Sunday, July 29, 2018

10 Pentecost

July 29, 2018

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

+ One of the comments I get from new members of St. Stephen’s, especially those from more non-liturgical churches, is: “Why do we do Communion every week?”

There’s usually a bit of exasperation with that question. And it’s a good question to ask.  It’s an important question.

The answer is a fairly simple one. Many congregations in the Episcopal Church—especially those were more Low or Broad Church congregations--used to only do Holy Communion maybe once or twice a month (usually once a month). The rest of the Sundays the service of Morning Prayer was the main Sunday worship service. St. Stephen’s was certainly one of those congregations. So was the Cathedral and St. John’s. In fact, it was only High or Anglo-Catholic congregations that celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday.

Then, in the 1970s, it all changed, with the revision to the Book of Common Prayer. Suddenly, there was a shift in thought regarding what worship is on Sunday.

Now, I’d like you to pick up your Prayer Book and open to page 13. I know many of haven’t really explored this area of the Prayer Book before, so it’s fun to open it up to some areas you might not know about. On Page 13, you will find a heading:
Concerning the Service
of the Church
And the opening line for this section is this,

The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's
Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as
set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public
worship in the Church.

So, we find that the Holy Eucharist, beginning with our 1979 revision of the BCP, now shifts the principal act of worship on Sunday to the Holy Eucharist, just as the ancient Church did.  And Morning Prayer, along with Evening Prayer, are upheld as what they should be—daily prayer.

For me, I, of course, think the Holy Eucharist is vitally, immensely important. It is our principal act of worship here at St. Stephen’s. And it is from what we do at this altar that all our ministry emanates.  What we do here, at the Eucharist, is what we then go to do in the world.

Fed, we then go out to feed.  

Or just to it more practically, we gather together on Sunday to share a meal together.  Because there is nothing better than share food with one another.

Now, as you all know, I LOVE to preach about and explore and talk about the Mystery that is the Eucharist. I love pondering the beauty of why what we do with bread and wine here at this altar is so important to us, to vital to us. I love thinking about all the ways God works through this meal we share here.

But, I also really like the symbolism of the Eucharist.

Over these last several months as I’ve explored my own Jewish roots, I have also explored the Jewish roots of what we do here—of how what we do here is a way for us to do what was done at the altar in the Temple in Jesus’ own day. In a sense, this bread we share at this meal is essentially the Lamb that was offered on the altar, and this cup is the blood that was shed from that lamb.  Jesus, as we all know, has become the Lamb that was offered and slain on that altar as a sacrifice. (Certainly that is how Jesus saw his role) 

So, what we do today and on every Sunday is a continuation of what was offered in the Temple in Jesus’ own day.  We tend to forget this important fact in our Christian life.

We forget that this is a meal we share with one another.  We often come to Communion without really thinking about it. We often think of Communion as a quaint little ritual we do, sort of like a Church-version of a tea party.

But when we put the Eucharist in the larger perspective of our history as the people of God, we realize that every time we partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are joining in at that sacrificial worship that has gone for thousands of years.  This is the sacrifice of wine and wheat we hear about in the book of Joel.

Now, I know some of you immediately find ourselves bristling when you hear the word “sacrifice” here. Sacrifice and the Mass seem a bit too…Catholic..for some.

But it is a sacrifice. What we do here is sacrificial. I haven’t realized that more than since I have been looking at what we do with a more Jewish lens.  And just to make sure you don’t think this is one of Fr. Jamie’s weird, quirky takes on what we do here, I would like to draw your attention once again to the Book of Common Prayer, except now we are going to look in the back. In the Catechism. On page 859

The second question under “The Holy Eucharist” is,


Q.
Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?
A.
Because the Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is
made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering
of himself.


Q.
By what other names is this service known?
A.
The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord's Supper, and
Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine
Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.


So, the Eucharist is this incredible things really. It is a meal.  It is a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is an offering to God. It is a way to remember Jesus and all he has done.

