Genesis 14:18-20, Hebrews 6:20       “Priests”


            A couple of months ago, I was honored to have been asked to bless the opening of the refurbished Waimea Branch Library. I arrived looking very much as I look right now. So, nothing special, right? At the same time, the new Japanese priest from the Zen Temple in Hanapepe was also to give a blessing. He wore special robes and sashes. He set out a table with a white cloth that had an accordion style book with special instructions that he followed. He rang  a little bell. He splashed water around. He chanted in every direction. I was really impressed. In my mind I thought to myself, “Now here is a real priest.”

            After he was finished, and it did take a while for him to go through his blessing rituals, it was my turn to bless. All I had was the bible. I prayed over the library and staff. Done.

            The newspaper then had a picture of the priest and a full write-up about all the dignitaries and staff workers. Senator Ron Kouchi was there and had been duly mentioned. He was pictured sitting behind the Buddhist priest in the shot in the paper. I was not pictured, nor even mentioned.  And so, I honestly felt like I had failed my priestly function. I could have after all also robed up and maybe anointed with some holy oil, prayed in Latin or Greek, or some other ritual such as self-flagellation or what I do not know! This whole thing about being humble as Jesus does not make for a good show sometimes!


            Right on, today we are going talk about not just things that have been set apart for God, as we discussed the Hebrew concept of Kiddush already, and the process of holy naming in these last two weeks. How is someone set apart for God? And who should that person be? I do not want to keep you in suspense about what the New Testament has to say about that: we are all set apart for God. We enjoy today what has been dubbed “The priesthood of all believers.”

            Some have attributed this concept to the German Reformer Martin Luther in 1520, who noted that all who are baptized are spiritual in the sight of God. Therefore, it is not necessary to set any one person in particular further aside for spiritual matters. Yes, Martin Luther was a priest of the Catholic Church by the way. So, he was denying his own station. To be sure, however, Martin Luther did not just come up with this idea on his own: He quoted the bible, and indeed the first Pope, that would be Simon Peter, whom Jesus himself had called to ministry.

1 Peter 2:5-9, “. . .Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This idea of the priesthood of all believers is further affirmed in the Book of Revelation by Jesus through the angel that is speaking to John, Rev. 1:6, “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

This is in the form of a prayer, and it is my prayer that we all accept that we are priests of God set aside for the spiritual kingdom. Amen?


How did the whole idea of priesthood come about? For that we have to refer back to the Old Testament. The part of the text from Genesis that was read (Gen. 14:18-20) is actually the very first time that a priest is ever mentioned in history. This first-ever priest is named “Melchizedek.” If you recall the sermon two weeks ago, we discussed the term “zedek” in terms of God’s creating an ultimate justice in the universe through as an act of sacrifice. The name Melchizedek literally means the king of sacrifice, justice, and peace. As the story goes, Abram has just claimed the land of Israel and has plundered other kingdoms to do that. He is now admonished to make a sacrifice back to God (in this case 10%, or a tithe.) With this, a place to honor God is to be built and maintained.

All this took place before the time of Jacob, who is renamed Israel. It is before the time, therefore, of Moses and Aaron leading the Hebrew slaves back from Egypt to reclaim the holy land of Canaan. What happened was that Israel, the man renamed by God to Israel, had twelve sons–they are known as the 12 tribes of Israel today. Each of these sons were given a kingdom of their own to rule–real estate–that is all but one of the sons. His name was Levi. The tribe of Levi got no property. Instead, Levi was set apart as the spiritual leader of all the lands. He was given right to all of the markers and holy sites of the land of Israel.

When the sons of Israel were brought into Egypt and eventually enslaved there, the Bible tells us that God called Moses to stand up to the Pharaoh. The story of the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves ensues. You may recall, that Aaron, that is to say Moses’ brother was the one who was chosen to do all the talking on behalf of Moses. You may also recall that Moses never crossed the Jordan into the promised land. Joshua and Aaron do that. And, as Aaron was also of the tribe of Levi, he is the one who was given the task of keeping the tent of the tabernacle, the place of the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Ten Commandments given by God.

Aaron therefore is the next person to get the title of “priest” after Melchizadek. It was his job to keep the temple of God clean and tidy. And, he got to dress the part. We can read all about that in Exodus 28-29. It describes there just the ornate robes that Aaron and bloodline would get to wear as they performed the various rituals of the temple. Eventually in King David’s time the tent of the Tabernacle, which had been in Shiloh, was moved to the more grand building that King David built in his new capital of Jerusalem.


So, it was an Aaronic priesthood that Jesus confronted in his ministry–ironically. As we recall from the Gospels, Jesus and the priests did not get along. The priests thought that Jesus was a danger to them. It was they who plotted to have Jesus crucified. Well, they were right in one regard–after the Jesus there would be no more Aaronic priesthood. The temple was destroyed in AD 70 as Jesus predicted. That was the end of the priesthood in Judaism. No temple–no need priests.

But for Jesus, there was even a greater reason to get rid of the priesthood. WE have the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus tells his disciples (check Luke 10). A man is robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of a road. The first one to come by thereafter was a priest. But, he walks to the other side of the road to avoid the body in order to maintain ritual cleanliness so that he can do his priestly duties. The next man is a Levite, a group of people by bloodline commissioned by God as especially blessed. The Levite also does not assist the man. It is finally the third passerby, a Samaritan (of a line of ill repute) that helps the man and cares for him. Then at the end of this parable Jesus asks: “Which one was the neighbor to the victim of the robbers?” Jesus is stating that it is more important to do the will of God as a good neighbor than as a Levite or a priest.

If you want to be holy and set aside by God, help your neighbor in need! Do not worry about keeping all of the proscribed rituals of the church, worry about the people around you who need help and who need the Word of God in their lives.

Sometime in the second or third week of my ministry here, Aletha Kaohi came to visit with me. She wanted to share her “mana’o” with me about ministry in Hawaii. She told me, “Whatever you do, do not call yourself ‘kahu’.” She explained that that title would have to be given by the community and not otherwise personally claimed. That seemed like sound advice, so I just always called myself “pastor.” Would you believe it? Seven years went by. Then, when my name appeared in a bulletin for worship at an Aha Mokupuni service in Hanalei did I see that someone else had given me the title of Kahu!  I felt so humbled. Someone else had seen that perhaps I had a calling from God in my life on this island. Amen? We are all just the same priesthood of all believers until others recognize the spirit of ministry working through you!


The final thought: Perhaps the most important understanding therefore of the priesthood of all believers is the idea that under the priestly garb, whoever is wearing it, is still just regular folk like you and me. The fellow with the bells, robs, sashes and the like also might order the $1.50 hotdog outside the big-box store.

Jesus himself was underneath it all just a man who in the end died a human death on the Cross as his final sacrifice and greatest act of ministry. WE are all called as ministers to pick up that cross and follow. So, we are all in this together, supporting one another, and doing the very human ministry of Jesus.