The book of Hebrews, maybe the only book in the Bible written by a woman, talks about priests in chapter 5 and their role in being the means by which people can have access to God. The author was thinking of the way in which Jesus was a high priest, intervening on behalf of humans with God. Many Christians would now have difficulty with the idea that somehow God needs his (her?) mind changing about our fates by some intervention, pleading on our behalf, like a barrister addressing a Judge. However, the Roman Catholic Church still holds to this idea and its (male, celibate) priesthood therefore holds great power and authority in the minds of Catholics, despite their total lack of experience of being female or of living in a loving relationship with one other person. Starting, maybe, with Martin Luther, Protestants, particularly Methodists and the Bretheren, take a different view, called the Priesthood of All Believers. This view regards all people as having equal access to godliness without the need for any intermediary. Whereas Catholics might feel the need for an intervening Saint, or for Mary, to plead on their behalf if a priest is not available, Protestants can have wisdom and forgiveness straight from God.
Apparently, if you give 100 people 100 seconds to come up with an answer (this is an allusion to the TV quiz game “Pointless”) you can get quite a long list of, for instance, African countries with a population of more than 50,000 people, or of singers who performed with Michael Jackson in Maddison Square Gardens. I wonder how many answers you would get if you gave 100 Christians 100 seconds to make a list of what they can reasonably expect from God?
This does raise a lot of questions about prayer, what it is for, what it is reasonable to pray for, what answers might reasonably be expected. Addressing any of these questions must await wiser mind than mine. The point of this reflection is to emphasise our tradition that when you communicate with the God within you (or wherever you find God) your insight is as good as mine. None of us by virtue of birth, wealth, education, or experience, has privileged access to wisdom about love, about relationships, about Christian duty, or about forgiveness. In any service of worship, the role of the preacher is to present questions and to restate principles which the Christian community has agreed on. The role of the congregation is to take part in the reflection. However dogmatic the preacher; it is the Christian in the pew who has the authority.
There is no role for passive observers in the church, no role for an audience. We are all participants, we are all priests, we all have responsibility to share our insights and to listen to others. Our churches are run by volunteers and most churches have many more volunteering roles than adherents, as people take on multiple responsibilities. If we become a people who just “come to Church” the church will die, and the Earth will be a poorer place.
The same is true of Spaceship Earth, no space for passengers. The Earth requires all our wisdom, all our effort, all our attention, otherwise, our time here as a human species is limited. Times and beliefs change; our children wonder at our ignorance and primitive beliefs and their children in turn will too. It has always been thus. The Author of Hebrews thought that she was stating obvious truth; she was actually contributing to a debate.