Called to be Prophetic
Jer 1: 4-10 Luk 4: 16-30
Today’s scriptures are about prophets. If I asked my Old Testament professor about the definition of a prophet he would simply say a prophet is someone who speaks for God. But that’s not the only thing you can say about prophets. Biblically speaking prophets are people who ‘interrupt the world’. To speak for God is to interrupt the world. God interrupts the world.
Listen to Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.
See today, I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant
Jeremiah is petrified at the thought that he might be called to be a prophet. “I am only a boy” he says. “I don’t know how to speak”.
I spend Thursday and Friday of this week fighting off a flu with little energy to think about my sermon. I was beginning to panic by Friday evening when it occurred to me that perhaps I was failing to see something right in front of my face. Perhaps I was being taught Jeremiah’s lesson. To be called to speak for God has no relation to my ability to think clever thoughts, or even my energy levels. In fact it if it is God’s word that is heard, it will need to come from outside my capacity, outside my sickness or health.
To be a prophet is to be given a word which interrupts the world. And my clever thoughts will never interrupt the world. Because they’re part of the world. We are here to hear the word of God…
Young Jeremiah, a boy with no speaking skills and no speech-writer is called to interrupt the world. His instinct is to retreat and protest his inadequacy. “I can’t do it, I’m only a boy”
God hasn’t got a problem with that… God says I will provide the words. In fact if Jeremiah did have good speaking skills that might be a disadvantage. He might impress with his speaking skills he might gain a reputation as an impressive speaker, but he would not interrupt the world. He would more likely entertain it.
So Jeremiah the boy is given words with which to tear down nations and to build and to plant God’s future. To be a prophet is to be a person interrupted so that your whole life becomes an expression of God future interrupting the present.
Jesus arrives in his hometown of Nazareth and announces the arrival of God’s kingdom – the year of Jubilee that all Jews anticipated. He announces the world to come and at first they admire him. At first they are entertained by him. Then someone says “Is not this Joseph’s son”. The thought is clear to everyone there. How can this boy from our town claim to interrupt our whole world?
To be a prophet is to interrupt the world and this boy from our town can’t interrupt our world. He has no authority. He’s one of us. He has a place in our system. How can he claim an authority over our village?
And so for the first time in his career (but not the last time) the people gather round him and seek to eliminate him. Somehow Jesus manages to escape a lynching on that occasion.
It must be a relief to you all that you are not called to be a prophet. Not only would you have no qualifications for the job, but you would also be in danger of a lynching…
But hang on… what are we called to? We have just recovenanted together to share in the life of Coastal Unity Parish in 2010. Is that just another club? Have we just gone through our membership routine? Have we just joined up for another year of domestic good deeds, that go by the name of ‘service’. Service to the well oiled machinery of the nation and the society. Making sure everyone is happy and things continue on as they have always done.
Or have we committed ourselves to following Jesus!
If that’s what we have just done. If we are learning what it means to follow Jesus that means we are living in the wake of history interrupted.
To be a prophet is to operate out of an authority that is greater than nation or government or law. It means we have been given a word from beyond our capacity, like the prophet Jeremiah was given words. It is to speak a truth to the nations that has absolutely nothing to do with getting votes. It is to challenge the authority of nations from a higher authority. It is to bear witness to a reality quite outside the world. As the people of Nazareth intuitively recognize, a prophet is an alien. A prophet is part of God’s interruption – somehow caught up in it.
And I want to suggest this morning that that is what we are called to… to share together in God’s interruption – the interruption that is Jesus Christ, to be prophetic together…Which means tearing down and uprooting the structures of our society, as well as planting and building. It will go through our own souls, this tearing down and this building, the uprooting and the planting. But it will also be a witness to others. It will look different. It will not be isolated.
Jesus was not just trying to be a good person… that’s not what it meant for him to bear witness or to be a prophet. No one throws a “good” person out of town. From the point of view of his village he is evil incarnate, because he is a traitor to the system and must be cast out…
For Jesus the future is a world in which the survival of the fittest is reversed. Remember his announcement that caused all the stir
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.
The oppressed and the poor, upon whose labour the whole structure of society depends, will be set free by God. Jesus speaks of an interruption of the whole structure of his society… And so he is a prophet.
So if our commitment today is not to a club but to following Jesus, then our calling is to be a prophetic community. Our calling then is to bear witness to that interruption here and now… to be a place where the poor and oppressed have been set free.
We don’t simply live happily under the authority of the nation. We are people who bear witness to an authority higher than any nation. We challenge the nation, if we are doing our job, with reference to an authority that interrupts all nationalism and patriotism. What does it mean when a church hangs a national flag in its place of worship? In the light of Jeremiah’s calling I think it’s a dangerous thing for a prophetic community to do. A flag is a powerful symbol of the authority of the nation, particular in war – the authority of a nation to demand that its citizens kill on its behalf. To be a prophetic community is in the very least to relativise the authority of the nation.
So are we prepared to be prophetic? Are we prepared to confront the world with witness to
God’s interruption? It’s easy for each of us to say in our hearts what can we do we are so small and elderly. We don’t have the speaking skills, the rock bands the flash videos. We are oppressed by the enormity of the world, the media, the bureaucracy. We feel trapped and impotent. In short we are poor, and oppressed and captives.
And at that point we need to realize that in a strange way our lack of qualifications are our qualifications. Like Samuel we will be given what we need to bear witness. Because none of our special skills will do the trick. None of our special skills will interrupt the world.
Jesus is the word of interruption and his Spirit is alive in our midst becoming the word we need and the word the world needs even if it doesn’t like it.
Bruce Hamill 31.1.10 St Clair (combined service)