But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness intohis marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:9-10)
“When I die, I get to be in heaven, that is all that matters.” Well…yes, in a sense, in the ultimate goal of life is to be with God eternally. But, no as well. An accusation is leveled at Christians sometimes that they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. This can be taken as Christians become so focused on what comes next that they forget they are still living here, in this present age. But there is a deeper accusation as well. If I am so heavenly minded, quote on quote, and I am assuring myself of that ultimate end, then maybe I have convinced myself that what I do now, before heaven, doesn’t matter so much as long as I get to be in heaven in the end.
Martin Luther in his commentary on I Peter explains it this way: “those who say they have faith and live as they please are deceiving themselves.” In other words, I might say I am a Christian and that heaven is my home but the life I live right now has nothing of heaven about it. My language is hell-bent not heavenly sounding. My thoughts are living in the gutter not in the pearly gates. My actions have more of the devil in them then they do of the angels. To assume that heaven is my forgone conclusion, right and privilege has taken heaven out of my life and left me instead with hell on earth of my own making. For those of us who say “heaven is my home” are my thoughts, words and deeds of those who look like they are going home to heaven or does it not more reflect a citizenship down below?
We take the free and undeserved grace of God like a given, like we somehow deserve it, then we can go on our merry way living like it doesn’t matter how I live. I choose God anyways so I get to choose how I live.
But we did not choose God, God choose us. He choose to adopt these rebellious and hard headed children that we are. God choose to shine a light in the darkness of this world and find us. God choose to bleed and die while we drove the nails in blow by blow with our sins. God choose us who were damned already and gave us heaven instead to be our home. This is undeserved grace of God’s own choosing for sinners such as you and me. God choose you to be his own people, by his own grace and through His love great love for you and me.
If then, you have tasted and know that the Lord is good; that He does not give to us what we deserve but instead gives to us grace after grace and know that because of that Grace alone heaven is our home. While we still live here on earth God is building you up living stones, as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices to god through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2.5 paraphrase)
The word “building” from our second reading from 1 Peter 2 is really important. It is in the ancient Greek οἰκοδομεῖσθε, in the present indicative form, meaning you are being built up. The present indicative is called the “mood of certainty,” and when the author uses this tense it is to state a simple certain fact. In other words, because Heaven is your home God is now, as a matter of fact, building you up to a spiritual house and a holy priesthood in this life. This part is not optional, we don’t get to choose if we want to be a holy priesthood or part of a spiritual house, it is a matter of fact. The two always go together like 2+2=4, if Heaven is your home then God is making you into this kind of person right now. But what does this Holy Priesthood look like that God is making you into.
When I was writing this, I really struggled with this part to describe to you what it means to be a priest. We get the whole pastor, priest being close to God, that guy up front knows what he is doing, so I can let the professional do the work idea all wrong, and I don’t want to add to the confusion, so here goes. The day I was ordained and called into the pastoral ministry the congregation was singing the hymn Here I am Lord. “I will go Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.” Surrounded by other pastors, they laid their hands upon me, prayed and then placed this stole around my neck. This stole represents the burden placed upon my shoulders by God’s calling. Another word for this is the yoke of office, just like with oxen, it is a weight of burden of the souls we are to minister to. But the job of the pastor is actually really specific. We are called to preach, teach and administer the sacraments, thus equipping the saints for their ministry.
My burden, my job, is to go to the congregation, to be the priest to the priesthood or in more everyday terms, like the coach to the players on a team. For me to hold you, God’s people, in my heart. The pastor is not the team. That means that you are the team, you are the priesthood, you are God’s holy priests called by God himself in your baptism to hold God’s people in your hearts. Again, this is part of the deal, if you are heaven-bound, then the burden of ministry goes around your shoulders, to bring heaven to the souls in your life for the sake of Christ. You are to hold God’s people in your hearts.
So for a heaven-bound priest of God, does it matter how I live to the people around me? You bet it does. You can throw off your burden of ministry and say it doesn’t matter how I live and I’m only responsible for me, but honestly what does that say about your citizenship in Heaven and who you are really living for? Or we can let God make us to be so heavenly minded that heaven itself breaks through us into the world. For my language to be that of the angels, who never cease to praise God for all that he has done and to tell of the love of Jesus, saying he died for me. For my thoughts to be so on things above that, I cannot help but see the pain and brokenness all around and pray for all those in need. For my actions to be as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ himself and to be mindful that Christ loved and cared for all those in need in real and tangible ways. For me to be God’s priest to the people, no matter how undeserving I am, but by the grace of God to let him build me up into the Christian, into the priest He wants me to be; then to let God build up our church so we can be the priesthood that God wants us to be right here and now in our community.
Instead of assuming that heaven is a forgone conclusion it is time to humble ourselves before God and live out our salvation in fear and trembling knowing it is only by grace that we are saved. Give to Him all of our ways and He is faithful, God is building us up for the sake of Christ into his holy priesthood.
So, you who are Heaven bound, God’s holy priesthood, chosen and precious to him, respond to God in faith and say these words with me: “I will go Lord… if you lead me… I will hold your people in my heart.”