Saturday, June 28, 2008

7 Pentecost

June 29, 2008
Golden Ridge Lutheran Church, Fargo
Gardner Congregational-Lutheran United Church, Gardner, ND

Jeremiah 28.5-9; Matthew 10. 40-42

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s award,” Jesus tells us this morning in our Gospel reading.

What a strange comment, most of us no doubt think. As we ponder these words of Jesus, we might find ourselves wondering if we would even be able to recognize a prophet much less welcome one. Prophets seem to us like strange beings we found in the Old Testament—wild men, with wild beards and wild talk—but certainly we don’t have prophets now in our day and age. And even if we did, would we even believe anything they say? If someone stands up among us and says, “God is speaking to me. And God says, the sky will fall on us this afternoon,” we would sigh and shrug our shoulders and say, “what a crazy idiot!”

But, still, we find prophets in the Scriptures every time we open the Bible. So, what is a prophet? It’s an important question to ask because to receive a prophet’s reward, we should know what a prophet is. The simple, somewhat “official,” answer to the question is this: The prophet is a “divinely inspired preacher.” [1] OK. That’s nice. But, it doesn’t really answer the question. After all, I hope all preachers who stand up and preach here in church are at least a little bit “divinely inspired.”

The fact is, most of us, when we think of a prophet, no doubt think of them as some sort soothsayer or a fortune teller. When we think of a prophet we think of people who can see into the future and tell us what is going to happen. And sometimes, they do. Sometimes, God grants them visions of what is going to happen.

But the prophet is not a fortune teller or a soothsayer. Being a prophet is more like seeing things the rest of us can’t. They have intuition, granted to them by God, and they are able to see what the rest of us can’t, because God has allowed them to see it for the good of the rest of us. The Hebrew word for prophet actually means “one who is inspired by God.” [2] They are humans, like us, who have been touched in a special way by God. God works in the prophet and through the prophet. The prophet becomes the conduit through which God works for us. The prophet is the messenger. The Words of the prophet, when inspired by God, become the Word of God to us. They were people who had a special relationship with God and with whom God had a special relationship.

Karen Armstrong, in her A History of God, says that throughout history, “…the only people who worshipped God properly were prophets and philosophers. The prophet had direct knowledge of God, the philosopher had rational knowledge of [God].” [3]

The prophet had direct knowledge of God. Prophets like Moses saw God. They actually saw the glory of God. Prophets like Ezekiel, who, while in exile by the river Chebar, saw God sitting on a throne, with living creatures surrounding God. A prophet’s life, on the surface, at very first glance, seems wonderful. Why wouldn’t it? The prophet doesn’t have to deal with the same issues we do in our faith in God. They aren’t concerned with issues of doubt like we are. They can never, in their lives, ever wonder if God truly exists. Because they have seen God. They have heard God speaking to them. And, with the true prophet, they know without a doubt that God exists because when God speaks to them, what God says happens.

And that is the reason why the prophet’s life might not be so wonderful. When God speaks, what God says comes true. And often times, what God commands the prophet to say is sometimes a very difficult thing to have to share with others.

Throughout the Old Testament, as we encounter prophets, we find that they are not popular by any means. More often than not, they go about telling people to repent—to turn away from what they are doing in this life, and return to God—because—and there’s always a “because” with prophets—if you do not, horrible things are going to happen. The prophet says to the people: God told me that if you do not repent, the world you know now will be turned upside down.

For the Israelites walking about in the desert, when Moses told them not to grumble and complain—and they continued to do so—Moses told them, again and again, to return to God or they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Promised Land. And that’s exactly what happened. That first generation of Israelites ended up dying in the wilderness, while their children were allowed to cross the Jordan into the Land of Milk and Honey.

Later, before the Fall of Jerusalem, before the great Exile, prophets like Isaiah went about telling the people to repent, or they would be sent off into Exile. And that’s exactly what happened.

As you can imagine, prophets, who live not only in this world, but also in the next, are not people you want to get too close to. They don’t make very good friends. Because they are sort of straddling the worlds—with one foot in our world and one foot in the next—we might find ourselves finding out things we don’t want to know about the future.

They us things we don’t want to hear sometimes because we like our complacency. We live living our normal, predictable lives. We like following our schedules. The prophet is the one who tells us that normal predictable lives are not going to last forever. When God works in our lives, our world gets shaken up.

For us as Christians, the prophets have even more meaning. Throughout the Old Testament, we read their prophecies from the perspective of our faith in Christ, knowing that what they were telling people then was, “repent, because God is returning to us in a way we might not expect.” And, in Jesus, we find God coming to us in flesh and blood.

Now, the fact is: we have been referring to prophets as “them” up to this point. We have the idea that prophets lived way back then—in those days before Jesus. But, prophets didn’t just stop existing when Jesus came. God didn’t stop talking to us through prophets when Jesus came on the scene. Yes, he was the fulfillment of their prophecies. Yes, he was what they saw coming when no one else could see.

But, now, with the prophecies fulfilled, with Jesus having come to us, we find the calling of prophet expanded. We find we have all been called to be prophets to some extent. We are being called, like those earlier prophets, to keep our hearts and minds open to God. By doing so, God will work in us and speak through us to others. As Christians, we are living in a time in which the prophecies of old have been fulfilled. And our job is to proclaim that fact.

As Christians, we have been allowed to glimpse, like prophets, the future. We know that we will all go through heartache and pain in this life. We will experience our share of exiles, of wandering about in the deserts of life, while we make our way through this life.

But, like the prophets, we are able to see ahead, beyond the exiles and the aimless wanderings of our lives. Like the prophets, we have been inspired by God. Like the prophets, we have been granted, through Jesus, an intuition that others don’t seem to have.

As Christians, we see life differently than others. When others despair or lose hope over natural disasters and death and destruction, we can see through those horrible things to the glory God in Jesus has promised us. We are able, through the words of God that come to us through Jesus, to see the glory that awaits us all. In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, we have seen God and we have seen what God will do for us.

Our job as prophets, having seen these glimpses into what awaits us, is to live this knowledge out in our lives. Our job is prophesy this glorious future by living our Christian life fully and completely. Our vocation—our calling from God—as prophets is to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves, and by doing so, we get to show others a glimpse of the glory that awaits us. Our vocation as prophets to live out the words of Jeremiah that we heard in our Old Testament reading today:

We are called to prophesy peace, because when we do, our prophecy of peace will come true and when it does, “it will be known the Lord has truly sent” us. Our prophecies aren’t just prophecies of words. We are not being called, like Jonah, to walk from one edge of the city to the other proclaiming that the end is near. Rather we are being called as prophets to proclaim, by our actions and our words of love, that God loves us and, because God does, we must love each other and ourselves.

Much of the prophecies, in the Old Testament, were prophecies of doom. Our prophecy is a prophecy of love and joy and life that never ends. Our prophecy is that prophecy of peace that Jeremiah imagines as the fulfillment of all prophecies. And like the prophets who saw God face to face, we too will see God face to face.

Because God came into us in the flesh of Jesus, because God continues to come to us in the Holy Spirit that lives with us, we know that God is present in us.

This morning, as we gather here together, we carry within us, the holy Presence of God. And when we look at each and see each other, we are gazing into very Presence of God in our midst.

So, as we leave here today, let us take with us our prophetic knowledge and love. Let us prophesy our love of God and of each other in all that we do and say. And doing so, we will be the prophets of God. We will be the ones through whom God continues to speak to the world. And we will be the ones through whom God’s love will be shown to the world.

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