All this just goes to show us this wonderful way in which God works through something very basic in our lives to make something deep and meaningful. Namely, I am talking about food.  Nothing draws us closer to each other than food.

On Friday night, Janie and Adam Breth had me over to their home for an incredible vegan Thai feast of veggie dumplings and a dessert of mangos and rice and coconut milk with Julia and Justin. I can still taste all of it!

Food is an important way to bond with each other. And food a great reminder of how God truly does provide for us.  Our scriptures for today give us some interesting perspectives on food as well.

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people.  We hear this wonderful passage,

“He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”

It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture. But there’s a lot of depth to it too if you really ponder it.

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event.  Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude.  And by feeding, by doing a miracle, they recognize him for who he is. For them, he is “the Prophet who has come into their midst.”

For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar.  What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event. Here we are fed by God as well.  Here there is a miracle.  Here, we find God’s chosen one, the “Prophet come to us” Jesus—the new Elisha—feeding us.

We come forward and eat.  And there is some left over.

The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over.  The miracle for us is the meal itself.  In this meal we share, we are sustained.  We our strengthened.  We are upheld.  We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.

There is something so beautiful in the way God works through the Eucharist. This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans.

But being sustained spiritually in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic.  It is miraculous.  And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

This simple act is not just a simple act.  It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others.  To feed others on what we now embody within ourselves—this living sacrifice to God.

And how do we do that? We do that by serving others by example.  By being that living Bread to others.

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion.  Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience. But it is more than that.  The Eucharist is what we do together.  And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building.  The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians.  The Eucharist empowers us to be agents of the Incarnation of God’s Son.  We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others.

Through the Eucharist, we become God’s anointed ones in this world.  And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together.  It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  

When we see it from that perspective, we realize that this really is a miracle in our lives—just as miraculous as what Elisha did and certainly as miraculous as what Jesus did in our Gospel reading for today.

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar.  The Eucharist is an incredible gift given to us by our God.  Let us embody God’s anointed One, the Christ, whom we encounter here in this Bread and Wine.  

Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the Body of Christ to others.

Let us feed those who need to be fed.

Let us sustain those who need to be sustained.

And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.




Friday, July 27, 2018

The funeral for Darwin Strobel

Darwin Strobel
(April 23, 1939 – July 22, 2018)
Friday, July 27, 2018
Congregational UCC Church
Jamestown

Song of Songs 8.6-7; Psalm 85; 1 John 3.1-3; Mark 12.28-34


It is a true honor for me to officiate at this service for Darwin this morning. I have known Darwin for many years through my friendship with his son, Mark and Mark’s family. And so I am very grateful that I can be here today with all of you to remember Darwin and to help commend him to his God.

His is a life that we should remember and for which we should give thanks to God.

As Julie wrote,

“We will cherish all the memories we have of him, and have learned so much from him. He was an amazing dad, grandpa, and above all husband. He had a love for anything sweet, especially chocolate and his sense of humor, wit and one liners have left us with lots of stories! He will forever hold a very special place in our heart and will be missed immensely.”

And Carol wanted all of us to know that right, at 11:00, Darwin would be teeing off for a game of golf.

Today we do cherish all that Darwin was to each of us.  

I am also grateful this morning that his family chose scriptures that reflect and embody the concept of love. If you noticed, these scriptures that we just heard are about love. And, I can tell you, there is no better way to commemorate Darwin and his life than with these particular scriptures. Because, today, although there is sadness, although there is loss, there is also love. Love, as we all know in our hearts, is the thing that will survive and win out over all the other difficult emotions we have may today.

Yes, we are sad. Yes, we feel Darwin’s loss. Yes, the world is now different without him in it.  And that is difficult.  But love prevails over all those emotions. That is what our Christian faith tells us to do again and again. That is what our faith in God and in God’s Son tells again and again.

Love is the prevailing force in this world. I don’t need to tell any of this to Carol. 51 years of marriage is a strong and amazing testimony to love in all its aspects.

