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.” (New International Version)
If I were to list every job I’ve ever had in my life, it would be a long list. I’m sure, at this point in my life, that I wouldn’t immediately recall some of them. Some workplaces were run well. Others, especially in the factories I worked, were characterized by inattention to working conditions and expected employees to be more like extensions of their machines than like people. And I typically never knew why we were doing what we were doing.
I’ve also been in many churches and pastored a wide array of congregations. Some of the churches were run well and were attentive to their mission and service to the world. Others left a lot to be desired. Without trying to be simplistic, today’s Old Testament lesson gives the clue to what makes the difference: a clear sense of purpose.
God made it clear that Israel was given the mandate “to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Although there was always a remnant of Israelites who held to this original purpose, we know the end of the story. Israel largely failed to fulfill their God-given reason for existence and did not follow through with their missionary goal. They ended up in exile, mostly because of straying from their intended purpose, which then also led to a lack of holiness.
When Christians, Churches, and faith communities of all kinds lose sight of why they exist, they degenerate into a bunch of finicky cats who want ever richer food and a lusher bed to sleep on.
So, let’s be clear about the reason for our existence as an institutional Body of believers: We exist not to be catered to, but to be people who do the priestly work of interceding for others so that the nations might come to know the God of all the earth.
We exist for holiness, set apart to be the conduit between heaven and earth so that others might come to embrace the life that is truly life.
Christianity recognizes that it was Christ who fulfilled the great promises of God as the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King. Through his holy life, Christ became the priest who made the once for all sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He reigns over a moral kingdom which is a light to the nations. And the Church, as Christ’s Body, is to continue this purpose of kingdom ethics by letting the light of Jesus shine into the shadowy dark places of this world.
Wherever you find complaining, backbiting, gossip, and slander, there you will find a profound lack of purpose. Because without a “why,” people fill the vacuum with endless squabbling about petty affairs which amount to nothing, in the scope of eternity.
And wherever there is only talk of how others can meet personal needs and satisfy pet desires, in that place there is a lost mandate to be a priest bringing others to God.
The gracious and priestly work of intercession is the purpose many are lacking. Believers everywhere must return to this holy and sacred vocation.
Jesus modeled for us the work of intercession when he prayed:
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:24-26, NIV)
The Lord has said what the divine purpose is. It is our task, therefore, to do everything God has spoken.
O sovereign and majestic God, you are holy. So, I choose to be holy in all I do. I intercede for those around me who either cannot or will not come to you on their own. Draw them to yourself so that they might experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.