Learning from the Reformation: Everyone is a Minister!




A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Learning from the Reformation: Everyone is a Minister!

I Peter 2:9-10; Exodus 19:1-6

October 22, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

I assume most of you know of my brief flash with fame as I was chosen to be a contestant on the Price is Right. Our son, Joe, ordered the tickets for us and wanted us to go. It was an interesting experience.

How was I chosen? Not by chance, but by interview. While you wait in a line with 300 people a producer interviews about 20 or so people at a time. When he came to me, he asked the same questions… What is your name… Where are you from… and What do you do?  May I say, when a secular west coast person asks, “What do you do?” to a pastor, the answer comes with a little anxiety.

But I answer truthfully: “I am a Presbyterian minister.” And you see on his face the look of curiosity as if he has just seen a strange animal in the zoo. He asks me,

Well what does that mean? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to kiss your ring? 

No, I say, we don’t do that?

Am I supposed to kneel? 

No, we don’t do that either.  I’m a Presbyterian.

Clearly he did not know much about Protestant clergy and certainly had not heard the breakthrough that came at the time of the reformation when Martin Luther declared that everyone is a minister… called, “the Priesthood of all believers.”

My friend Bill DePrater described this change well:

“In contrast to the Catholic understanding, the Reformation leaders rejected the popular view that clergy were a special caste apart from the laity. The Reformers insisted that clergy only differed from laity in the special functions of ministry. Expressive of this new role, the Reformed pastor wore, not a liturgical garment, but rather the black Genevan gown, the same worn in the universities.

This emphasis (with the gown)  stressed that the clergy were educated in theological and biblical studies…”[i]

So here I and the other pastors stand before you in our academic robes… not because I am better than you or are your professional Christians… but because I’ve received a particular calling… and been educated to fulfill that calling (just as a person called to be a teacher is trained to be a teacher… or a doctor goes to medical school… or even a plumber has learned the art of plumbing)… I have been educated in Bible and theology for the purpose of helping you fulfill your own callings as ministers and priests …  I’m here to help you live your life as guided by the Word of God in Scripture and in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. That is my calling.

And because I am a Protestant, I also believe you also have a calling…. Because each and every one of you is also a minister… a priest…

I remember the way my friend Art Ross once shared this with his congregation years ago. It used to be pastors had reserved parking spots at Hospitals (I miss those days!) He said, when you go to the hospital you will often find signs that say “clergy parking”… You cannot park there. But if the sign says, “Ministers parking” you can park there!  The only other thing I wold add is if you ever see a sign that says, “Priest Parking”—you can park there too!

Because you are all priests according to Luther. And he didn’t make it up. As would be true for Luther, he found the basis for this in the Scripture. Scriptures like the one we read today. In Exodus, the people of Israel have been chosen by God… not just to be saved… but to be priests:

The RSV put it this way:

And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

The letter in 1 Peter echoes this understanding as Christians are told, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In other words, everyone is a priest… not just the people who went to seminary, passed ordination exams and now dress up in robes on Sunday morning.

So, if you are a priest, what does this mean for you and me? [ii]

First it means that each of us first and foremost is personally accountable to God… as Sara Groves sang,

“When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone, this journey is my own… (Not trying to please other people, but only trying to please God)… And now I live and breathe for an audience of one… only the Lord can say, “Well done… this journey is my own”.  

Faith starts with your personal relationship with God… no mediator needed because you are a priest too.

When you are a priest, faith starts with your personal relationship with God… But it doesn’t end there. Because priests care for others.

So  it extends to others… less we become narcissistic, selfish and self-centered.

Luther said that as God in Christ has loved us, so we must love our neighbors. Priests care for others.

He said,

“There is really no (spiritual) difference between laymen and priests, princes, except that of office and work…and everyone by means of his own work… must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.”

For Luther, this included forgiving one another as we inevitably sin… inevitably we let each other down,  and hurt each other. So, as Christ bore our sins, so we must bear one another’s sins… That is part of what it means to be a priest… to offer forgiveness. By the way, can I tell you what tears at the fabric of most human relationships—at home, at work, or at church… is lack of forgiveness… failure to share the forgiveness we have received with others. If you are holding a grudge, you are not bearing the sins of another… which is what priests are called do.