On Saturday night, as I gathered with the family to pray with them before Darwin began his journey, love was a palpable presence in that room. Darwin left this world surrounded by love, surrounded by those cared for him and loved him.

So, these scriptures really are appropriate today.  These scripture readings show what love really can do, how love really does prevails.

In our reading from Song of Songs, we hear what we know. We hear,

love is as strong as death.

But we know that not even death can conquer love. Love prevails over even death.

In our reading from the first Letter of John we are reminded that God loves us so much that we are called now Children of God.  That’s not some quaint notion. That is an amazing realization.

We are children of God!

And finally, we have this Gospel reading. Jesus, being asked what he feels is the most important commandment, tells the scribe that it is the commandment to love God with all we have in us, and love one another. This, according to Jesus, is what brings us closest to the Kingdom of God. If you do these, Jesus tells us, “you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

It is not professions of faith that bring us close to God’s kingdom. It is not sacrifices. It is not living an overly pious life, or fasting, or acting holy and nice all the time.

It is love. Plain and simple.

Love of God.

Love of one another.

And why do this? Why do we strive to love? We love because we are loved.  We are loved by our God, to whom we are children.  That overarching, all-encompassing love God has for each of us is, in the end, our ultimate reality. God’s love for us prevails over all.

God’s love for Darwin and for us is all that matters in this moment. Right now.  That love covers all the imperfections of this life.

In those moments when we may failed in love, when Darwin may have failed in love, the love of God covers it all. God’s love makes up for all of it. This is our strength today and in the days to come.

See, we are not left with empty today. We are not left without hope today. We aren’t despairing today.

We are sad, yes. Of course. We have tears in our eyes, yes. That’s normal. But our sadness is a temporary sadness. Our sadness is a sadness that is, in the larger scheme, a brief sadness.

But, even in our sadness, we know we are loved. We know Darwin is loved. And knowing that, we know it’s all fine. It’s all right. Darwin has been enfolded in God’s amazing and all-encompassing love. He dwells now in this moment in that love. He is being held close to the God who loves him and holds him close. This is what holds us up and sustains us in this sad moment in our lives.

On Saturday night, when I gathered with the family at Darwin’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one.  It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand.  The prayer we prayed Saturday evening was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
be present with your servant, Darwin and to his loved ones.
Make them the equal of whatever lies ahead for them.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

I love that prayer because it says it all. God, who in that present moment, God, who in Jesus stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, bringing hope and courage to Darwin. God in Jesus was there at his bedside.  In that moment, God in Jesus was there to make Darwin the equal of what lay ahead for him.

And what was that?  Unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without Darwin, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and  our pain and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

For God’s will and intention for us is wholeness.  We see that wholeness today celebrated in our scriptures and in our liturgy.  In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—Darwin is now fully and completely himself.  He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with Darwin and his family on Saturday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God.  And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for Darwin.  God has made Darwin whole.  And God will make each of us whole as well. Because God loves Darwin and God loves each of us.  That is our consolation today. That is our strength today. That is what holds up today.

When I heard of Darwin’s death on Sunday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.   This is the prayer I pray whenever I hear someone I knew has passed.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

On Sunday morning, Darwin was received into that paradise.  On Sunday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Sunday, the martyrs received him and brought him home. On Sunday, Darwin was received as a beloved child of his God.  

In his text informing me that Darwin, Mark told me that he passed just as the line from the hymn “O for a thousand tongues” was being sung at Gethsemane Cathedral that proclaims,

“He speaks; and, listening to his voice, new life to the dead receive
the mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.”

Today our mournful broken hearts rejoice as well.  They rejoice because we know that one day we too will be received into that holy city Jerusalem.   One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Darwin is complete and whole and loved at this very moment and for every moment to come from now on.  Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels.  And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, clothed, like him, with a glory and a joy and a love that will never end.   Amen.




