Sunday, July 5, 2009

5 Pentecost

July 5, 2009

Ezekiel 2.1-5; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6. 1-13

I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of prophets puts me a bit on edge. They almost seem to be like some kind of psychic or fortune teller. They see things and know things we “normal” people don’t see or know. They are people with vision. They have knowledge the rest of us don’t. Now, to be fair, prophets aren’t psychics or fortune tellers. Psychics or fortune tellers tend to be people who believe they have some kind of special power that they were often born with.

According to the basis of prophecy we find in our reading today from Ezekiel, prophets aren’t born. Prophets are picked by God and instilled with God’s Spirit. The Spirit enters them and sets them on their feet. And when they are instilled with God’s Spirit, they don’t just tell us our fortunes. They don’t just do some kind of psychic mumbo jumbo to tell us what our futures are going to be or what kind of wealth we’re going to have or who our true love is. What they tell us isn’t just about us as individuals. Rather, the prophet tells us things about all of us we might not want to hear. They stir us up, they provoke us, they jar us.

Maybe that’s why I find the idea of prophets so uncomfortable. And that’s what we dislike the most about them. We don’t like people who make us uncomfortable. We don’t like people who stir us up, who provoke us, who jar us out of our complacency. Prophets come into our lives like lightning bolts and when they strike, they explode like electric sparks. They shatter our complacency to pieces. They shove us. They push us hard outside the safe box in which we live and they leave us bewildered.

Prophets, as much as they are like us, are also unlike us as well. The Spirit has transformed these normal people into something else. And this is what we need from our prophets. After all, we are certain about our ideas of God. We, in our complacency, think we know God—we know what God thinks and wants of us. Prophets, touched as they are by the Spirit of God in that unique way, frighten us because what they convey to us about God is sometimes something very different than we thought we knew about God. The prophet is not afraid to say to us: “You are wrong. You are wrong in what you think about God and about what you think God is saying to you.” Nothing makes us angrier than someone telling us we’re wrong—especially about God. And that is the reason we sometimes refuse to recognize the prophet.

We reject them because they know how to reach deep down within us, to that one sensitive place inside us and they know how to press just the right button that will cause us to react. And the worse prophet we can imagine is not the one who comes to us from some other place. The worse prophet is not the one who comes to us as a stranger. The worse prophet we can imagine is the one who comes to us from our own neighborhood—from the midst of us. The worse prophet is the one whom we’ve known. We knew them before the Spirit of God’s prophecy descended upon them. And now, they have been transformed with this knowledge of God. They are different. These people we know, that we saw in their inexperience, are now speaking as a conduit of God’s Voice. When someone we know begins to say and do things they say God tells them to do, we find ourselves becoming very defensive very quickly. Certainly, we can understand why people in Jesus’ hometown had such difficulty in accepting him.

The fact is, we too sometimes have difficulty in accepting Jesus as who he says he is. We, rational people that we are, try to explain away who he was and what he did. And we sometimes try to explain away who he is and what he continues to do in our lives. And probably the hardest aspect of Jesus’ message to us is the simple fact that he, in a very real sense, calls us and empowers us to be prophets as well. As Christians, we are called to be a bit different than others. We are transformed in some ways by the Spirit’s presence in our lives. In a sense, Jesus empowers us with his Spirit to be conduits of that Spirit to others. If we felt uncomfortable about others being prophets, we’re even more uncomfortable about being prophets ourselves. Being a prophet, just like hearing the prophet, means we must shed our complacency. If our neighbor as the prophet frightens us and irritates us, we ourselves being the prophet is even more frightening and irritating.

Empowered by this spirit of prophecy, oftentimes what we say or do seems crazy to others. The Spirit of prophecy we received from Christ seems a bit unusual to those people around us. Loving those who hate us or despise us? Being peaceful—in spirit and action—in the face of overwhelming violence or anger? To side with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized when it is much easier and more personally pleasing to be with the wealthy and powerful? To actually see the Kingdom of God breaking through in instances when others only see failure and defeat? That is what it means to be a prophet.

Being a prophet means seeing and sensing and proclaiming that Kingdom of God. For us, as Christians, that is what we are to do—we are to strive to see and proclaim the Kingdom. We are to help bring that Kingdom forth and when it is here, we are to proclaim us in word and in deed. Because when that Spirit comes upon us, we become a community of prophets, proclaiming together the Kingdom of God. We who have been granted the grace of the Holy Spirit, as we prayed in today’s collect, find ourselves compelled to be devoted to God with our whole heart and “united to one another with pure affection.”

Being a prophet in our days is more than just preaching doom and gloom to people. It’s more than saying to people: “repent, for the kingdom of God is near!” Being a prophet in our day is being able to recognize injustice and oppression in our midst and to speak out about them.

You’ve often heard me talk about Brian McLaren, the author of A Generous Orthodoxy, one of the most influential books I’ve read in the past several years. McLaren, in another book I have come to love, Adventures in Missing the Point, says that we oftentimes, as Christians, have to ask ourselves “What issues matter the most to us?” This is certainly an important question for us Episcopalians as our Deputies and Bishops head off for Anaheim for our General Convention this week. One of the issues that should matter the most to us as we gather is the issue of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in our church. In addition to this vital issue, McLaren goes on to say that there are others issues we should be concerning ourselves with as Christians. The current issues we should be concerning ourselves with, that we should be speaking out about as prophets proclaiming the Kingdom of God in our midst, include such issues as overpopulation, Consumerism, Ecology, Genetic engineering and, of course, poverty.

One of the great prophets of our own day was the late Roman Catholic bishop of Recifie, Brazil, Dom Hélder Câmara. Camara was a perfect exmaple of how the prophet in our midst is both esteemed and reviled, oftetimes at the same time, for speaking out propehtically about such an issue as hunger. Camara once famously said, “When I gave them food, they called me a saint. When I asked why they had no food, they called me a communist.”

Martin Luther King was another example of someone we now identify as a prophet. But what many people now forget about now is that in the 1950s and 1960s, he too was being demonized from pulpits and in political speeches as, of all things, a Marxist. And, in his case, being a prophet, being a visionary who saw that the Kingdom of God was about to break through and that when it did, amazing things would happen—in his case, proclaiming such a message brought him a violent death. When we press people’s buttons, they’re going to react. And we need to be prepared to do that. But we can’t be afraid to do so. We need to continue to speak out. We need to continue to be the prophets who have visions of how incredible it will be when that Kingdom of God breaks through into our midst and transforms us.

So, let us proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst with the fervor of prophets. Let us proclaim that Kingdom without fear—without the fear of rejection from those who know us. Let us truly be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities “for the sake of Christ,” knowing full well in that paradoxical way that is the way of Christ that whenever we are weak, we are strong.

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