At What Cost

Family of Christ PC(USA), Greeley, Colorado
July 8, 2018
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Mark 6:1-13

When I first saw that these were the lectionary texts for today I was super excited. I mean the Mark text is such a classic that you just need to say a few words of it and people know where you’re going. And I love the Ezekiel text. They’re just rich and meaty to work with.

“Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."

I had such a desire to stand up hear and speak prophetic words to you, so that you would know a prophet had been among you. So that you could hear God’s word with such force and strength that you would be convicted to do great works as you went out from this service.

But. . .

On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."

And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

If going to his home town was Jesus’ kryptonite, what do you think coming to FOC does to me? The church I grew up in, with my mother sitting right there?

And I was scared. What authority did I have to come here and speak prophetically to you? You who knew me when I was part of the Almost Perfect Youth Group? You who have seen the mess that my life has been a lot of the time since then. What authority would you give to me and my words?

To speak prophetically you need two things, the authority of a prophet and the Word of God.
Who the hell am I to think that I have either of those things? Both of them have to be granted to you from outside, and why would they be granted to me? I’ve been unemployed for six months, I live on antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, the first thing I set aside from the unemployment check that I get every two weeks is the money for my every other week appointment with my therapist.

So my excitement at these texts turned to fear and anxiety in the pit of my stomach and I could not even start writing this. Until I forced myself to sit down at the Park Hill Library on Friday after noon and just start writing.

In her book Bird By Bird Anne Lamott writes about how “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

Now there’s a prophet who knows what she’s talking about. Nothing that I wrote on Friday is in this sermon, but in the hours that I sat there and struggled to spit all that out, I found the voice and the authority that I need to preach these texts to you today, and by the time I finished the 90 minute drive home I knew what I needed to say. 

So here goes. 

What I can see so clearly is the need for a prophet in the land in these days. For we have surely become a rebellious house.

We need a prophet to speak against the way we’re tearing families apart at the border.

We need a prophet to speak against the rise of white supremacists and their fellow travelers.

We need a prophet to speak against the sexual and physical abuse of women

We need a prophet to speak against the growing division in the country, that’s splitting families and friends.

We need a prophet to speak about how black lives, and brown lives, and trans lives, queer lives really do matter.

We need a prophet to speak against the false cries for civility that really intend to drown out the words of the prophets that are already speaking

We need a prophet to speak against national leadership that confuses the sowing of fear and hatred with actually leading.

We need so many prophets.

But. . .

I can’t be that person or more accurately, those people, this morning.

And the truth is, those people are already out there.

I don’t need to have the authority of a prophet or the Word of God. I need to have the courage and the strength to listen for the prophecy that is already being spoken. I need to find a way to separate those voices from the noise.

There’s a prophet that owns the Red Hen Restaurant.

There are prophets going to the border to defend the separated children in court.

There are prophets in the senate named Maxine and Elizabeth, who are using their place of power to speak the truth.

There’s a prophet in the House of Representatives named John who has been speaking since before the Selma to Montgomery marches and is still speaking today.

There’s a prophet on Netflix named Hannah, and if you haven’t seen her special, “Nanette,” you really need to.

There are prophets right here in this room and in this church, feeding the hungry, caring for the environment, speaking out as activists, creating art that challenges the audience and that supports the community.

There are so many prophets everywhere you look, if only we choose to hear them, to see them.
We are surrounded with such a great cloud of witness today that we must not despair or give into the fear that we have been left alone to deal with the pain and the struggles on our own.

And if that isn’t enough, we can still listen to the words of the prophets who have gone before.

Two weeks ago at the General Assembly of the PC(USA), our denomination began the process of making Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” one of our official confessional statements, adding it to our Book of Confessions, our record of the conversation the church has been having with itself throughout its history on what it means to be the church.

When the process of adding the Letter is completed, and I pray that it will be, it will stand alongside the Belhar Confession where the church in South Africa spoke out against Apartheid and the Theological Declaration of Barmen, where the church in Germany spoke out against the rise of Nazi power and the way they saw some of the church surrendering to that power.

It’s taken far too long, and it will take at least six years more before it’s complete, but what an amazing example it is of actually listening for the voices of the prophets in our time. 

I can’t be a prophet for you today, all I’m able to do is point you to the prophets that are all around us. Indeed, Dr. Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at my seminary, has suggested that it may not be the job of the preacher to speak as a prophet, but rather to work as the scribe speaking the words of the prophets again and again, so that we may learn to really hear them.
With that in mind, I feel like I should leave you with the words of a couple of modern prophets.

From Dr. King

I MUST make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

And, finally, from Hannah Gadsby:

I don’t tell you this so you think of me as a victim, I am not a victim. I tell you this because my story has value. My story has value…

You destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents. I will not allow my story to be destroyed. 

What I would have done to have heard a story like mine, not for blame, not for reputation, not for money, not for power, but to feel less alone. To feel connected…Because diversity is strength, difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing… 

And I am angry and I believe I have every right to be angry, but what I don’t have a right to do is to spread anger. I don’t, because anger, much like laughter, can connect a room full of strangers like nothing else…

Laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure…I don’t want to unite you with laughter or anger, I just needed my story heard, my story felt and understood, by individuals with minds of their own. Because, like it or not, your story is my story, and my story is your story. I just don’t have the strength to take care of my story anymore, I don’t want my story defined by anger, all I can ask is just please help me take care of my story…And that is the focus of the story we need: connection.

Look for the prophets, listen for their words, connect their stories to yours, and take care of them.