06.12.16 Sermon (June 12, 2016) “Prophet, Priest, King, Pt. 2”

posted Jul 12, 2016, 8:48 AM by David Hawkins
Old Testament Reading: 1 Kings 21:1-21a

Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." 

But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" 

He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" 

His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."

So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, 'You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." 

The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." 

So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead."

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken 
possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."

Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" 
He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel;”

New Testament Reading: Luke 7:36-8:3

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner." 
Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." 

"Teacher," he replied, "Speak." 

"A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 

Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 

Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Sermon: "Prophet, Priest, King, Pt. 2"             Rev. David Hawkins

We are in the part of the church year following Pentecost, which is when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the nature of God, especially how that nature is revealed to us in the Trinity, the idea that we worship God the Father, Creator of the Universe, God the Son, the redeemer of creation, and God the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and strength. 

Last week, we began to look a little closer at the person of Jesus Christ, to explore just a little bit who he was in his own time, and who he is to us in ours. 

And one way of describing Jesus is to think of him in three ways, as a Prophet, as a Priest, and as a King.

Last week, we saw Jesus in his role as prophet, and we compared him to the Prophet Elijah. Both of them raised the son of a widow from the dead, and both of them were recognized as prophets by doing so.

This week, we will again compare Jesus to someone in the Old Testament in an effort to learn more about him. But this time, instead of comparing him to Elijah, we will contrast him with three other kinds of priests.

The first priest we’re going to look at is Queen Jezebel, the daughter of a Phoenician king, Ethbaal. King Ahab of Northern Israel married her, thinking that if there was some kind of political connection between him and some of the surrounding empires, maybe Israel wouldn’t get beat up so much. 

On the surface, it was a good plan. Of course, the prophets of Israel warned him against doing this, telling him that it would be better for Ahab to lean on the strength of God, rather than trusting in political solutions, but Ahab decides to go in a different direction. And history tells us he paid a dear price for it.

You see, Jezebel was more than just a pretty face. She was also a priestess of the Baal cult in her native country, and she brought Baal worship with her to Israel. Not only did she bring Baal with her, she brought with her the desire to replace the God of Israel with her own religion, and she succeeding in killing off nearly all of the prophets of God during her reign. Only Elijah was left. 

Not only did Jezebel seek to replace the religion of Israel with her own, she used her power as priest and queen to get what she wanted in other ways. For instance, in our scripture today, she noticed that her husband really wanted a particular vineyard, but the owner of the vineyard told him that it was not for sale. So Jezebel arranged for the owner to be brought up on charges of blasphemy, and had him stoned to death. Problem solved. 

Now, we know that Jezebel eventually met with a horrible death, thrown from her balcony to the ground, eaten by dogs, but she was in control for a long time, and she did a tremendous amount of damage during her reign. She is what we might call a bad priest.

In our New Testament reading we see a different kind of religious leader, a different kind of priest, Simon the Pharisee. The Pharisees were members of a relatively new religious office, a sort of house priest for local synagogues and house fellowships. They were known primarily for their piety and their insistence on the righteousness of the law.

Jesus has been invited to Simon’s house for dinner, but curiously, Simon offers him none of the normal hospitalities. No welcoming kiss. No water to wash his feet after the journey. No oil to soothe his skin. It’s as though Simon is saying, “Yes, I know that I’m supposed to invite you in, but I don’t have to like it, and there’s no need for you to stay.” It’s a cold reception, and you can tell Simon doesn’t really want Jesus to hang around. 
But there is someone in the house who is glad to see Jesus. A woman from the town, a woman who apparently is well known among the people for her particular sin. Now, we don’t know exactly what her sin was, but we do from the way people react to her that is a salacious one. You know, the kind that people gossip about. The kind where it is easy to point the finger, and whisper and judge. That kind of sin. Our favorite kind of sin. The kind of sin that maybe we don’t commit, but one that is easy to identify in others. 

She should be ashamed of herself. She should be embarrassed to be there. She had no business coming to the house of a Pharisee, yet here she was, at the feet of a supposed holy man, making a spectacle of herself. How can Jesus allow this? How can Jesus tolerate her touching him? If he was any kind of real Christian, Jesus would have thrown her out, denounced her and her sin, pointed her depravity out for all the world to see. Instead, he lets her anoint him. Disgusting!

