Sermon: “Melchizedek” (May 26, 2013)

May 26, 2013                                                                        “Melchizedek”           Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 5:5-6; Psalm 110

          So, today it begins!  The Life Stories sermon series where I’ll preach on biblical characters you have selected.  Have you seen the list?  It’s going to be an interesting summer!  There’s Esau—He traded his birthright for some stew.  Ruth—seduced a rich man while he was drunk.  Korah—a rebellious musician.  (At least I won’t have to do any research with that one.  I live with the music director.)  David—Bathsheba.  Enough said.  Rebekah—helped one son cheat the other son out of his birthright.  Let’s just call her Mommie Dearest.  Salome–Here’s the PG-rated version:  She had John the Baptist killed.

          It’s like you all searched the Bible for the most questionable characters you could find.  Of course, the goal was to find biblical characters with whom we easily can identify.  Well done!

          After all those colorful characters, I was relieved when I saw the last card in the suggestion box:  Jesus.  Finally!  A character we all can emulate!  Then I read the rest of the card.  “Matthew 23:13-36.”  Someone read the first sentence of Matthew 23:13…v.15….v.23…   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”  Really?  No, “Love your enemies?” or “Love your neighbor as yourself?”  You’re only interested in Jesus when he calls people hypocrites?   When I told Allen about the hypocrite thing, he said (a little too gleefully,in my opinion) ‘I’ve got the perfect song!” Et tu, Korah?  Talk about rebellious musicians. 

          Today we get a character we really can emulate:  Melchizedek.  Last week, I asked for suggestions of songs about Melchizedek.  I got no responses.  As in, none.  So, in order to keep my pledge to present a song each week that relates to the character for the day, I had to get creative.  Iinvite you to join me on the refrain which goes:  “Melchizedek.  Melchizedek.  A priest forever—Melchizedek.”  Ready?  (Cue music to “Elvira”)

 

 

 

Melchizedek.  Melchizedek.  A priest forever—Melchizedek.     

Once Abram went to battle, he won a victory

against a king whose name was Chedorlaomer.  He was from Elam.

When Abe came home again; Melchizedek blessed him, then

Of everything he had, Abe gave Mel one in ten.  (That’s a tithe.)

Melchizedek.  Melchizedek.  A priest forever—Melchizedek.

 

In the book of Hebrews, when talking ‘bout Jesus Christ,

The author tries to show just how holy he is.  He’s pretty holy!

He’s not an earthly priest, from the west or from the east—

He’s the Son of God, a priest from the order of Melchizedek.  (What the heck?)

Melchizedek.  Melchizedek.  A priest forever—Melchizedek.

 

          So, who was Melchizedek?  Wefirst meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14.  Though it relates events from an earlier period, Genesis 14 likely was written during the 6th c. BCE, a time when the leaders of Judah had been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon in exile. 

Here’s the story thus far.  Once upon a time, God promised land and descendants to Abram, a name that literally means “father of people.”  Abram became father of a peoplecalled Israel.  After fleeing slavery in Egypt, Israel settled in the promised land, establishing Jerusalem—literally “God of peace”—as its holy city.  Israel—and later the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah—ruled themselves for about 250 years.  ThenIsrael fell to Assyria.  150 years later the leaders of Judah were taken from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon. 

So, these people whose whole faith and identity as a people were tied to the land, now found themselves out of the land.  These people who believed that God lived in the temple in Jerusalem, now were in Babylon trying to erase the searing images of the rubble to which their temple had been reduced.  Who were they without the land?  Who was God without the temple?   

The crisis of the Babylonian exile prompted the writing of much of the Old Testament.  No longer in the land, no longer able to worship at the temple, the Jewish people in exile had to re-think their faith.  They did that by writing stories.

Enter Melchizedek.  Think of some of the storiesabout the beginning of our country….Like, George Washington and that whole “I cannot tell a lie” thing.Did George really say that?  Probably not.  But the story says something about the American value of honesty.  Or Paul Bunyan.Larger than life, an individualist, a frontiersman…  Paul Bunyan might not have been a real person, but his story teaches us a lot about the American values of hard work, individualism, and taming the frontier.

