31 January 2010

Epiphany 4 C - The Need for Prophets

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Luke 4: 21-30

Sunday, 31 January 2010

By Stuart Pike

It could be that I’m just not doing it right, but I can safely say that, so far, no congregation has, after hearing me preach, threatened to throw me off a cliff! It could be that a congregation might have thought it, but were too polite to say anything about it! The congregation who listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson has exactly this response to his words. It is amazing how quickly the people change from speaking well of him to wanting to murder him! Perhaps it is because Jesus speaks the truth, and the truth is not the comfortable

Both the O.T. lesson and the Gospel are about Prophets, about speaking the message of God. That's what prophets do: they speak the message which God wants them to speak to the people.

God speaks to Jeremiah and tells him that he is to be a Prophet and (as is usual with Prophets) he immediately protests that he is not able. Many of God's servants did the same thing:

Moses: - unable to speak

Isaiah: a man of unclean lips

Jeremiah: I am only a boy.

In response God simply does not take no for an answer. He says: You SHALL go to all to whom I send you, and you SHALL speak whatever

I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."

Jeremiah may not actually have been a child. In the Hebrew text the word translated as boy is na'ar which could mean anyone from childhood up to age 30. What is really significant is that a na'ar was a person without authority.

Jeremiah thought that he didn't have the authority to preach. Perhaps he wondered how he would be received if he started telling the people that they were doing it all wrong and that God had other ideas about how they were to live. "Who does he think he is?", is probably what Jeremiah imagined he'd be greeted with by the people to whom God would send him.

That is often the question which any group of people will use to dismiss someone who suggests a new way which is different from the way the people are used to. When the will of God is spoken by a prophet and it opposes what the people are doing, then the people will often seem to use any excuse to dismiss the prophet - rather than listening to the message, and learning from it. He's too young - or she is without authority. Who does she think she is?

The Gospel lesson shows us how Jesus was treated when he spoke the truth about his mission. That truth did not meet their expectations and wishes and their high regard for Jesus turned into a murderous rage.

What did Jesus mean when he interpreted the Nazarene's thoughts as "Doctor cure yourself"? Remember that Jesus was preaching to his own home town. It probably means the same thing as the second thing that he says. You are a Nazarene - so make sure you heal Nazarene's. You belong to us and your mission is to take care of us. "Do also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum." In other words: Charity begins at home.

Jesus refers to two of their Scripture stories which show how God doesn't necessarily appear to the Jews. Elijah went to a foreign widow though there were many Jewish widows at the time. Naaman was a foreign leper who was healed though there were many Jewish lepers at the time.

These people want to claim Jesus as their own. Jesus tells them that he is not their servant but is God's servant. And God hasn't only come for them but for all people.

Of course the end result of all that was their wish to throw Jesus off a cliff. This is the sort of thing that Jeremiah in the O.T. was probably worried about. If he is only a boy, or has no authority and is proclaiming what the people do not want to hear. What will they do to him?

The truth is that God doesn't necessarily do our will. But because the message isn't according to our own expectations or our wishes - it doesn't mean that it isn't God's will. The messages of God are often unexpected and they are often brought by someone unexpected or without authority.

Remember Jesus saying, "When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry about what you are to say but say whatever is given to you at that time, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit."

God speaks through whom he will and brings the message which we need to hear. The most common thing about the message of God is that it means change. God didn't send his Prophets to say to the people: "You're doing a fine job: keep it up." All God's messages are about change. Change for the better of course. All God’s prophets spoke to the people about how they needed to change to be faithful to God's will

Jesus, likewise didn't go about telling people just what they wanted to hear. He healed them and accepted them as they were, but he had the grace to tell them not what they wanted to hear - but what they needed to hear. Jesus told them how they needed to change.

The people in Jeremiah's time, seven centuries before Jesus - needed a prophet. The people in Jesus' time needed a prophet too.

The people were probably ready for minor reforms and for wonderful deeds - but they really needed a prophet. We seem to be in the same boat today. We are content with minor reforms in some aspects of our lives, but we are not ready to confront the darkness which is within ourselves, and in our society. We don't seem ready to change. We, too, need a prophet. We need to be able to hear the message from God for us today. The question is: what would we do with such a prophet?

Of course it's the same answer as what always happened. There are some in the parish who would be able to hear the message from God, and who would take it heart and who would change. But there are also some who would like to take the prophet to the edge of Mount Nemo and have them take the express elevator down, without the elevator!

I believe that God is calling us to change today. I don't mean minor reforms. I mean revolutionary change in the way in which we are being the Church. Our whole world is changing around us and we realize that we live in a culture which has largely forgotten all about God. We realize that there are plenty of people who call themselves Anglican and are on our Parish list, but who have little experience of the God who loves them, or of our Lord Jesus who accepts us as we are, and then asks us to change - to return to being people faithful to God. We are called to reach out to more people – both those on our parish list, and those whom we have never reached before. And we need to change in order to do that.

In which ways is God calling you to change? What message is God asking you to speak? Through your words and through your actions? And what objections do you give? Don’t say, “I’m only a boy, or a man or a woman” or “I’m too old”, or “I’m not ready”. For God is calling you to be a part of his purpose. Amen.

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