Sunday, July 5, 2015

6 Pentecost

July 5, 2015

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

+ It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the very least. Last week I had a sermon all prepared, of course, following the Supreme Court’s decision a week ago Friday on Marriage Equality. Since then, the Episcopal Church has approved liturgy that essentially approves the same thing.

It was a great day for all Episcopalians, not just GLBT Episcopalians. Certainly, for all of us who work for the full-inclusion of all people in our church, this was very good.

However, for some of us, that joy was a bit muted. Those of us Episcopalians here in North Dakota knew that such reforms would probably not be accepted here. And that is just the way it is, sadly.

But as muted as our joy may be, we can still rejoice.  We can rejoice in the fact that, what was once a minority opinion has become a majority opinion.

When Bishop Michael was here about a month ago, in his sermon on sin, he gave a great analogy on how, with sin, the war is won but a few battles may still continue. He then shared the example of those Japanese soldiers on isolated islands who never heard the news of the end of the war and so continued on fighting. When he shared that analogy, I, of course, thought of that episode of Gilligan’s Island in which the great character actor Vito Scotti played a Japanese solider who did not know the war had ended some twenty years later.

Well, it’s the same with this situation. The war that waged regarding marriage quality in the Episcopal Church is over.  There will still be a few hold-outs, but they are few and far-between. And that is the way it is.

Now for many of us, we never thought even this day would come. I remember when I first started my path to the priesthood, way back sixteen years ago. Back then, what has happened in the Episcopal Church seemed like a pipe dream. The majority of priests and bishops I knew at that time were not supportive of anything like what the Episcopal Church just approved, nor were they too supportive or too patient with people who might support that view.

In fact, back then, it was dangerous at times to speak too loudly on this issue. It could (and was) be brought up as a reason for a person not be ordained.

I, for one, felt very much like mine was a minority opinion back then.  I most
definitely felt outnumbered. I even had close friends of mine who were appalled when they heard I was going into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Why, they wondered would you wanted to be part of an oppressive organization? (A lot of my friends were a bit anarchistic by the way)

But, I believed then that things would change. And, look, they have. And you know what: they will in North Dakota too one day. There’s no doubt on that.

Call it prophecy. Call it what you will, but as sure as I’m standing here, that day is coming.  And if we have to be patience a bit longer, if we have to wait it out a bit longer, we will. Because compared to what we’ve gone through already, this is nothing.

Ok, maybe I shouldn’t through that whol prophecy thing around too much.  I don’t know about you, but the whole concept of prophets puts me a bit on edge.  Prophets 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 welcome all people as equals, who deserve the same rights we have, even if might not really—deep down—think of them as equals?

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 porpeht has nothing to do with our own sense of comfort. It has nothing to do with our sense of what is “right.” Being a prophet means seeing and sensing and proclaiming that Kingdom of God—and God’s sense of what is right.  

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. Being a prophet means we’re going to press people’s buttons.  And when we do, let me tell you by first-hand experience, people are going to react. We need to be prepared to do that, if we are to be prophets in this day an age.

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. We need to keep striving to welcome all people, to strive for the equality and equal rights of all people in this church.

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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