The story of Melchizedek is that kind of story.  Imagine the author sitting in what likely is a borrowed house in Babylon, hundreds of miles from the promised land, grieving the loss of the temple in Jerusalem…  What can he write that will inspire hope in the people with him in Babylon?  What can he say that will strengthen their faith? 

The main character of this story—of course—has to be Abram (father of people).  And—for this people who had been defeated in battle by the Babylonians—Abram has to be victorious in battle.  And after the victory, Abram needs to receive a blessing from a representative of God.

“Representative of God” usually means a priest.  But priests worked in the temple and the temple no longer exists.  The earthly priesthood—just like the nation of Judah—can be defeated and dismantled by those who are stronger.  So, the priest in this story needs to be better than an earthly priest, aboveearthly kings…and he must hail from Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth.

So, the author creates Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem), which means “peace,”a priest of the most High God.  The author—part of a defeated people struggling to maintain some hope and keep their faith in the midst of difficult circumstances–creates a character no one can touch:  a priest-king who brings blessings directly from God.  Melchizedek appears and disappears without a trace.  He has no beginning and no end.  He neverwill be defeated by a stronger army or uprooted from his home or be subjugated to an enemy.

          …which is all very interesting, but so what?  What can we learn from Melchizedek’s life story that might help us live our own?

          It’s difficult to make parallels between Melchizedek and us because, well, we’re real and he’s made-up.  He was created by an ancient scribe to be perfect and above it all….because the people at the time needed that kind of figure.  Maybe we could identify with Melchizedek if we were perfect and above it all….but if we were perfect and above it all, we wouldn’t need to emulate him.  In that case, we would be emulated.

          It’s tempting to use this story to talk about tithing.  Genesis 14 is the first time tithing—giving 10% of what you have to God—is mentioned in the Bible.  But Melchizedek doesn’t give the tithe; he doesn’t even ask for it.  He only receives it.  It’s Abram who gives the tithe.

          So, if it’s not a lesson on tithing, what can we glean from Melchizedek?  What might this made-up biblical character show us about living a real life of faith?

          The only action Melchizedek takes in Genesis is to provide bread and wine and bless Abram after he returns from battle.  Today, on the eve of Memorial Day, that definitely is something we can emulate.  Though Melchizedek’s blessing was for someone who survived battle, we can follow his example by blessing those who have given their lives in service to our country.  Do you know that, beginning with the Revolutionary War, over 1 million people have died in service to our country? In this age of individualism and narcissism, it is important to blessthose who are committed to something bigger than themselves, so committed that they gave their lives for it.

          War is not ideal.  And, let’s face it–not every conflictin which our country has been involved has been ethically or morally right.  Certainly, all of us can agree that doing whatever we can to create peace in our world is crucial.

          Honoring those who have died in war and other conflicts in no way conflicts with creating peace.  If anything, it reminds us of why actively creating peace is so important:  because the cost of war is too high.

          The past couple of Memorial Days I’ve been in Gainesville, Florida, visiting my mom.  Each year, an organization sets out small crosses along a stretch of 8thAvenue, each one representing one death in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s a long stretch of road—between ½ a mile and a mile.  Every year as I drive down that road, I can’t help it—I cry.  Angry tears, at first.  Then sad tears.  And every year, I’m struck again by just how many American lives have been claimed….and how many more Iraqi and Afghani lives have been lost.  Just seeing a number—even one as large as 1 million….that doesn’t communicate the same thing as actually seeing one cross for every lost life.  It’s sobering.

          I invite us now to stand and sing “America the Beautiful.”  In this way, we will be honoring the lives that have been lost in service to our country.  In this way, we will be blessing those who offered their lives for something bigger than themselves.  In this way, we will be emulating Melchizedek, the King of Peace[Sing “America the Beautiful.”]

Genesis 14:17-20

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).  And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.  He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”  And Abram gave him one tenth of everything.

 

Hebrews 5:5-6

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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2 Responses to Sermon: “Melchizedek” (May 26, 2013)

  1. Janet says:

    Sorry I missed this in person, but reading it after spending Memorial Day and the next day seeing some of D-day sites and memorials and cemeteries, it is very meaningful.

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