Wednesday, July 25, 2018

15 years

15 years ago today on the Feast of St. James the Greater I was ordained a transitional Deacon. When people ask why I celebrate my diaconal ordination I say, "I didn't stop being a deacon when I was ordained a priest." I am very grateful for these 15 years of ordained ministry.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

9 Pentecost

Psalm 23 painted by Alyse Radenovic with the valley of the shadow of death 
July 22, 2018

Psalm 23

+ So, just think for one moment. Think about all the times you have heard, throughout your life, the 23rd Psalm. Think of all those funerals. Think of all those times when you have heard it and you could recite it by heart.   Or think of all those films you may have watched in which the 23rd Psalm was recited.

I remember well, in the original film of In Cold Blood, how the 23rd Psalm is read in the powerful closing scene as the murderers are hanged.

Or in the film Titanic, how the psalm was recited as the ship went down.

Or, in the great Clint Eastwood Western, Pale Rider (a film full of Christian symbolism), how there was a great dialog version of the 23rd Psalm in which a girl whose dog was killed by marauders recites the psalm, but then responds to the verses with comments like “But I DO want” and “But I AM afraid.”

In fact, that dialog version from Pale Rider is really what the Psalms are all about, in my opinion.

Now as most of you know, I pray the Psalms every day—at least twice a day—when I pray Morning and Evening Prayer the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. And when you pray the psalms like that, day in and day out, trust me, you often find yourself in a dialog form of prayer with them.  For me, that’s the correct way to pray the psalms.  If the psalms aren’t used as a kind of dialog—if they don’t become our prayers—then they’re being used incorrectly.

But, even for me, for someone who prays the Psalms on a daily basis and has for almost twenty years, I also have taken the 23rd Psalm for granted.

Oftentimes when something becomes so ingrained into our culture, we don’t even give it a second thought. We find ourselves missing its nuances, it beauties, its depths.   Because it is so popular, because we have heard it so much in our lives, we really do take the 23rd Psalm for granted.  We don’t really think about it and what it means.

So, this morning, let’s take a close look at this psalm to which we have paid so little attention. We’re going to do something this morning that we haven’t done in a while, but it’s fun to do on occasion. We are going to take a line-by-line look at Psalm 23. If you want to follow along, you can do so on page 612 in the BCP. Of if you want to the traditional KJV of it, you can find that on page 476 in the BCP.  (And I apologize for the all masculine language for God in the quote here, but I’m trying to use a version close to that which we are all most familiar)

OK. I know you might be inwardly groaning at such a prospect. But bear with me. Sometimes it’s good to have a poet for your priest.  Sometimes.

So, let us take a good, in-depth look at this psalm which we have taken for such granted. And there’s no better to begin, than the beginning.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

There’s an interesting choice of words here.

Want.

I shall not be in want.

Why?

Essentially, this line is perfect, really. Why would I need to want anything, with God as my shepherd, as the One who leads me and guides me. If we are being shepherded, if we are being watched over and cared for, there is no need to want to for anything.

We are provided for by our God.

We are taken care of.

And want is just not something we have.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.

So, here we have sort of this idyllic image.

Green pastures.

Still waters.

The sense here is of calmness.

For all those funerals at which this psalm has been recited, this image no doubt calls to mind images of heaven.

But, for us, right now, this image is important too. God’s presence in our lives essentially stills whatever anxieties we might have. God, who is our shepherd, will only find the choicest places for us, the best places. Just as we don’t want, just as we are taken care of and cared for, so we are led to a place of safety and beauty, because God loves us just that much. And we will be well.

He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake. 

Again, God the Shepherd leads. And where does God lead? God leads us on the right path, through the right way. But then we come across this strange wording,
”for his name’s sake.”

Again, notice at this point how often we have taken this psalm for granted. How many times have we recited or prayed these words. But without asking, what does that mean?

“for his name’s sake?”

Well, for us, it shows that God’s reputation is one of goodness and mercy and rightness. For God’s Name’s sake, in this sense, means that it is God’s will, God’s purpose, God is known for doing good things for us, for leading us on those right paths.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;

Those are iconic lines if there ever were any.

Now, this is not bragging mind, you, but I, for one, know what the valley of the shadow of death is. I have been there. I have ventured through it more than once.

