care for the most vulnerable.
- Priests who denounce stockpiling and model a radical trust in God’s provision and a generous sharing.
- Priests who reach out to the isolated and lonely and make time for long and rambling conversations.
- Priests who sing laments and psalms and spiritual songs, to raise people’s spirits when they need to be raised, and give voice to mourning when grief surely comes.
- Priests who look suffering squarely in the eye and walk with others through the valley of the shadow of death.
- Priests who raise up the prayers of the people in this scared, sad and suffering world.
So take up your tools—your rod and staff, computer, phone, Bible, hazmat gear, paints, or ladle and soup pot—and live out your priestly calling. For God has given you everything you need to be “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9-10); and you are created in Christ’s image, anointed by the Spirit, and shaped for God’s purpose, for precisely such a time as this. Amen. Ω
A reflection on John 3:1-17 given to Sanctuary, 8 March 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020.
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