Author’s Note: In the hubbub of finishing a very full term of grad school (6 classes, over 300 pages written, and a stack of books read that was taller than my four year old) I forgot to publish my Rooted post last Friday. We can just think of this as an early #throwbackthursday. Sorry for the delay – here are some brief thoughts I had when it comes to being chosen as God’s priests and healers.
Recently in a conversation about what it means to bring God’s hope and light into a complex world where Christians are more known for what they are against than what they are for, a friend summed up what we were all feeling: “Christianity today has a PR problem.” I think she is onto something.
Deep down I sense the Spirit testifying to the mysterious and life-altering truth of the Gospel. I have had experiences of healing, hope, and restoration in the midst of pain, sorrow, sickness, and loss. The Living Word has met me in scripture, relationships, service, and worship. Jesus has placed a profound sense of calling on my life that I simply cannot ignore. But at the same time, I cannot help but get why there is a profound sense of distrust in the church common today. I can understand why people would question whether or not some book written thousands of years ago may not have relevance in their lives (especially when we live in such a time of convenience and affluence!). But yet, I know I am called to something significant in Jesus Christ – I just am not always sure what that means in terms of embodying that when it seems our old ways of speaking are no longer working. We need new language.
Today’s passages in Luke and Hebrews speak to this sense of being called and set apart by God to be the priests and healers who carry Jesus’ resurrection power into the nooks and crannies of this world. If we are honest with ourselves, it can be easy to read these passages and write them off as history, depicting the life of a group of disciples living 2,000 years ago in a land far, far away. But as we know from this beautiful, complex, upsetting, and reassuring conglomeration of letters, poems, historical accounts, parables, law, and prophecy known as the Bible, God’s call is not for the few, but for everyone. Even from the very beginning in Genesis, the Triune God creates the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, which according to theologians and Bible scholars is more than just a mandate to procreate, but to bring God’s way to the ends of the earth. Over and over again throughout scripture we find this theme, most notably with Abraham and Sarah, and now with Jesus’ disciples and the early church – we join in the story now as Christ’s followers today.
So, in a world where we have Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Isis, Ebola, poverty, greed, hunger, and excess what does it mean to be set apart as priests and healers? How do we give witness both to the reality of God’s goodness and salvation while also being present to people’s deep pain and brokenness? How do we repent of our own role in perpetuating systemic forces that oppress and violate our brothers and sisters? How do we lay down our pride, doubt, and confusion before the cross? Where do we need to hold out expectation for our meager offerings of “loaves and fishes” to be turned into a feast?
This week as I wrapped up my final classes of the term, someone in my theology class brought up the notion that our calling as Christians is to hold simultaneously both lament and hope. The twelve in Luke 9 and the priests in Hebrews 5, were sent out to do just this and I believe this is our task as well. As carriers of the light, we also must acknowledge and grieve the darkness. In this, as with the twelve who were sent out with nothing but the clothes on their backs, we are reminded that we do this not on our own accord, but by the power of God – our privilege, knowledge, resources, or accolades are not the tools we ultimately need. Jesus sent his disciples out in a completely vulnerable state and I wonder if as much as he did so to demonstrate their need to rely on God, but also their need to rely on one another and the people to whom they would encounter.
The painting above by John August Swanson* illustrates how we all come together, each of us bearing the light of God in our own way, to point to the work of the Gospel in our midst. These stories in scripture and this piece of art remind me that I am called to be set apart, but I am not called alone. I am called to live simultaneously in the light and the dark – holding lament and hope – while walking shoulder-to-shoulder with all of my brothers and sisters, remembering that we are all in need of God’s resurrection power to bring healing to our lives.
In short, poet and author, Luci Shaw* says it far better than I can:
“We were each, in the image of our Creator, created to create, to call others back to beauty, and the truth about God’s nature, to stop and cry to someone preoccupied or distracted with the superficial, ‘Look!’ or ‘Listen!’ when in worship in holiness our Creator who in his unlimited grace, calls us to become co-creators of beauty.”
– Luci Shaw, Beauty and the Creative Impulse, p. 99
To be the priests, we are sent to give voice to the story God is telling while also listening well to the stories being told by the world around us. With this in mind, let us go and be people who call others back to beauty and truth.
* The painting by John August Swanson and the quote from Luci Shaw were shared by my theology professor at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, Dr. Chelle Stearns. I am grateful for her teaching and wisdom in helping us all come to the table to discuss theological issues.