But for some reason, Jesus doesn’t think so. He can tell what Simon and other guests are thinking, and it doesn’t faze him. He knows what’s in her heart, and, even more importantly, he knows what’s in Simon’s. And so, rather than denouncing the woman, he offers a short parable for Simon’s benefit. A parable that reminds Simon that grace is not something we earn, and that true gratitude is a response to grace. And, as long we think we have earned forgiveness, we will never be thankful for it.

It’s a tough lesson, one that Simon and his friends don’t want to hear. They immediately start questioning how Jesus could even think that he was in a position to forgive sins. Who does he think he is, anyway? Only the priests can forgive sins. 

Does Jesus fancy himself a priest? A priest wouldn’t associate with sinners. A priest wouldn’t let this woman off the hook. After all, isn’t it a priest’s job to accuse, to judge, to point out the sins of the people? Isn’t it the priest’s job to condemn, to maintain the holiness and purity codes? If the priest is going to go around forgiving people, then what’s to stop them from just sinning willy-nilly everywhere? If the priest doesn’t build the walls between who is saved and who is not, who will? 

Evidently, Jesus doesn’t think so. He thinks that his job is to tell this sinful woman, that she is welcome, that she is forgiven, that she is worthy of his love and attention. 

And so, here in our scripture readings, we have a few different pictures of what it looks like to be a priest, and I think we still see these pictures today. We have priests who had align themselves with power, who use their position to get their way, who seek to establish their religion and only their religion, who will do anything to keep their status quo. We know these kinds of priests. They didn’t die out with Jezebel. 

We see another kind of priest in the person of Simon. The kind of priest who sees himself as the gatekeeper, as the righteous scold, the decider who is in, and who is out, the social guardian of morality. When he thinks of forgiveness, he doesn’t see gratitude. He sees lack of proper shame. He doesn’t see grace. He sees letting people off the hook. 

And we see a third kind of priest. We see Jesus Christ, living out the will of God. This is what he came to do. This is why he is here. Not to sit in the halls of power. Not to command armies, or to introduce a sort of religious dictatorship. Not to accuse, judge, or condemn, but to save. To forgive. To tell those who are ashamed, who are embarrassed, to rise, to be whole, to reclaim their rightful place in society. This is what a priest looks like, Jesus says to the world. Someone who welcomes, who forgives, who brings those who have been shunned and marginalized back into society. 

But there is one other priest, I think in these stories that Bill read today. One that sort of gets overlooked in the midst of everything else. 

We can’t forget that the woman at Jesus’ feet anoints him. This is a very specific word, used in a very specific way. The woman anoints Jesus. The woman uses oil to signify who Jesus is. This is also the function of a priest. To anoint kings, to signify to the world that this person is recognized by God to have authority over our sins and over our salvation. 

As we’ve talked about before, the word priest has many meanings. And as we’ve seen in our scriptures, the office of priest has been filled in many different ways. Sometimes the office of priest is abused. Sometimes it is used a weapon against those who stand in the way of power. Sometimes, the office of priest has been interpreted to mean someone who is in charge of pointing out the sins of others, of closing the door to those who aren’t worthy of God’s love. We have all seen these ideas of what it means to be a priest in action. And some of us have been wounded by them.

But we also see what Jesus thinks being a priest is all about. It means gentleness, it means compassion, it means love, and it means forgiveness. In the person of Jesus Christ, we are given a different picture of what it means to be a priest. 

Now, in our time, for many folks, the office of priest is reserved for the ordained clergy. When we think of the word priest, we think clerical collar, we think hierarchy, we think church, we think all kinds of ecclesiastical things. 

But one of the founding tenets of our Reformed faith is the idea that there are no functions of what a priest does that are reserved for a special class of people. We Presbyterians teach that we are members of the priesthood of all believers. Jesus has washed our feet. In our baptisms, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit. We have more authority than we think we do. We are all priests, to one another, and to world. 

And so we have a choice to make. What sort of priest are we going to be? 

How majestic is the name of the Lord our God!