Sunday, June 29, 2014

3 Pentecost

June 29, 2014

Jeremiah 28.5-9; Matthew 10. 40-42

+ Yesterday, of course, we celebrated the Requiem Mass for Wally Mayer. The church was packed for the occasion. Afterward, I was hearing several people—first-timers to St. Stephen’s—who were talking about our church. In addition to their comments about the beautiful liturgy and music were here, they talked about how impressed they were with how well received they were. They were not just greeted. They were treated and welcomed like special guests.  And, as we always do here at St. Stephen’s, we made sure they were included. Included for who they were and not for what they were.

 They were included and welcomed because each person who comes through that door, as we all know,  is important.  And it shows. One of our mottos here at St. Stephen’s, of course, is from the Rule of St. Benedict.

 We welcome every person here as though they are Christ.

 And they are treated with that respect.  

 In a sense, that is not much different than what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel reading.

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

 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 Hebrew Scriptures—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 nut!”

 Actually, I think I have served as prophet. I remember saying to our own dear Michelle Gelinske, “Michelle, I am the prophet in your midst, you will one day find the right person.” Prophecy fulfilled!

 But, still, 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, it seems, they did.  Sometimes, God granted 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, a perception, 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.  The prophet is the messenger.  They were people who had a special relationship with God and with whom God had a special relationship.

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.

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, Jesus 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.  

But more so, we, like them, are called to bring about something that only those who look ahead can see. For us, at St. Stephen’s, we do that all the time. We do that when we welcome others who might feel ostracized or marginalized. We do that when we welcome all people, and let them know that the God we worship here is a God of love and acceptance, a God who loves each of us fully and completely, no matter who or what we are.  When we do that, God works in us and speak through us to others.

As followers of Jesus the Prophet, we have been allowed to glimpse, like prophets, the future.  The Church of the future is not a church of oppression. The Church of the future is not for only those who are “in” The Church of the future is a place in which people will not be allowed to look down their noses at others, to judge others, to oppress others, to shun others.  The Church of the future is a radical place of love and acceptance. It is place in which all are not only welcomed in the door. It is place in which, once inside that door, they will find a home, with others, under the sheltering Love of God.

See, we are prophets. We have looked into the future, and we have seen what the Church will be. And now, in this moment, we are working hard to make that vision, that prophecy,  a reality.  We know that doing so we will all go through heartache and pain and exhaustion.

There are those people out there who do not want this Church of the future to be a reality.  They like the Church of the Past and the Church of the present. They like a church that keeps everything status quo—in which things don’t get riled up.

The Church we are striving to be is a threat to churches like that.  And because it is, they’re not going to like us. They will oppose us. They will try to stop us.  They are frightened by us and the Church of the future that we are showing them—a wild, eclectic, eccentric Church full of wild, eclectic eccentric love and acceptance.

But that’s alright. As long as we love—as long as we love God and love others radically—we’re going to be all right. We’ve seen the future, and it is good.   God has spoken to us and what God said to us will happen. Like the prophets, we have been inspired by God.  Like the prophets, we have been granted an intuition that others don’t seem to have.

As followers of Jesus, loving radically as we do, we see life differently than others.  When others despair or lose hope, we can see through those horrible things to the glory God has promised us.

Today, of course, we are celebrating this love Michelle and Matt have for each other. Both Matt and Michelle know full well that to get to this point in their lives together, they had go through some dark times.  But they have come through it, and here they are today, celebrating this love. Without a vision of their future, it could all have been despair.  But they didn’t despair, and because they didn’t, here they are.

Our job as prophets, having seen these glimpses into what awaits us, is to live this knowledge out in our lives.  Our job is to prophesy this glorious future by living our Christian lives of radical love fully and completely.  Our vocation—our calling from God—as prophets is to love God and to love one another, and by doing so, we get to show others a glimpse of the glory that awaits all of 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. Rather we are being called as prophets to proclaim, by our actions and our words of love, that God does really loves us and, because God does, we must love each other and ourselves.

Much of the prophecies, in the Hebrew Scriptures, were prophecies of doom.  Our prophecy is a prophecy of love and joy and life and acceptance of others 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. This morning, as we gather here together, we carry within us, the holy Presence of God.  And when we look at each other and see each other and love 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 all-encompassing love will be shown to this world.

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