In today’s sermon, I am going to be throwing at you a lot of Bible trivia. To get our brains thinking along those lines, I thought I’d start us off with some Bible trivia questions. You ready?
Trivia question number 1. What is the name of the disciple Jesus loved, as he is referred to in the gospel of John? Wink, wink.
Ok. Trivia question number 2. Who fit the battle of Jericho? (Ethan)
Trivia question number 3. Who is Melchizedek, whose name is mentioned in today’s scripture reading from Hebrews? I didn’t think so.
I didn’t know either until this week, Hey, do you expect me to know EVERYHING? Actually, after a week of research, I STILL don’t know much about this mysterious person. I am, though, a little further along in my understanding. At the beginning of this week, Melchizedek was a shadow, now he has an outline and there’s the suggestion, at least, of his flesh and bones.
Today I will be sharing with you what I have discovered so far. From there maybe we can make a tentative guess as to what he means for us as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. At least that’s my goal.
As I said, and as you heard if you were listening to our scripture reading, Melchizedek is mentioned in the book of Hebrews. Actually, that’s the last time he is mentioned in scripture. But it’s not the only time. The first time he is mentioned is in Genesis-really early on in Genesis—before God renames Abram, Abraham.
So that’s where I want us to look now—at the passage in Genesis where Melchizedek is first mentioned. We are picking up Abram’s story right after God has promised Abram that God will “Make of Abram a great nation.” After making that promise, God leads Abram, his wife Sarai, and Abram’s nephew Lot, to a new land—the land of (another trivia question—where did they go?) Abram, Sarai, and Lot settled in….Canaan.
So, we are at least vaguely familiar with that part of the story. However, we may not be familiar with the part of the story that relates what happens to Abram, Sarai and Lot once they arrive in Canaan. I’m reducing the Biblical backstory to a bare minimum here, but Canaan seems to have been a hotbed of violence. Abram’s nephew Lot is taken captive by some bad characters. Abram takes action to retrieve him. With 318 men who were, according to scripture, “born in Abram’s house” slaves, maybe? and some allies, Abram’s enemies are defeated. Lot is rescued. Here is what ensues at the victory celebration: I’m reading from Genesis 14:
“After Abram’s return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abram at the King’s Valley. Then King Melchizedek of Salem (there he is!) Then, King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God most High. King Melchizedek blessed Abram saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, and maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God most high who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave King Melchizedek one tenth of everything.”
King Melchizedek gave Abram bread and wine, and Abram gives Melchizedek a tithe? What’s that all about? And where in the heck did Melchizedek come from? And where did he go? That’s a good question, because after Abram gives him a tenth of everything, Melchizedek just vanishes, poof!
Here’s some more information for us to chew on. Melchizedek—that name, that word, is a combination of two Hebrew words. Melech is the Word for King—For Ethan here, who knows Hebrew, Baruch ata Adonai, elehenu, Melech ha Olam, Blessed be the Lord our God, KING of the Universe. Again, Melech =King.
The other word which comprises the name Melchizedek is Zedek. Zedek is the Hebrew word for righteousness. Put that together, and you get…Melchizedek, King of Righteousness. Cool huh?
Alright. Let’s return to Genesis one more time. According to what we read there, King Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness, is also the King of Salem. That’s what Genesis says. “Melchizedek the king of Salem.” So right away, maybe, you think of Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is definitely a place. You know, in the US, it is known primarily as the site of the Salem witch trials. But we’re talking middle East here, not the United States. Salem could be an early name for the city that eventually becomes Jeru-salem. You hear the Salem in Jerusalem? That’s my vote, but we can’t be sure.
The word, Salem, is derived from the Hebrew word Shalom. Shalom means what? Peace. The author of Genesis then, could be saying that Melchizedek is the King of an area known today as Jerusalem. A city of Peace. However, it could also be that Melchizedek, is the king of Righteousness and he is also the King of Peace.
You still with me, or have you dozed off? Are you ready for some aspirin for that headache I’ve caused you? Wake up. Shake off that headache! We’ve got more ground to cover, before the grand denouement!
On to the Psalms.
Melchizedek appears fleetingly in the Psalms—you’ll be glad to hear, only one Psalm, Psalm 110. It’s an enthronement psalm. It was meant to be read at a king’s enthronement in Jerusalem. Back in the day, kings and priests were one in the same. The king also served as a priest appointed by God. So the Psalm reads, “You [meaning you, there, new king] are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
And now, on to our passage for today in Hebrews. The author is writing about Jesus Christ, the resurrected son of God. He says that Christ has been appointed by God as a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Why did the author of Psalm 110 and why did the author of Hebrews mention Melchizedek at all? The king of Jerusalem is a priest. Jesus is our priest. Period. That’s all they had to say.
I think there is a very good reason that they mentioned Melchizedek. Back when the Psalms were written and back when Jesus walked the earth, and for sometime after, Jewish priests were born into their position. They were part of a tribe, or a clan of people called the Levites. If you were born into this tribe, by law you could not own land. So if you could not own land, you couldn’t raise your own sheep or goats, and you couldn’t farm. So, how did you make a living? Well, you served the Jewish population as priests, that’s how. You performed duties in the temple, and for that you were given a stipend—part of the tithe that Jews made to the temple went to pay the priests.
So, the Psalmist and the author of Hebrews scanned scripture. When they land on Melchizedek they say, “Aha! The Psalmist concludes that the king, who is not a Levite, nevertheless has authority to be a priest, through the order of Melchizedek. And the author of Hebrews likewise concludes, “Jesus isn’t a Levite, but HE does have authority to be a priest through the order of who? Melchizedek.” In other words, there is precedence for a non-Levite to serve as priest. The King of Jerusalem and Jesus were not fakes. They were the real deal. They had authority from God just as Melchizedek had authority from God.
TA DA! You deserve a nap if you have followed me this far, but stay awake just a little while longer, please. I promised you some take-aways. Here they are:
1) Scripture tells us by way of Melchizedek, that sometimes very righteous people will come into our lives with the most unlikely of pedigrees and or backgrounds. They may not be born from the “right” families, they may not be “churchy folks,” if you get my drift, yet they may have great power, and influence over us. They may lead us into a closer relationship with God. If you were here last week, you know that. Howard, gave us a blessing, right? He wasn’t part of this congregation, wasn’t even a Presbyterian, I don’t think, but for the time he was here he blessed us by trusting us with his story and by praying with us.
2) God is not tribal. The Levites served a specific people in a specific place, but our God is that for the entire universe—to repeat a phrase I used earlier, Melch ha olam—God is king of the universe. Further, our god is not time sensitive. Our god was king of the universe, back in the days of Abram, God was that in the days of Jesus. God is king of the universe now; AND God will be that in the days to come-- forever. We know that in part because of the witness of Melchizedek.
3) You’ve maybe heard of the priesthood of all believers? It’s a term coined during the reformation. The priesthood of all believers simply means that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, have authority from God to be priests to each other--to bless each other.
You need a blessing? Don’t wait for a priest. A friend or even an acquaintance can do the deed. And in fact, they often do. Listening to us as we share a concern, praying with us, healing us in some major ways. Likewise, each of us can serve as priest and bless someone else. We do that when WE drive someone to a doctor’s appointment; or bring a meal to someone who is under the weather. We do that when we pack up meals at the once a month food bank. We are blessing others how? Not because we are Levites, Not because we have impressive degrees from a seminary or divinity school, but THROUGH THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.
Enough said. Amen