Firstly however, let us rejoice that we have a new priest among us in Graham Warren and that he presides at the eucharist for the very first time today. That makes this a very special occasion for him, and for us all. It also allows us to reflect more deeply upon what priesthood actually is: both the specific order of priest which was conferred on Graham yesterday, and the priesthood which each and every one of us shares. For, in our Reformed Christian tradition, every Christian is a priest, because each of us is part of what we understand from the New Testament to be the ‘priesthood of all believers’. This was part of the core teaching of Martin Luther in overturning what he saw as the false hierarchy of the late medieval Church. ‘We are all consecrated priests’, said Luther, through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation [5:10], "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.’ Yes, Luther said, ‘There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name.’ Yet this is not about special intrinsic power or status. Rather, as Luther put it. ‘That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry.’ So, in the words of the beautiful opening hymn at Graham’s ordination yesterday, ‘The ministry of loving is given to us all… and every man and woman/ who was ever baptised/ brings gifts the church has need of/ to witness to the Christ… all these priestly people/must serve God faithfully.’ So what was the point of the ordination service in our cathedral in Brisbane yesterday? Just this: in the words of that hymn, ‘some are ordained to mirror/and shape our ministry.’
‘To mirror and shape our ministry’ – our shared priestly ‘ministry of loving’ – that is Graham’s new purpose among us. In other words, our new priest is here among us to help show what each of us is, and can be, in Christ, and to help us exercise our particular gifts and ministries of loving. So, as we rejoice in the particular fulfilment of Graham’s gifts and call today, what is it that God is giving each of us and calling each of us to be and do?
One of my theological college principals used to speak about priesthood as involving four other things also beginning with ‘p’. I think it is a helpful way of recalling us to what our shared priesthood means. The first ‘p’ is prayer. A priest, whether lay or ordained is called to prayer. How are we going with that, do you think? Graham, as an ordained priest, has a particular role and responsibility in this. He is called to help maintain and develop our common tradition of prayer, and, especially, to preside – another ‘p’ word – at the eucharist. Yet all of us are called to share in this priestly work, and indeed, as Anglicans, there can be no eucharist unless there are persons other than the presiding priest. Our role together is grow in the love of God in prayer and to bring the joys and needs of our world before God in prayer – together.
Secondly, as we were helpfully reminded by the preacher at Graham’s ordination yesterday, priesthood involves ‘preaching the word’. Again, Graham has a particular role and responsibility in this, like others who have been properly prepared for preaching in worship. Yet, as part of the priesthood of all believers we - every one of us - is gifted and called by God to preach the word of God’s love. We do not have to use fancy words. In fact our own witness to God’s love is what really matters. Much of the time we will also preach simply by seeking to live loving lives. Yet this too is part of our role together: that calling which Graham is now to help mirror and shape.
Thirdly, being a priest involves being a ‘pastor’, following the example of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit: caring for others, sharing in Christ’s ministry of healing, being a person who spreads and embodies forgiveness and reconciliation. How are we all going with that?
Being a person of prayer then; being a person who preaches God’s love, in word and deed; being a person who pastors: all these are aspects of our shared priesthood, with particular roles and responsibilities for those, like Graham who are ordained. Yet there is something more, and this is maybe the most uncomfortable aspect of all. For a priest is called to pray, to preach, to pastor, and also to prophesy. No. I don’t mean that Graham, or any of us, is required to become literally like John the Baptist: literally living, for example, in the desert on locusts and honey. I mean that Graham, and all of us, are called to share in challenging the false ways of the world and in announcing and building God’s new paths of salvation. This is the heart of our Gospel reading today.
Note well how our Gospel reading today is in two contrasting parts. The first speaks of the powerful of the world: of the Roman Empire and its leaders and puppet leaders. The second speaks of the lowly: of a poor and humble, yet quite challenging, person who is the prophet of the true empire, the kingdom, or realm, of God. The first part reminds us of so-called civilisation, built by human power and ingenuity. The second part recalls us to God’s promised new land: an ecological vision of the redemption of all things. The first part makes us think of Roman roads, created for military glory and economic exploitation. The second part calls us to share in God’s creation of new pathways, means of love and justice and empowerment for all. Which returns me, finally, to Archbishop Oscar Romero. His words, as I say, helpfully help sum up John the Baptist’s prophetic Gospel message in ways vividly contrasting with the ancient world of Rome or the tyrannies of today. For true “Peace is (indeed) not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Or, as we might say, it is true priesthood.
Oscar Romero was a quite amazing priest and bishop. A great pastor of deep prayer and considered and courageous preaching, he was also one of the great prophets of the modern world, speaking out against poverty, injustice and violence. In 1980, he was shot and killed as he presided at the eucharist. I do not expect that fate will befall Graham as he presides at the eucharist for the first time today. Yet it is a reminder of what his, and all our priesthoods, involves: the costly willingness of opening up the ways of God’s love, like John the Baptist, and walking them together with others, in prayer, in preaching, in pastoral care, and in God’s prophetic word and action, in the Name of Jesus Christ, the true Way, the Prince of Peace, Amen.
by Jon Inkpin, for Advent 2, Sunday 6 December 2015