A sermon for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:21-30
It’s dangerous to be a prophet. Prophets, by the very nature of their role, of the trust and faith that has been placed in them, the gift that has been put upon them by God, stand out apart from the people and culture of their time. They raise awareness of something else. A different way. A different understanding. A different reality. A reality which often challenges the reality that is currently accepted, a reality which pushes those who hear it to question their own place in this world, to question their role in how the structures and authorities of the time act and interact with the people of the time. It is dangerous to be different. It can be even more dangerous to be the same and call for those who are alike to live into something different.
We expect those who are different from us to believe different from us as well. Whether it’s religious or cultural or political or whatever, it makes sense that someone who is other than would believe different, would advocate for different, would stand up and speak against us, because they are not of us and do not understand us and why we hold onto the ways of our dominant society and culture. Often times, this is uncomfortable. We don’t like being called out by those who don’t know, who don’t live our reality. We don’t like to be challenged by those we see as not one of us, to be challenged by those who cannot understand what it means to live life the way we do. And, it’s dangerous for those who are speaking out, challenging, because we don’t want to hear from them, and when it’s pushed to the limits of acceptability, we act out in ways to insure their voice is removed, including through violence.
Prophets, on the other hand, are one of us. Prophets are like us. They look like us. We have raised them up. They are part of our society, they know the rules, they know the expectations, they know the role they are supposed to play within these expectations. And yet, they buck those expectations. They stand apart from within. They speak out from a place of knowledge and sameness, in order to call us, to challenge us, into something different, something profound, something reality-shifting. It’s not surprising then that prophet’s are unwelcome in their hometowns. We can marginalize and dismiss those who are other. It is much harder to do that to someone who is one of us. It is much harder to do that to someone we have already accepted and have placed among us as one of us.
And it’s not like prophets make it easy on us. Prophets aren’t among us to comfort and assure us that we are doing everything great. Prophets call us to a different reality. Prophets call us to prepare for a shift in culture, to prepare for a new reality that is to come that will redefine how we interact with one another, that will redefine how power and authority is understood, gained, maintained.
When Jesus challenges those in the synagogue today he makes it clear that the prophets who have come before were chastised, were put out, were marginalized. That when the prophets who came before did acts of healing, of grace, they did it for outsiders, even though there were many of their kind who were in need. These outsiders, these others, receive the grace and healing of God because they were hungry for that new reality, they had faith in what was being offered by the prophet. This work of healing, of sharing grace with outsiders, with others, will continue throughout Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus is telling the synagogue today that he isn’t here to save them. They do not have a right to his ministry. They cannot claim him as theirs and theirs alone, because he has not come to serve the comfortable, to serve the sure, to serve the privileged. The complacency of assuredness, of right of access, is abruptly ended. Something is taken away in this moment of realizing that you do not get immediate access by virtue of sameness. And, the crowd becomes enraged because the person who is challenging them, who is accusing them and passing judgment on them, is one of them.
How dare he?
Does he not know that he is one of us and is to play the role that we have designated for him?
How dare he expose the flaws of our system, our society, when he is every bit a part of them?
It is dangerous to be a prophet, especially in your hometown.
But, how does this relate to us, today?
There are certainly prophetic voices in our time. There are certainly prophetic voices that are of us, that challenge us to look at the sins of our own system. But, what about each of us here in the pews today? We cannot all be called to be prophets, right?
I think sometimes we get too caught up in what it means to live into the different expressions of faith that are put before us in the Bible, throughout the history of our tradition. Prophets are few and far between. They speak with a fervor and authority that is literally God-given. They stand against in a public and prolific manner. They speak out for a new reality that is to come by challenging the current reality to be better, to prepare, to look inwardly and realize they have serious work to do if they don’t want to be left behind. But we’re not all called to be prophets. We’re not even all called to be those prophetic voices that are held up as beacons of light and truth in our world today. That said, there is a part of this understanding and knowledge that is for us, even if we don’t see ourselves ever being that prophetic voice, that activist that stands on the soap box and sheds light on darkness in this world.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks with God today, asking why he, just a boy, has been chosen to be the mouthpiece for God. And God responds: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” I knew you, I consecrated you, I appointed you. We are known by God. We are consecrated by God. We are appointed by God to live the lives that are before us, to use the spiritual gifts we have been given to the best of our abilities, to fill the role that we feel called to. This will not always, or even often, or even ever, mean that we will be the prophet, that we will be the prophetic voice, the public face, the activist.
But, when we live into these lives, we cannot help but distinguish ourselves from those around us. To shed light on the darkness in this world. To call out evil at work in this world. For that is our call as Christians. We do this in a myriad of ways, some more vocal and public than others. But, we do it nonetheless. We share that light of Christ, that radical prophetic message that stands against the reality of our current culture and society, when we show the love of Christ to another, when we recognize those who are other are not other in the eyes of God, when we share this reality with others around us. It can be as simple as teaching our kids how to love our neighbor. It can be as simple as giving space for those our society and culture would make other to speak, to share their reality, to receive the same gift of grace that we experience in our relationship with God.
It is dangerous to be a prophet, but we aren’t all called to be prophets. If we were all called to be prophets, then there wouldn’t be any prophets because there would be no one standing apart and calling us into a new reality that differs from the one we already experience. But, we are called to be Christians. And, as Christians, it is important to understand the work of the prophets, the teachings they gave, the people they served, the people who rejected them, and the voice they were given by God. Through this understanding we open ourselves for a reminder of those gifts that we have been given, and the challenge that calls us to be prophets in the ways that we can through the gifts we have. Whether that is being a truly prophetic voice for all to hear, or simply someone who stands up and serves the other that society rejects, we have the gifts we need to live into our life as Christians, and we have the prophets to thank for that understanding, for the challenge to call our hometown to something greater, to call our hometown out of complacency and self-assuredness into the service of the other, into accepting the new reality that will fundamentally alter the reality of our world today. Go forth in the knowledge that you are known and appointed to be a messenger of God, today, with the gifts you already have.