Letter from the Pastor Friday, February 14, 2020
Hebrews 7:23-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike 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. For 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 forever.
In ancient times our spiritual ancestors relied on the priestly class to intercede to the divine on their behalf. It was believed that God's presence was housed in the Holy of Holies, which existed in the center of the tabernacle. Only through a very specific and timely set of circumstances and actions could the high priest even enter into this sacred space. It was the responsibility of this high priest to perform sacrifices and rituals, which would allow them to enter into that divine space. Without this connection to the divine, the entire population of God's people would be cut off from God's presence and blessing.
As the ages passed, revelation and visions to the prophets revealed that God's presence was not, in fact, bound to this very restrictive set of circumstances and location. On the banks of Babylonian rivers, God appeared to the exiled priest Ezekiel and revealed that God would not be bound by sacrifice or sacred rooms. The divine has created humanity to be present with them, and absolutely nothing would keep God from being in relationship with creation.
This desire from God to be present with us culminated in the life of Jesus Christ. Despite God's relentless attempts to enter into a relationship with humanity, human brokenness, through the misguided desire for power, continued to isolate humanity from God's love and will. God's people waited with bated breath for the Messiah to come in power and glory and overthrow their oppressors (now the Romans) once and for all. Those who waited for a Messiah still clung to an archaic paradigm for how we relate to the divine. Gods people were once again waiting for that privileged and powerful individual who could intercede on their behalf. Rather than a military and political leader, the King of the Jews would be born in a manger as the son of an unwed teenage woman and a carpenter. Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the in-breaking of God's presence into our reality is complete. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and all are invited to participate.
This message of our ability to have a personal and individual relationship with the divine is not a new one. For thousands of years, faith communities and reformers have pushed back against doctrines that propagate the false idea that access to God and human dignity lie through the actions of a powerful few. Today, I believe that we are still invited to embrace this truth and claim our own sense of dignity and worth as children of God.
All across the country, people are waiting with bated breath to find out if the next presidential race will result in a leader that represents their interests. Faith communities across the world are uncertain about whether their denominational polity will affirm their beliefs. Powerful individuals and committees are vying for buy-in from the masses. While these social anxieties highlight the importance of inspired leadership and our responsibility to hold those in power accountable, I ponder on what the Holy Spirit is trying to whisper to our hearts in the midst of all the noise.
Perhaps if we are intentional in taking the time to enter into God's presence in a very personal and intimate way, we will find a reaffirmation of our sacred priesthood. Past all of the conflict and strife is a God who wants to be present with us and love us for who we are. My invitation to you as sisters and brothers in Christ is to find some time this week to enter into the Holy of Holies in whichever way you choose and simply rest in the presence of the highest. It may be an early morning hour with Scripture, it may be a quiet meditation in an empty room, or it could be an intentional prayer time out in nature. Whatever your time with God looks like, I can say one thing with conviction in a time of uncertainty, God's most passionate and consistent desire is to simply spend time with and love on you. And from that wellspring of love comes comfort, peace, and certainty. Gone are the days when access to God's presence or abundant life lies in the hands of powerful men. Thanks to our most holy and high priest Jesus Christ, we may drink of a well that will never run dry of God's powerful and comforting Grace.
Yours in Christ,
Tom Henderson Owens
Rev. Tom Henderson Owens
Executive Pastor of Ministires