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A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation
Preparing for the Day of Pentecost: Three Days before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 33:12-22
Old Testament: Exodus 19:1-9a
Epistle: Acts 2:1-11
Perplexing, Pentecostal God, you infuse us with your Spirit, urging us to vision and dream. May the gift of your presence find voice in our lives, that our babbling may be transformed into discernment and the flickering of many tongues light an unquenchable fire of compassion and justice. Amen.
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said (Exodus 19:1-9).
“You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” These are the words that echo in our lesson from Exodus today. This echo is reaffirmed in the letter of First Peter (2:9). God has called out Israel to be a separate people, to be different, but not better. They are to model an alternative to the world that reveal God’s character and what God wants of the world.
The Bible commands Israel to be a light to the nations. That is their charge. They can only be that light if they are holy; for holiness reflects the character of God. The Israelites affirm in Exodus 19 that they will follow everything the Lord commands. Yet throughout Israel’s history, they fail miserably when it comes to obedience. God works with the people to form them and shape them and mold them. The image of the potter and the clay comes to mind.
It is no less true for the church, God’s people in the New Testament. We are to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood, an alternative to the nations and their ways of violence and power and coercion. We are also to be a priesthood. We are to offer care and comfort. We are to be the mediators between God and humanity.
I think it is true that we followers of Jesus do not think in this way. We don’t think of ourselves as separate, or when we do think of ourselves as separate, it is in unhealthy ways. We separate ourselves into insiders and outsiders. We are like the Pharisee in the Temple along with the tax collector. Like the Pharisee we thank God that we are not like the scandalous sinners—the twenty-first century version of tax collectors. That is not what God has in mind in being an alternative to the nations of the world.
We are to offer the hope, light, healing, salvation, and the grace of God that God wants to desperately give to the world. There is a saying, popular in the evangelical revival movement, that says we are to be in the world but not of it; meaning we are to live in the world and not separate ourselves, but neither are we to be like everyone else seeking our own selfish ends, seeking to live our lives in the way that we want. All too often what unfortunately happens is that. We become of the world in a way that we want to separate ourselves from the world. So we’re of the world, but we are not in it. We must turn that around. We are to be in the world. We are to participate in this world in our societies and communities, but we are to point to a different way. The way of wholeness, healing and the love of God.
PRAYER: Holy God, you spoke the world into being. Pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth, that your children may return from exile as citizens of your commonwealth, and our divisions may be healed by your word of love and righteousness. Amen.
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