Being a priest also means that while not everyone is called to be a minister of the word and sacrament… everyone is called to be the minister of something.

Everyone has a vocation—which is not a job… but a calling. God has work for each of you to be about in the world… and if you need a hint, it will likely have to do with a way in which you will love your neighbor.

So part of your work as a Christian is to discern what God is calling you to be and do.

You may be paid or unpaid for your calling. Being a parent is a vocation and a calling. You’ll never get paid enough for that!  You may be a teacher who helps develop the mind God has given us… you may be a doctor or nurse or health care professional who helps heal the body or soul… you may be a lawyer or judge whose goal is to work for justice in an unjust world… you may be a computer technician that gives us the means to communicate God’s grace… you may be a plumber that provides clean water or running toilets so that we don’t have health issues in our communities… you may work for a town or the state in government … knowing that we need good government to provide order to society and help to the vulnerable. Politics can be a high calling. Calvin saw that as a important calling. In his own way, he was not only a preacher but a town manager.

Every person has a calling.

My favorite story that comes to mind (and I may have shared it already) is from my class with the School of Government with the town of Cary. I’ve told many of you this story.  I’ll never forget going to the sewage treatment plant and the man who worked there talking to us. He holds up a big sign that says, GPOE… he asks if we know what that means? He says, it means, “Greatest Place on Earth” … he wanted us to know that he worked at the Greatest place on earth… at the sewage plant! He had a calling… a ministry to perform. At the sewage plant!

I love the quote from the other Martin Luther… Martin Luther King Jr:

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music … Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

The first Martin Luther said,

“If you ask an insignificant maid-servant why she scours a dish or milks the cow, she can say: I know that the thing I do pleases God, for I have God’s Word and commandment…God does not look at the insignificance of the acts but at the heart that serves Him in such little thing”

When you are a priest, and everyone is a priest, you do the most mundane things for the glory of God.. you do it not to simply make money or earn a living but because you want to please God….

I hope that is true for you not only in your vocation out in the world but also your calling as a member of the church. You know, don’t you… that the vitality of the church depends on the priesthood of ALL believers…

I’m reminded of advice my professor John Leith gave to us young pastors. He told us to remember that our prime calling was to preach, teach and do pastoral care. He said you will be tempted to center your ministry around church administration… long term planning… budgets… buildings, social work, those kinds of things…

But he said,

“Remember there are people in your congregation that are better administrators than you… remember there are people who are better accountants than you… there are people who are better at caring for the buildings than you… there are people better at planning than you…”

In other words there are other ministers besides you with gifts and skills that can do a better job than you in many areas of church life. Let them answer their callings to be priests! At the Kirk we should have over 1100 ministers ready to answer your callings.

Leith was right. Show me a vital and healthy church, and I’ll show you a church of involved people who are using their gifts for the work of ministry. Show me a vital and healthy church, I’ll show you a church of people where members want to be involved as they bring the same energy and interest to their faith they do to other aspects of their lives.

I’ve served several churches now and looking back, I realize that there is one thing that you find in common with ministries that make a difference. It is the laypeople who are involved.  Every vital ministry has laypeople who are participating and leading and caring for a ministry. If laypeople are not interested… if laypeople fail to participate… that ministry will flounder and will likely come to an end.

On the other hand, when laypeople get involved… watch out… God will be doing some amazing things through the life of the church. That has been true at the Kirk. The church was founded on the energy, love, sacrifice and involvement first of laypeople who had a dream to start a church here. Laypeople were the key.

To which Luther would say to me, “No kidding!”

Because that’s the way God designed the church to operate… each answering a call to be priests … inside and outside the church… each of us being a means by which God seeks to bless God’s world, a world that could use a lot of blessing… May we all discern God’s call in our lives… and may we all have the courage to say yes… when we do, we will be a blessing… and we will have honored God.


[i] Presbyterian Outlook, Why Study the Reformation? October 2017

[ii] Insights include those from Dr. John Leith in a sermon