Amos 7.7-15; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29
+ When I was a kid, there was a term that we could use against one another that really got us at our core. I don’t know why this word did that to us. It’s a pretty innocent term. But it did.
The word was—“chicken.”
If we wavered, if we lost heart, that word, “chicken” was hurled at us with force.
“Stop being so chicken!”
“Ah, Parsley chickened out!”
Even now, after all these years, I have to admit: the word still holds some weight. It can provoke me.
And this past week, I found myself chickening out a bit. The sermon I preached last week was one of those sermons I found kind of pressed the edges a bit. And actually, I was pretty subdued in what I said about the Episcopal Church approving marriage equality for all people, and the Diocese of North Dakota continuing to not allow it. I also preached about prophecy.
Still, I chickened out a little bit by holding off for a day or two in posting my sermon on my blog because I thought of all the ramifications that might come with such a sermon.
So, after getting my wrists slapped a few times, I have to say: I have been cautious.
But then, I realized something: you know what? Why chicken out? What the Episcopal Church has done is good. It has put its money where its mouth is. IT has not chickened out. And I’m not going to either.
It is not the time to chicken out. For any of us to chicken out. As I have preached again and again from this pulpit over the years, the Church is changing. It is changing.
Years ago many of us who were saying it. And for those of who were then, guess what? Prophecy. And that prophecy is being fulfilled.
But as I mentioned last week and I will repeat this week, prophecy is not always a fun and enjoyable thing. Prophecy is not for chickens.
Look at our Gospel reading for today. Poor John the Baptist. He paid the price for his prophecies. But he certainly did not chicken out. And many of us fear the ramifications of those who do not like the fact that the prophecies of change are coming true.
But for those who standing in the way of this overwhelming change, there’s no denying the fact. The change is happening. And it needs to happen. It’s like an avalanche coming down the mountain.
Because this change shows that to be a follower of Jesus in this world means that we have to be looking ahead. We have to be looking into the future. A future in which all people in this church are treated equally and fairly. We have to be visionaries. And we have to be prophets.
We have to exploring new ways to be those followers of Jesus in this day and age. Being a follower of Jesus means being people of change. Being a follower of Jesus means we are constantly looking for new ways to live out that radical following after Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are constantly looking for new ways to be radical in our acceptance of all people.
Because that is exactly what Jesus did.
What we see happening in our Church right now is a kind of fulfillment of what Paul talks about in his Epistle this morning to the Ephesians:
“With all wisdom and insight,” Paul writes, “[God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Isn’t it amazing how that scripture speaks to us? And it’s true. God has made known to us the mystery of this incredible will of God, to gather up all things in Christ, things here on this earth and things in heaven.
Later in on our reading today, Paul talks about our inheritance as followers of Jesus and as Children of God. This Gospel of our salvation is, for Paul, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people…” We, all of us—no matter who we are—are inheritors. And because we are, all of us, no matter who are, are Children of the same God. As a children of that God, we are co-inheritors.
Now, again, that’s not new to us here at St. Stephen’s. We have been proclaiming this here at St. Stephen’s all along. And it is good to know that the larger Church is proclaiming this and is working toward the goal of being that kind of a Church—being a fulfillment of that scripture.
Of course, not everyone agrees in the same way about what being inheritors of the Kingdom is. But, that’s the way it is going to be sometime with prophets in our midst. Sometimes the prophecies are heeded and proclaimed and sometimes they, sadly, are resisted.
Our job as followers of Jesus is not vilify those who think differently than we do. Those who may oppose us and scold us and punish us for what we are doing are not our enemies. They are, after all, our fellow co-inheritors. They’re just more jealous of their inheritance than some of the rest of us.
For me, I am have no problem sharing my inheritance with everyone. And I think many of us this morning feel that way. Our job is continue to do what we have always done—to joyfully love and accept everyone in love, even those with whom we differ. Our job as followers of Jesus and inheritor’s of God’s Kingdom is to continue to welcome every person who comes to us as a loved and fully accepted Child of that same God. Our job is to be radical in our love and acceptance of others, no matter who they are. And our job as followers of Jesus is to see every person who comes to us as Jesus sees that person.
And Jesus sees those people—and all of us—as loved. Loved fully and completely by God.
This is not easy to do. It is not easy being a prophet—of proclaiming God’s Good News to others. Sometimes we might even find ourselves tempted to resist this weighty calling of ours.
Certainly, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures today, we find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet. He kind of chickens out.
Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…”
I love that scripture. Because it is speaking to each and every one of us. Here we are, in our jobs, in our day-to-day lives. We’re essentially “following the flock.”
And God is calling each of us to prophesy to God’s people. To prophesy this radical love and acceptance. To prophesy the fact that we when we love each other and accept each other, the Kingdom of God that each of us as children of God are inheritors of, will break through into our midst.
You have heard me say this again and again: I believe that an effective leader must first be an effective follower. And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other and to others. Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.
We of course have a choice. We can be despotic leaders who use and abuse and mistreat the power we have and the people we are called to serve.
Or we can be humble leaders as Jesus himself was a humble leader—a leader who realizes that to be an effective leader one must serve.
In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.
So, let us cling to this prophetic ideal of leadership. Let us be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the inheritor, the seeker, the includer, the loved child of God. Let us be the visionary to see that change is truly happening.
Change is happening. It’s happening right now. Right here. It is so close. Change is in the air. Change for the better. Change for a revitalized Church built on love and respect for God and for each other. It is not the time to chicken out. It is not the time to bow to pressure. It is not a time to compromise, or to rest on our laurels. It is time to keep on working, to keep on standing up for who we are, to keep on being prophets, to keep on furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst.
Because, look! It’s so close. It’s right there, just within our grasp. Despite all the work we still have to do, it’s almost too incredible to even imagine.
I almost can’t wait for it anymore…