I went through it when I was diagnosed with cancer.

I am going through it now in my season of grief.

But the valley of the shadow of death is different for each us.

I remember well my mother saying that giving birth, for her, was like walking through the shadow of death.

The shadow of death for us is the darkest, most horrendous place we can think of in life. And for us, we know that even there we are not alone. God is with us even in that darkness, even that close to death.  And not only with us, vaguely hovering over us.

No.

God is there to support us, to hold us, to guide us forward. Hence,

   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me. 

God’s strength holds us up and sustains us even then.
But then, we come to this strange verse,

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;

Didn’t I just talk about how God only leads us into places of beauty and light?  And now, here we have God preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies.

At first glance, this seems like something horrible, like a cruel joke. Why would God put us at a table with our enemies?

But, if you notice, there is a bit of defiance in this verse. Go ahead and sit with your enemies, God seems to say to us. You can’t be protected from all harm.

There are dangers out there. There are bad things in this world. There is a valley of the shadow of death! There are people who don’t like us. Yes, we may very well have real enemies.

But don’t fear, God says in this psalm. I am with you. And because I am, you can even sit down at the table with your enemies and you will be fine. Even there, in the presence of our enemies,

Our heads are anointed with oil—we are blessed and consecrated by our God.
And there, at the table in the presence of our enemies, our cup overflows with God’s goodness.

Even there, we will be all right. Because we are following the right path.

And on that path, there is goodness and mercy following us.

Not just today. Not just tomorrow. But all the days of our lives.

This how God rewards those of us who are faithful in our following of God.  
And at the very, we know what awaits us. We know what the ultimate goal is in following God our Shepherd. We know where God will lead us. God will lead us to that place in which we dwell in the house of God, our whole life long.

See, this psalm really is amazing! No wonder this psalm has been so important to so many people over so many years.

This psalm is our psalm.

It is a wonderful microcosm of our faith journey.

And it is a beautiful reminder to us of God’s continued goodness in our lives.
So, when we are at a funeral and we hear the 23rd Psalm or we hear it being recited in a film, let us truly hear it for what it is. Let it speak to us anew. And most importantly, let it be a reminder to us of God’s goodness and mercy, of God’s care for each of us.

God is our shepherd. God leads us and guards us and guides us.

We have nothing to fear.

And, one day, we will dwell in the house of our God forever.




Sunday, July 8, 2018

7 Pentecost

July 8, 2018

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

+ As we gather here this morning, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Austin, Texas. And the big debate this year: revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

If you ever want to rile Episcopalians up, just bring up to them the idea of changing the Book of Common Prayer.  In fact, many of you might feel the same way. You might even be upset still over the fact that the 1979 BCP replaced the 1928 BCP.

So, why is the revising of the Book of Common Prayer such a big deal? Well, it’s a big deal because when we change the prayer book, we change our official policy of the Church on the certain issues.

For any of you who took my Episcopal 101 class knows; we as Episcopalians are not big on dogma or doctrine. But we are HUGE on worship. And if you want to know what we believe, worship with us.

We believe what we pray.

That’s what I LOVE about the Episcopal Church.

So, as a result, revising the Prayer Book is HUGE. So, what specific revisions are being weighed at General Convention?  

The two BIG issues about revision are: First) using exclusive/expansive language regarding God in the liturgy. In other words, veering away from male-exclusive language for God in the words of our liturgies.

As you know, I have been pretty passionate about this one for many years. And we have tried hard here at St. Stephen’s to nudge ourselves in that direction. Of course, for 9 years, our Wednesday night Mass uses a liturgy adapted from some of the resources of the Episcopal Church to utilize non-gender language regarding God.

I am a major defender of this revision.

The other issue is of course the even BIGGER issue (an issue that, if passed will directly affect us at St. Stephen’s): the inclusion of a liturgy for same-sex marriage rites.  

Yup, it’s that old battle again. But…if this revision goes through, the battle’s pretty much over. It will now be officially part of the Book of Common Prayer. That’s HUGE.

