In our Temple cell meeting this week, I had an embarrassing pastor moment. We were reading Hebrews 7 (we’ve been going through that book of the Bible, chapter by chapter) and it was all about this ancient guy named Melchizedek, and I couldn’t remember a thing about him. My embarrassment was quickly comforted by the reminder that the church is the “priesthood of all believers” and the Spirit can be trusted to show up in every one of our meetings, to illuminate and guide us. That happened, in spite of my lack of recollection about Melchizedek; God spoke through us and a quick google search. But my subsequent discoveries this week were so meaningful to me that I have to bring them to you here on All Souls Day.
Melchizedek is a spiritual ancestor worth noting and celebrating because he is compared to Christ. That’s a big deal! And interestingly, even though the book of Hebrews is written originally to Jews, Melchizedek wasn’t a Jew! He was a gentile, a foreigner, yet here he is bestowed this great honor. So right away we get the message that God is not about maintaining an inside club of privilege. He is for ALL souls. His purpose through Christ is deeply connected to expanding the reign of God beyond expected rules and traditions…maybe even especially the religious ones that Melchizedek didn’t uphold.
So what did Melchizedek do to get himself this great status? What could an outlier have possibly done to make his strange name reverberate through history in such a favorable light?
Well, the one thing we know about Melchizedek is that he brought somebody a meal. For real. That’s his big contribution. When Abraham wins a battle, Melchizedek brings him some bread and wine as an expression of blessing. (As a leader who likes to give gifts with food, this legitimizes my whole existence.) But it’s what Melchizedek says about God to another person in a particular moment of need that makes the gift so powerful.
The battle that Abraham had just won was for his nephew Lot. Lot lived in a declining city that was overtaken by enemies, and Abraham went in with around 300 men to rescue him. He succeeded at rescuing Lot as well as the rest of the people and their possessions!
The king of Lot’s defeated city came out to meet Abraham first, and tried to make a wicked deal with him: “you can keep all the wealth if you give me the people.”
It was just in that moment that Melchizedek comes in with the blessing. Along with the wine and bread, his words of wisdom and hope give Abraham the strength to resist this wicked proposal. He says, “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14)
This blessing helps Abraham remember who he is based on who God is. The blessing helps Abraham make a decision from his true self in a crucial moment. Melchizedek names God’s favor for Abraham, and points out the limitlessness of God’s resources. Possessor of heaven and earth! So when the king of Sodom offers Abraham a few material things, Abraham knows he doesn’t need it. Abraham recalls and repeats that his God possesses all things in heaven and on earth, and that he has no need to accept anything from this earthly king. And I think the meal makes the promise taste real because it’s a tangible experience of provision and sustenance and nurture. It’s symbolic, but not just symbolic. I think it brings the point home to Abraham’s body, mind, and soul that our sustenance and satisfaction are ultimately and regularly here, from God and from those who listen to God.
Melchizedek then reminds Abraham about God’s involvement in this battle – “this victory came about as a result of God delivering your enemies into your hands” (Gen 14:20). He was calling Abraham’s attention to a power beyond his own. Priests were responsible to do that when people were going to battle, especially with enemies that were greater than them. They were responsible to remind the people that God is a deliverer who goes with them and fights for them, to save them. Abraham didn’t have those words written down at the time; he didn’t have a Bible to read, but he learned them from Melchizedek’s personal offering. We too need to remember that our battles are not fought by our own strength, but that we need to rely on the presence and power of God with us. The friends who bring that to your attention are like priests, or pastors in your life. And you are probably that person for someone else.
Our moments of victory and decision often go together, too. Opportunities often lead to greater opportunities to remember the wisdom in this blessing: that each of us is of God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, and that people are always the most valuable resource, regardless of how the economy pressures us to operate. We can trust God to provide for us even when we are up against impossible odds.
