Sermon from 7/5/2015

The Rev. Randy A. Knutson
Sunday, July 5, 2015
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:  Proper 9
Listen to this…Sermon 2015 07 05 Pentecost VI RAK

Am I a prophet? Are you a prophet? Can we be prophets?

The lessons today are about what it is to be a prophet and especially Jesus’ reception as one in his hometown. The passage from Ezekiel is part of the calling of this Old Testament prophet who was in exile in Babylon at the time. He was called upon to accuse and encourage the people of Israel in a far and distant land; in a place where there seemed to be no positive future ahead of them. What is a prophet?
In Seminary, as we studied and it came to prophets in the Old Testament and the books called prophets, we students had to try to pin down what we thought prophets were. We came up with a variety of answers, probably similar to what I would receive from you. One description I recently read was “wizened old men, thundering out God’s judgement upon an unrepentant and unreceptive people.” Boy does that sound Old Testament! It continues, “Prophecy, in that picture, is God’s message showing how current actions are against God’s will and predicting dire consequences. Sometimes the warning is accompanied by a promise of peace, prosperity and blessing if people will repent and return to God’s will.”
Well, that more or less sums up some of what we came up with in class. But there are two other things that are ‘impressions’ of prophets that I should bring up.

First, the class was very much into prophets predicting a future, which we found out was not very Biblical. With the exclusion of various interpretations of the Book of Revelations or Daniel, prophets DID talk about future consequences, but they hardly ever predicted a certain event would happen on a certain day in the future. That was something that Old Testament prophets did not do much; that is something we have added to our impression of a prophet. The other thing I have to add is that I learned, with few exceptions, prophets are not on the payroll; that is, prophets are usually not employed by the leaders and even people they speak to (bad news for Elaine and I; but we are priests, right?!) With the exception of Nathan, who is living in the house of King David, Old Testament prophets usually lived ‘outside’ of the households of the king, or ruler and even outside of the cities they came to. They did not serve ‘in the system’ but always came outside of it; not speaking to destroy it, but to save it.
So when we look at the life of Jesus, especially through the lens of prophet, we can see how the title fits. He was not in the religious system of the time, other than being devout, being close to God and knowing God’s Word. He sought no title, no office and, as far as we can tell, no home. He came to save, not destroy the system and to transform it and God’s people. The same could be said for his cousin, our namesake, John the Baptist. He fits that description, too. But there is another part of being a prophet that I think will fit US that I have not mentioned.
“Prophecy is naming the truth in a given situation and explaining the logical consequences of a course of action. God’s word is truth. And the prophet speaks God’s word, often in a situation where people have been unable or unwilling to face the truth.” So prophets are truth tellers. At the heart of it is speaking a word or the word of truth, even when it is uncomfortable. I believe that is where you and I are included as prophets, but more than that, too!
Am I a prophet? Are you a prophet? Can we be prophets?
Many times a week, maybe even many times in a day, we come to places in life, places in dealing with people, especially ones we love or care about, and we are put in a position of directing things toward the truth. It might be painful, it might as simple as redirecting people who are chatting, spreading rumors (false ones, especially), but we feel compelled to jump in with the truth and redirect things. It can sometimes be a risky business, but we feel we must speak and join the ranks of prophets, if even in a small way.
More than just the truth, we are called upon, not too often we might feel, to put forth the truth of God and the truth that comes from learning from the life of Jesus of Nazareth; the truth of his message to the world. This is even harder, because we have to expose the fact we know and follow this message; we go to church and find great hope, love and fellowship here! But I think the message I can give you, Mother Elaine, our Bishop, we can give to each other is, don’t be afraid; go ahead and dive into this truth also. We know and I believe, that the world around us, the time and places we live in, now, more than ever, need to hear the truth coming from Jesus, coming from God, and coming from the community of St. John’s. We need to spread that truth.
Now let me be clear about one more thing. We also know people, and I’m sure if you are like me, part of you is here, who love to ‘drop’ the truth into a situation, like a hand grenade, and see it explode and, we hope change peoples minds and behaviors. This is a kind of ‘truth bomber’, who knows for sure thee truth and then drops it on people. There is a place for this, but not over and over again. It should not be a repeated way of behaving; that is not what I believe being a prophet or a truth teller of what Jesus or God is about; but there is more here.

Am I a prophet? Are you a prophet? Can we be prophets?

When I thought about this more, prophets and truth, a recent truthful and prophetic event came to mind. That was the Truth and Reconciliation committee of South African, lead by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Acting on the pastoral skills of this great man and those around him, they formed this committee hoping that it would be a huge part of the change that would have to come to a whole nation if they were to turn it around. But truth, in itself, would NOT be enough to solve this; it also involved reconciliation, something we also see in the life of Jesus. He came into this world to reconcile us to God, reconcile people to people and reconcile the Jewish people to the Samaritans, the Gentiles, to the whole world. For us, as followers of Christ, truth is an important part of our prophetic utterance, but also paired with reconciliation; bringing with it Christ’s love.
I think that is, in part, what makes it hard talking about and spreading the news about our upcoming Action Summit on Human Trafficking on Wednesday, July 15. It is hard to speak this truth. If you are like me, this topic is not something I have been around, involved with or known much about. But now that it has been the topic of conversations, people have talked about how they have seen bits and pieces of Human Trafficking around Lodi or where they might have lived before. Yes, and we are talking about more than just prostitution, but people who are in bondage, perhaps working in nail salons or small out of the way stores. It is hard to speak out about this truth or that it exists; it doesn’t happen in the strata of life we live and work in. We go to church, to get groceries, to a restaurant, to Costco and we don’t see evidence of it immediately in the places we frequent. It is not there, as far as we know. Be we have also worked hard NOT to travel in those places where we might know about it and then we travel quickly on our way from place to place not touching upon it. Driving back from Valley Springs the other night, I wondered what it would be like not to drive, but to walk from downtown Lodi all the way out to Victor or Lockeford. What kind of people, who would I encounter if I did such a thing? I would guess I would encounter more people that would lead me to know about human trafficking, about human suffering, than I know about driving quickly through in my car. We have, understandably moved to live our lives where our awareness of this truth is not there; but once we know about it, are made aware of it, we are called to respond to this truth also, with Christ’s reconciling love.
So that brings us, remarkably, to the second part of this Gospel reading: Jesus, despite his being ‘with out honor’ in his hometown next sends out the disciples into the world to speak the truth with reconciliation. That comes next! They, like us, become his messengers, his prophets in the world. Yes, and Jesus truly does send us out to do this truthful, reconciling and messy job. To name the truth, to hear the truth and respond to it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” it is in and through Christ that we can hear and be prophets, bearers of God’s truth in and for our time.

Am I a prophet? Are you a prophet? Can we be prophets?
I believe God is calling us to be just that.

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