11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 24, 2019
"Becoming Pastors & Priests" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday (February 17, 2019), I attended the installation ceremony of the two new co-pastors at Hyde Park Union Church. I spoke for a few minutes because of my role in the Ministers’ Council of ABCMetro Chicago.
The two young women who will serve Hyde Park Union have been called to a certain kind of priesthood, the priestly role of pastoral care. But, as we know, we’re all called to priesthood, the priesthood of all believers. As 1st Peter 2:9 proclaims: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…”
Yet priesthood is not something to be accepted lightly. I left home at the tender age of 13 to study for priesthood. It took 13 years of preparation before I was ordained a priest. Of the roughly 120 classmates I had over the years, only 6 of us made it all the way through our studies to ordination, all males, unfortunately!
I’m writing here about a certain type of priesthood, priesthood of the cultic type, like we find throughout the Old Testament. This type of priesthood was connected with the sacrifice and worship at the Jerusalem Temple. Temple priests were understood as mediators between the people and God.
Ordinary people, for a variety of reasons connected with laws regarding cleanliness and holiness, were not considered capable of going directly to God. A great gap was seen to exist between God and humans. Only priests, set apart and ritually clean, could approach God and offer sacrifice on behalf of the people. Only priests could bridge the gap between God and humanity.
But there is another type of priesthood, found in the New Testament, the priesthood of all who are united with Jesus Christ. This priesthood is commonly referred to as the priesthood of all believers. We understand this priesthood in terms of Jesus Christ becoming our supreme high priest. And because Jesus has become our supreme high priest, we’re able to share in his priesthood through the gift and grace of baptism. In baptism, everyone becomes a Christ-priest.
Hebrews 4:14-16 notes: “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”
What this passage proclaims is that we no longer need a mediator to bridge the gap between God and us. Jesus through his life, death and resurrection has permanently closed the gap between God and us, between God and all creation. When we join ourselves to Christ, the gap between God and us is healed. Because of Jesus Christ and because we share in his priesthood, we now have direct access to God. No mediator is required. This, in essence, is what the priesthood of all the faithful means.
Yet with this gift, this grace, comes certain responsibilities. One of the first requirements of priesthood is that a priest be willing to pray. By the way, the priesthood of all believers is a concept held by both Catholics and Protestants. As the Catholic Church Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states: “The essence of the priest is to pray, be that person ordained or not.”
Every one of us baptized into Christ Jesus is a priest, a full-fledged member of the royal priesthood. And, as such, we are called to pray. Pastor Alan Jones in Sacrifice and Delight, notes: “…prayer is the art and habit of listening.” Jones continues: “Asking for things is the most popular and the most trivial form of prayer.” As priests, we’re called to the deeper prayer of holy listening.
To help understand this process, I add some thoughts from Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See: “Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is to get tuned to receive the always-present message (from God). Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance…(Prayer) is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery, and forgiveness can resound within us...simply put…prayer is something that happens to you, much more than anything you privately do.”
As priests, each of us is also called to the ministry of healing. In our role as priests, we heal through the act of forgiving. The whole world is in desperate need of forgiveness and healing. In my 33 years as an ordained priest of the Catholic Church, I spent untold hours in the confessional listening to thousands upon thousands of people admit their sins.
As we know, priests do not forgive sins. Only God forgives sins. The priest is there to tell the one confessing that his or her sins have already been forgiven by God. As Christ-priests, we tell people that their sins are forgiven. All they have to do is ask God for forgiveness and forgiveness happens.
This is how we help heal the world: we tell the world that our God does not hold grudges, that our God does not keep a laundry list of our sins, that our God forgives even before we ask. This is the nature of God. This we believe. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re not responsible and accountable for our sinful actions.
Every one of us is commissioned to go through our days announcing forgiveness to those we encounter. God, in God’s great mercy, forgives us for all the sins that prevent us from living the abundant life Christ wishes for all. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.” If someone asks us our profession, say boldly: “I am a priest of Christ Jesus.”
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor