A couple of weeks ago I listened to a sermon at church, which mentioned God talking to Moses. That was very rare indeed in the Old Testament. The priests were chosen by God to offer gifts to God and serve him with all of their lives. People went to God via the priests.
There’s this concept in Christianity called the priesthood of all believers. It means that, thanks to Jesus, we can all be near God’s presence all the time and that he speaks to all of us. It means that we are to give God our gifts and serve him with all of our lives. When I was with a small group of Christian friends recently we got to chatting about what this means. What do these priests do? I pondered aloud that I think it means that we are to be Christ to people, we are to be Christ’s love to people, to sad, hurting, lonely, grieving, despairing people.
A day later I went to a Thing. It was a massive gathering of Christians to celebrate Pentecost. Thousands of people singing to praise God, what more could I ask for? But there was more. There were these words on a screen:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
It’s from Luke’s Gospel and it’s something Jesus said. He was quoting from the Old Testament and he said that the scripture was fulfilled. In other words, something said by some bloke called Isaiah quite a while back was referring to him. Jesus did what he was annointed to do. And it refers to all Christians now. Jesus also said this:
Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Last summer I went to another Thing, also with thousands of Christians singing and praising God. I felt so sad because I couldn’t feel God’s love and doubted that he loves me. I cried and prayed to God that I would feel him near me. He answered my prayer and I haven’t been the same since. I don’t always feel him near me but sometimes I do. I doubt things about God but I have been pulled close to him time and time again, reassured constantly that I am loved.
At this Thing last week one of the leaders prayed that the people there who did not know that God loved them, who did not feel God’s love for them, that God would be close to them and that they would feel his love. I smiled because I am not now one of those people. Now I have a different prayer. I want to be God’s love to other people.
Fast forward a week to this morning. Feeling a bit flat, a bit bruised and not feeling at all like going to church. Eventually I dragged myself unwillingly out of bed and went, grudgingly. When we came to look at the Bible, mine fell open at Isaiah 61, the passage that Jesus was quoting from. I stared, surprised. Then the person reading said to turn to Isaiah 61, and that the sermon would be on that very passage.
I was suddenly very glad that I had gone to church. God inspired that woman and I hope her words touched every single person in the room. The words from Isaiah are for every Christian, they are for me. Jesus quoted a very small section of that passage. Isaiah 61 says far more, giving us a vision of the sort of people we are to be. It talks about binding up the brokenhearted, comforting those who mourn:
To bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Hard memories have been confronting me recently, memories of being hurt. Memories of loving someone and being rejected. Memories of being the target of someone’s extreme rage and fear. These memories make me want to curl up into a ball and keep God’s love to myself.
But that is not what God called me to do. His love is not meant to be hidden away. Two and a half years ago I knew it, so I sent flowers to the person who tore me to shreds. This isn’t me, I can’t do it on my own. I can be Christ’s love now because I know that I too am loved by Christ. His love for me is not in the past tense, it’s not something he did for me a couple of thousand years ago and that’s it, a nice story to look back on. He loves me now, he is behind and before me, encircling me.
So although I have faltered recently and seriously considered retreating back into my shell, determined never to let anyone hurt me like that again, I remain convinced that I am here for the sole purpose of dedicating my entire life to loving others as Christ loves me. The church needs to wake up. This is what the priesthood of all believers is, for all of us to preach good news to the poor, to free trapped, bound, oppressed and broken people, to comfort those who mourn and hurt. Ashes to beauty, mourning to joy, despair to praise. This is hard, it’s really hard and will bring more bruises. But God has spoken. This is Christ’s love and he will have his way in the church, he will have his way in me for the display of his splendour.