“I give your priesthood as a gift..” ~~ Numbers 18:7
God is speaking here to Aaron, who has been selected from all the leaders of the ancestral tribes of Israel by having his staff blossom and put forth ripe almonds. God chooses him because under Aaron’s leadership in ministry, the people will bear fruit (Numbers 17:8). When God speaks of the priesthood as a gift, the literal words are “as a service of gift.”
The priesthood, both ordained and believer’s alike, isn’t something which we are given in order to be served, but it is a gift given for the purpose of serving others, serving God, and God’s kingdom mission. Today we speak of retirement age because we have secular laws that limit and penalize pension benefits and disbursements from those plans. In ancient times, these things didn’t exist. Even today, where priests and nuns take vows of poverty in the Catholic church, they don’t retire, but upon reaching an age when health concerns don’t allow them to actively serve in a parish setting they take on the service of prayer in a cloistered setting and are cared for by their order and their church.
As ordained clergy and members of the priesthood of all believers, we tend to forget our sacred calling and look forward to retiring from “church work.” When I went on incapacity leave, my neighbor was surprised that I was still working at my easel: “I thought you retired,” he said. “I’m not dead yet,” I said. I went to annual conference and the disability coordinator for the general board called while I was there. “Have you gone back to work?” No, I haven’t. “Then why are you at conference?” Our bishop thinks there’s only two excuses to miss annual conference, our death or our confinement in the hospital: I’m not dead yet, and I’m not in the hospital.
Clergy have a different idea of “work” than the laity, since for them work is a “calling” and not a job. For me the thought of not serving and using the gift God gave me is foreign to my mind. I wasn’t raised to be a person who stops serving God at a certain age. My grandparents continued to serve even into their 70’s and later. I have memories of my Nannie serving in the kitchen of the old fellowship hall at my home church. My Granddaddy was a General Conference Delegate and served on the boards of his church. My parents became even more active when they retired. They enjoyed picking up the food for the neighborhood pantry and Mom learned how to run the kiln and teach glazing for the ceramic ministry. When my Mom was in her 82nd year, she used her newly learned computer skills to find a mercy flight for a sick child to get to an out of town hospital. I don’t have the genes for “retirement!” I have the DNA for a LIFE of Service!