Summary: Somtimes it’s who you know that counts.
“It’s Who You Know”
Heb. 2:5-18 & 4:14-16
I had a boyhood friend named Dale. Dale’s dad operated the projectors at a local movie theater. If I went to a movie with Dale, I got in free and sometimes even sat in the projection booth. But if I went to the same theater alone I had to pay the same price as everyone else and sit where they sat. I learned that sometimes it’s who you know that counts.
One of the great influences on my pastoral life is Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie. He most recently served as Chaplain of the United States Senate – but for many years prior to that was the Sr. Pastor of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church in California. One year we decided to take a vacation in Paramount California to visit my brother-in-law’s family. I knew that would put us as close to Hollywood as I would probably ever get so I began to wonder how I could get in touch with, and perhaps meet Dr. Ogilvie. And then it dawned on me – his main music person was a man named Dick Bolks, whose sister was a member of our congregation in Kalamazoo. I talked with her, she contacted him, and he contacted Dr. Ogilvie. It’s who you know.
It was a problem. The Old Testament kept driving home the point that God was utterly holy and humankind was utterly sinful; one could not stand in the presence of the other. East is east and west is west – holiness is holiness, sinfulness is sinfulness and never the twain shall meet.
So in the Temple at Jerusalem there was, behind an imposing curtain, that inner room called the Holy of Holies; within that room dwelt God in all His glory and fullness. No one could enter it upon penalty of death. But God desired to bridge the gap; He ordered the High Priest to enter once a year and offer a sacrifice of blood for the sins of the people. The High Priest became the bridge linking God and humankind; he smoothed the way between the holy God and the sinful people. So when the Israelites wanted to receive forgiveness, they went to the Priest. It’s who you know.
Teaching through the Old Testament this year I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Biblical concept of priesthood. I’m convinced that, just like the Israelites, WE NEED A PRIEST. How else can we get to God? We, in fact, NEED A PERFECT PRIEST. In the Old Testament the priests were special people. They had to be born into the tribe of Levi. They wore special dress, ate special food, and lived in special towns. In the Temple they wore the names of the 12 tribes across their breast so they could carry the whole nation into the presence of God. They wore a crown on which was written “Holy to Yahweh.” Yet, to be in God’s presence, they had to be clean and free from physical defects and deformities. So they were held to high standards of behavior and cleanliness.
We know that no human is worthy to go into God’s presence, for himself or for another. We know there is no perfect human. Yet we tend to believe that a duly ordained priest, pastor, clergy – call them what you will – can still go for us and represent us. But they, too, must be special – holier than us, called differently than us, living differently than us. While serving my first congregation in Northwest Iowa, I went with several couples to a local college basketball game. My college alma mater was playing the local college. Just as the buzzer sounded before half-time, my alma mater sank a basket from mid-court – but the ref waived it off. Wrapped up in the emotion I stood up and hollered “No!” One of the couples from the church, older than I was, looked at me with bewilderment and said, “You get angry!” I thought – “Well yeah!” But it was the first hint I had that people expected their priest to be holy, to be perfect. After all, if priests are going to bring us and our needs and our sins to God, they must be special. That’s why we are so devastated when clergy persons “fall;” we feel like all they’ve done for us is lost, that we, too, are cut off from God. We want and need a perfect priest.
Yet we also NEED AN UNDERSTANDING PRIEST - one who is close to us, who can identify with us. After all, if the priests are so separate, so different, so much holier, how can they ever understand our problems, pains, temptations, and circumstances? We want someone who’s been where we are. I remember the day clearly. I was calling on an elderly widow of our congregation. It was the first time I visited her – shortly after the informal introductions she blurted out that there was no way I could identify with her because I had never lost a spouse. I was stunned – not just that she said it but that she was right. I knew about grief – I had lost a teenaged sister and some other relatives to death – but never a spouse. To her it was a strike against me – how could I ever help her? How can a perfect priest, a priest removed from our experience, ever understand our struggles, problems, pains, temptations, and circumstances?