"Knock, knock." "Who's there?"
a sermon by Sid Burgess
Birmingham, AL, October 19, l997
Last Sunday's sermon was so "heavy," I want to offer something a bit lighter today. So, I propose to start with the tried and true formula . . . of the "knock, knock" joke. This approach, of course, calls for your participation. Some of you might be a bit rusty at this exercise, but I'm sure the children in the congregation can lead the way. So here comes the first one.
Grammar crackers. Pretty crummy, huh?
Duane (du'wain) the bathtub, I'm drowning!
Irma big girl now!
Toy-yota be a law against -- knock, knock jokes.
Ferdie last time. Open the door!
Okay, just one more, before the "sermon police" come and arrest the preacher.
Mel us about that guy with the funny name.
Surely you must mean, Melchizedek, from the passage in Hebrews. Well, I'm glad you asked. And just in time to get this sermon up and running. Even though he appears early in the story, and stays late, Melchizedek is one of the most illusive characters in the Bible. He is first mentioned with Abraham, in a story set way back in the 18th century before Christ. As the book of Genesis tells the tale, Abraham's nephew Lot has been captured in a fight with some of the local tribes. Abraham rescues Lot and drives the bad guys out of the territory. Returning home, Abraham, the "Father of Faith," is said to have been greeted by the "king of Salem"--Salem being one of the early names for the City of Jerusalem---Jer-u-salem. The "king of Salem" welcomes Abraham home with gifts of bread and wine. And the ruler's name is . . . Melchizedek.
Centuries later, the poet of Israel alludes to Melchizedek in Ps. 110. Here the psalmist has God addressing the current ruler of Israel, naming him "priest forever--after the order of Melchizedek." In later Jewish literature, Melchizadek becomes the ideal "priest-king" and, in the Dead Sea scrolls, he is a "heavenly judge." By the time the Letter to the Hebrew is written, the Harper's Bible Dictionary says, "Melchizadek has become a supernatural figure whose miraculous origin and indestructible life foreshadow the eternity of the Son of God."
Knock, knock. (See, I can't stop.)
Melchizadek, the mythological the priest, king, and heavenly judge of ancient Israel.
One long name--three official titles.
And what has Melchizedek to do with us? Our text from Hebrews says, our Lord, Jesus Christ, is "a priest forever, according to the order of . . . Melchizedek"
Think about it: Christ as priest--humanity's representative to Holy God, appointed by God, and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Talk about special access---we've got it!
What's more, Jesus as our pastor, is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses. Not the" weakness of sin"--that is, Jesus is never separated from God. But Jesus does experienceour human vulnerability, our feelings of anguish and weakness, even our feelings of God's absence. (Remember the cry of our Lord from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me . . .?")
When it comes to hurt, loneliness, suffering--even uncertainty--Jesus has "been here, done that."Now, scripture reminds us, the Risen Christ is our pastor, our advocate before God.
But there is more. The "priest according to the order of Melchizadek" is also ruler and judge.
Jesus is Lord--that is, Jesus is ruler, Jesus in charge. After all, his resurrection is the decisive victory of good over evil--the ultimate triumph over "powers that deform and destroy human life." The Church concedes that the "Lordship" of Jesus is hidden. We admit that "the world appears to be dominated by people and systems that do not acknowledge Christ's rule." Nonetheless, the Church holds that "his lordship is real."
"It demands our loyalty and sets us free from fear--fear of all lesser lords who threaten us."
Many of our youth wear bracelets and other personal items bearing the initials WWJD--which stands for, "What would Jesus do?" This question is a reminder that "Jesus as Lord" means that Jesus sets the standard for our lives--his teachings, the example of his life, and the embrace of his love, should rule over every aspect of our lives.
Priest, ruler--and judge. Jesus as judge. The least popular of his titles. And yet, do we not say in the Apostles Creed that Jesus will come "to judge the living and the dead."
And, our "Declaration of Faith" says that he will judge all people---and all nations. You and I, and the church will be held accountable. So, too, will Washington and Montgomery, Wall Street and 20th Street. All humankind will be held accountable to the Bible's clear standards of divine justice, righteousness, and peace. When the kingdom comes, Jesus will take to the bench of justice: "Once and for all, evil will be condemned, and rooted out of God's good creation forever."
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is " a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek"--one office, three roles: priest, ruler, and judge.
Now, I'm sure you would agree that this is good information. But what has all of this to do with us here, with us now?
Well, let's think about it. First, take comfort, sisters and brothers. With Christ our priest, ruler and judge, you can relax, enjoy, and be confident. Our ultimate destiny in life and in death will be determined by the Holy One of God, the shepherd who goes in search of the one lost sheep. The Son of Man who comes "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Listen to me now: we Christians, trying so hard to get it right, do it right, and say it right, often forget that in God's mercy, Christ, on the Cross, has made it right. Relax, enjoy, be confident in your priest, ruler and judge.
Of course, there is more. We are followers of Jesus. And our particular branch of His Church holds to the concept of the "priesthood of the believer." Followers of Jesus, and, thus, pastors to one another. And not just to the good church folks here, but to them, too. To co-workers at office and school mates at school. To family members at home and strangers on the street. We believe that each of us, and all of us together, have been called to represent God in the World. As priests, we have been "put in charge of things pertaining to God," not just God's holy Word, not just the communion cups, and sacred music and acts of kindness--but all things pertaining to God--including justice, right-doing, and peace. As God's representatives we are not to judge, but to advocate for God's justice. Not to seek control for ourselves, but to lobby without ceasing for the rule of God's law in our life, in the church, and in the world.
To Jesus Christ, who loves us
and freed us from our sins by his blood
and made us to be a kingdom,
priests of his God and Father,
to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Rev. 1: 5,6