In the Name...
One day, a bishop was interviewing a seminarian, and asked if he had any ideas where he would like to be assigned as a curate. The young fellow replied, somewhat boldly, "Oh, bishop, I'll go anywhere except..." - and he named a particular town. "Why not there?" the bishop queried. "Well," he said, "I grew up there, and we all know that a prophet is not honoured in his home country." "I shouldn't worry about that," the bishop remarked, "nobody is going to confuse you with a prophet."
What is a prophet? Do we think we know? We might have a visual image of an Old Testament figure like Charlton Heston, um, Moses, with a long beard and a robe, parting seas and hurling lightning. At Christmas time, when we listen to the beautiful music of Handel's 'Messiah" we mentally associate prophecy with predictions. Indeed, the word "prophecy" has come to mean just that. Some form of divination or oracle about the future.
But, while some Biblical prophets say things which can be interpreted as predictions, a glance at the Scriptures reveals that many others do not. The prophet Nathan, for example, never mentions tomorrow, but, he's full of advice for King David on how to rule Israel and live his life today. Elijah, considered by the Jews second only to Moses, likewise doesn't have much to say about things to come. His concern is with defending the faith of Israel against pagan influences and heretical rulers. And these were both prophets because the word prophet simply means "one who speaks", one who speaks for God. Fortune-telling is nothing to do with it. A prophet is anybody who speaks for God, who speaks God's words.
And anybody can be a prophet. It's amazing to look at the Biblical prophets in detail. Some have entire books named after them, others are nameless, mentioned only for the one message they were called to impart. Rich, poor, rural, urban, uneducated, urbane, married, single, male, female. God is an equal opportunity employer.
And, truth be told, it's not just prophets in their homelands who are without honour. Prophets are not honoured anywhere because the words of God, even if we study them diligently and believe in them whole-heartedly, are hard for us to accept. Doing what the prophets call us to do can require us to make changes in the way we live, the ways we think, the way we react to people and situations, and nobody likes to have their routines and opinions disrupted.
Our texts, this morning, call us to reflect on what it is like to be a prophetic voice in the midst of our community and our culture. And the word to Ezekiel, the word from Paul and the experience of Jesus, all assert that it "ain't easy."
God says to Ezekiel that he will encounter resistance to his message and this is amazing because the message that Ezekiel had for the people was that their 70-year exile in Babylon was soon going to be over. They were going home to Israel! That should have been, not just good, but, fantastic news. But, over the years a lot of people had adjusted to exile. They had settled down, become comfortable. They had families, businesses, routines. Ezekiel was excited about something they said they sort of believed in, but, really didn't. And they resisted him. They rejected him.
And St. Paul observed that resistance can also come from within the prophet's own self, as well. He knew that life would be so much easier for himself if he just shut up, if he stopped writing letters, if he stopped making journeys. Each time he was rejected in a place came the temptation to just pack it in - take this job and ... shelve it. Paul was a prophet who met the enemy and it was himself. Yet, he said, it was out of the struggle with that weakness that God made him strong.
And as for Jesus, he was rejected by his own because his own thought that they knew him. His relatives and fellow citizens could think of him only as the son of a local contractor, the brother of James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon. They couldn't accept that he wasn't who they wanted him to be. They wanted him to fix broken furniture, not broken lives. They wanted his advice on the exposure of their living rooms to the sunlight, not expose their lives to the light of God. They wanted bigger barns to store abundant crops, not be told to lay up treasures in Heaven. And so, they rejected him.
And that's a story that we can identify with because it is a story that many, if not all, of us have been part of.
A man once went on a search for wisdom and was directed to an old seer who lived in a distant land, in a cave on the side of a great mountain. After a long and arduous journey, the man arrived at the cave and the seer said to him, "Say your prayers, love your family, be good in your work.” When he returned home, his wife said, "And what have I been telling you for 20 years?" You know the definition of an expert as someone who lives at least one hundred miles away. Honestly, we often don't listen to our friends, workmates, husbands, wives, children, because we know them too well.
But, you or I could very easily find ourselves placed in a prophet's role. We could find ourselves speaking God's words to our families, friends, and neighbours. We may be moved to say that something everybody accepts is not in accordance with what God accepts. We may even be moved to say the one thing, at the right time, which could change history.
The fact is, whether it's Ezekiel, Paul, Jesus, or us, when God wants to use our voice in a prophetic way, it will often be to shake something up. And, after we speak, we may even feel shaken ourselves. And this was true even of Jesus.
In the Gospel, the text says that due to the people's disbelief, Jesus was so shocked, so amazed, he could do no "mighty work" in Nazareth, except, and I love this, it says that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. Hey, I don't know about you, but, if I was one of those sick people, I'd have considered my healing a mighty work.
It goes to show, then, that even when Jesus could do nothing so-called "spectacular", people were still healed, lives were still changed, broken things were still mended. So, even on our worst days, mighty and wonderful things can still be accomplished for God. Just imagine the things God can do with us on our good days!
Today's Scripture calls us to listen to the prophets of God, ancient and modern, whether or not they're strangers or familiar and, despite how difficult their message may be for us to take, to respond in faith. But, more than that, it's a call for us to realize that we are prophets ourselves and not be discouraged when we face opposition or have second thoughts.
Moses once prayed that someday all people, and not just a few, would be prophets. That prayer was answered on Pentecost. On that day, every Christian, was given the power of prophecy, of speaking God's words of encouragement or judgment, of healing or warning, of things present or even things to come. Each one of us has been called and gifted to speak God's words.
So, if nobody confuses us with prophets maybe that means we're not speaking those words clearly enough. Because the only way God's words will be heard is if we speak them. So, what words have you been given to say? Pray about it.
In the Name...