For most of us, especially here at St. Stephen’s, we are no doubt wonder why there is still so much debate on this issue? We have been doing it here for several years now, and look at how enriched our church is!

Look at how enriched the Church as a whole has been by allowing every one the full rites of the Church. But, by including these rites officially into the BCP and not into some supplemental materials to the BCP, it will now become “official” policy.

And that is where some Episcopalians bristle. “Bristle” might be too tame a word here.  As I read though some of the testimonies regarding this issue this past week, I found myself walking familiar ground.

I’ve said it here before. I guess I’ll be saying it again. The issue’s already been decided. We all know the direction in which we’re headed. It is time for the Episcopal Church to simply step up and do it.  Just revise what needs to be done, make this an official liturgy and let’s be done with it so we can move on and do the work that needs to be done.

If I sound impatient about this…well… I am.  We need to move forward as a Church. Most of us here this morning fought these battles years ago. It’s time to be done.

The people who are opposed to it are going to remain opposed. They will need to make their own decisions in the face of this.

The rest of us just need to do the work that is at hand. As we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s.

We at St. Stephen’s knew that this was the direction in which the Church was heading for decades. We are prepared for these changes. We’ve fought these battles. We’ve been a part of those arguments. We knew this was where we were headed as a Church.

So, I say revise the Prayer Book! I, for one, am excited about the potential of what a new Prayer Book can bring forth! This is what it means to look forward.

To move forward.

To not get stuck in the museum of the Church.

This is what we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s from the beginning. Looking forward. With hope. With expectation.

And for those of us who have, we knew these changes were coming. They were inevitable.

Now, call it prophecy if you will. Actually, no, don’t. Prophecy can be a good thing, and prophecy can be a bad thing. It depends on where you end up on the receiving end of prophecy.

We hear a lot of about prophecy  in scripture of course. And we hear a lot about prophecy in our society.

But we need to be very clear here:  Prophets are not some kind of psychics or fortune tellers.  Yes, 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.

But, again, 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 (if we believe in such things)

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 worship) and they leave us bewildered.

Prophets, as much as they are like us, are also unlike us as well.  The Spirit of God 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 and the world and the Church.  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 our perception of God.  And that is the reason we sometimes refuse to recognize the prophet. That why we resist the prophet, and change and looking forward in hope. We reject prophets 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.  Who is one of us.

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. We would too.  We, rational people that we are, would no doubt try to explain away who he was and what he did.  But 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, God empowers us with the 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.

Prayer Book revision? Ae you kidding me?

Same sex marriage rites? 15 years ago, few people in the Church thought that would ever be a real possibility.

20 years ago, I certainly didn’t think it would happen.

5 years ago, James and William didn’t think they would be having their marriage blessed in their own church of St. Stephen’s.

The Spirit of prophecy we received from God seems a bit unusual to those people around us.

Loving God?

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 we 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 prophet has nothing to do with our own sense of comfort. 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 it in word and in deed.  Because when that Spirit of God comes upon us, we become a community of prophets, and when we do, we become the Kingdom of God present here.  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 means being able to recognize injustice and oppression in our midst and to speak out about them. And, most importantly, CHANGE it.

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 and age.

But we can’t be afraid to do so.  We need to continue to speak out.  We need to do the right thing. We need to heed God’s voice speaking to us, and then follow through.  And we need to keep looking forward. In hope. And trusting in our God who leads the way.  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 look forward and strive forward and move forward in hope.

I don’t know if we can be truly content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, as we heard from St. Paul’s in his second letter to the Corinthians today.  But having endured them, we know that none of these things ultimately defeat us.  And that is the secret of our resilience in the face of anything life may throw at us.

“For the sake of Christ,” let us bear these things.

With dignity.

With honor.

Let us be strong and shoulder what needs to be shouldered.

Because, we know. In that strange paradoxical way we know that, in the way of Christ, whenever it seems that we are weak, it is then that we are truly strong.