II Corinthians 12:2-10
Saint Mark 6:1-13
I got an email from my sister yesterday as I was reviewing my notes for this sermon. It gave me pause, as I pondered her dilemma, and realized that the readings for this morning have something to say about the situation in which she finds herself. My sister has sung for over two decades with a choral group, and has made many friends in the group. One person in the group has made a demand that doesn't make for an easy answer. The request is that my sister accompany this person to the first date of trail involving the friend's spouse. The difficulty is that my sister doesn't support the spouse. Such are the horns of her ethical and moral dilemma.
She posed this question to her brothers, both of us priests, and although I think my brother had a superior and more comprehensive answer, I found myself thinking about how this relates to a prophet's situation. Prophesy, unlike what many fundamentalist Christians will tell you, is not about the future or a crystal ball. It is about now. It is about being present in the present. In fact, that was the substance of my answer to my sister find out what this person really needs and then be present for them.
We have been preaching here for so long about our situation as a congregation. This Sunday, however, I would like for you to forget all that, and apply this lesson on living prophetically to your own life.
Prophets in the Old Testament are all about being present, and about speaking God's now to their time. Indeed as I look around this room today, I know many of you who have spoken God's now to people. Some of you have spoken a powerful message to families, as they took on additional responsibility for children, or have faced down a bishop with God's now. Some have spoken God's presence to street people, and the homeless, and moved us to be a part of God's presence for them. Some of you have made us walk, run, or bicycle for the sake of those who are ill with diseases. This congregation has a reputation for speaking out on local and national issues with a clear voice, full of God's now and God's presence. Even now, as we dare our new ministry, we challenge other congregations and churches who feel that God's now and God's presence evades those who can't afford clergy. This is the stuff of prophetic living.
Let's talk about prophets for a moment. There's Ezeikel exiled; Jeremiah exiled; Elijah ignored; Amos reviled. It's not an easy thing being prophetic. However, it doesn't take much to be a prophet. In fact, it takes nothing. No ego, no special knowledge or age (Jeremiah thought he was too young), Nothing! Listen to Jesus,
"Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.",
or even later in the Gospel for this morning,
"He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics"
Nothing! The only thing necessary is God's now, God's presence, God's message. Think about all the prophets who brought nothing to the table: Francis and Clare, Teresa of Calcutta, and countless others. Their nothingness was and is often perceived as "craziness". I always want to show a clip from Monty Python's The Life of Brian, when people go on about prophets, because the craziness of the prophets in this movie is probably spot on. Their nothingness, their craziness, the starkness of their message has always been perceived as if not anti-social, at least certainly not appreciated by society.
Living in Weakness
Saint Paul has a say about this as well. In the second lesson he tells us about a prodigious friend who has a multiplicity of vision. Paul wonders, "should I boast of such a thing?", and then realizes that the answer is, "No." Prophets operate best without such visions, so that God's message can boil out of their nothingness. Paul adds another consideration. As he considers his boasts, he is reminded of the "thorn" that God has given him. It is a thorn (we don't know what the thorn is, although I have an idea) that makes Paul realize that he is really weak. That is the power of that thorn reducing the prophet to what he or she really is. And God has an answer for such a situation. It is the power of weakness.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
To which Paul responds,
"So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
Have you heard from such prophets, who speak God's message out of their own weakness? Have you listened to yourself as you speak a message born out of your own weakness a message to which you have brought nothing no expertise, no innate wisdom, no profound thought other than the message that God gives you in your own heart.
Listen to the beginning of the first lesson again. It is stunning:
"The Lord said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you."
Again, I am reminded of a Monty Python film about the Holy Grail. In one scene where God, all done up in mediaeval splendor, is speaking to knights, who are kneeling and shaking in the presence of the Might One, this God says to them, "Stop your groveling!" And this is what God says to Ezeliel Stand up on your feet assume a posture of nobility and listen to what I have to say.
"And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel"
We, Ezekiel, anyone who wishes to be a prophet, to know and speak God's message, is to stand up, accept the Spirit, and to go out, to be sent out Apostles! It is at this point I finally understood what I needed to say to my sister:
Go, be with your friend, but go as a prophet. Take nothing with you other than the message borne of your honesty, and the comfort of a God who stands beside every man and every woman. Go, get up on your feet, and go, but be a prophet.