The greatest part of Melchizedek’s legacy, in my humble opinion, is that he made the first move. He initiated this blessing. He came out to find Abraham. He wasn’t a leader who just ruled from where he was, he brought the peace; he built the bridge. He delivered the love and truth; he didn’t try to make Abraham come and get it, and I think following Jesus calls us to the same. To initiate the blessing! We follow a God who comes alongside us in moments of need and temptation and victory, bringing the throne of grace TO us. Some scholars even think that Melchizedek was a physical manifestation of Jesus, bringing the first communion meal, reminding Abraham who he could trust.
Melchizedek’s priesthood and kingliness beyond religious law shows us the way of Jesus. Hebrew religious law preached that priests had to come from the Levitical blood line. But here’s Melchizedek without that ancestry, showing us even in ancient times that salvation is bigger than all laws. My favorite verses in Hebrews 7 say: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” That better hope is Jesus, who is a lot like Melchizedek: “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”
The gift of this life, and the gift of eternal life is indestructible! Beyond all laws, rules, and traditions… even the ones God made. God is limitless in generosity and love. He comes to us now in the person of Jesus, and in the spirit of Jesus in one another.
I’m watching this show on Netflix called Lucifer right now. It’s got some biblical but mostly unbiblical stuff in there in relation to the devil and God. Lol. I’m only on season 2 but there is this undeniable thread of redemption in there, the hope and possibility of the redemption of all things that does remind me of the God I know in Jesus. A God who’s working out this family thing with all of us, and no one is left out.
Life and death are both sacred in this season, and that’s fitting. If you’ve ever been with someone who is dying, I’m sure you’ve sensed the “thin” place between heaven and earth there. And I’m sure you’ve sense the holiness of this life in some everyday moments of yours. I was just in Colorado for my daughter, and I got that sense of the holy when I saw the Rocky Mountains again. I could feel that thin place between heaven and earth, and not just from the altitude! The vastness of the mountains, the beauty of the snow-capped peaks against the blue sky pierced my heart with wonder and praise, and I was overcome with God’s greatness. Who could create such majesty?
There is a thin place between heaven and earth, and we are in it everyday, even in the grit and grime of life in Philly. I kept cracking up when my daughter and her friends were surprised by the pleasantness and even happiness of some of the folks we met in Colorado. Workers at the ski resort and the car rental place, and even the airport and the Motel 6. Their surprise reminded me that Philly often has a unique vibe of angst and misery that feels like home, too, and it’s all part of this thin place between heaven and earth… the place where God is, too, because of Jesus.
I felt the holiness in another cell meeting this week. I was coming late from another meeting, and my people had already started talking. When I sat down in our circle, I was confronted by this sense that I had just walked into a very sacred space. A vulnerable, holy space that was alive. It was beautiful and stunning, better than the mountains even, because it was PEOPLE whom I love! People filled with the Spirit of God, sharing their lives with each other. What could be more beautiful and powerful than that?
The best thing we can probably do in this season is not just to honor the spiritual ancestors that came before us, like Melchizedek, but to give gifts to the living. To honor one another and call one another to our true selves. Because of Christ’s resurrection, his indestructible life, we no longer have to make sacrifices to the dead. He has redeemed the living and the dead. So we can spend our time giving each other the blessing of living into this indestructible life. We can encourage one another in faith. We can remind one another of who God is and who we are IN God. That’s the power of a blessing: the naming — the acknowledgement — the recognition — of our deepest value and purpose that points us to our strength and our hope. It helps us chose wisely and resist the evil of things over people. It gives us courage to stay in the battle and keep going. It reveals our truest selves. The blessing helps to save us again and again in real time! And we all need that, especially in these times when it’s easy to lose faith and to be discouraged. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without real live people loving me and even fighting with me and speaking truth to me. The text or your phone call or package you send to a friend, or an enemy, could be a life-saving one. You just don’t know, but let me tell you, it feels so good to offer it and put the results and expectations in God’s hands. We are not necessarily in charge of outcomes, but we’re called to be faithful to those nudges from the Spirit to reach out and to give, to go to the other like Melchizedek did and offer a blessing. It’s beyond law, it’s beyond ancestry, it’s beyond reason, really; this generous and limitless love of God.