Sermon,  Sermons

Living the Prophetic

sermon video. Click for parts 2 & 3.

When Greer was a senior at West Aurora high school, she performed in, In The Heights, a musical written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was extraordinarily moving, and exceptionally prescient, prophetic – exposing the insidious cycle of poverty that is easily detected in all major cities, and not-so-major towns. When I read up on the play and Miranda, I found that he had written another musical to great acclaim, called Hamilton, that highlights the life of Alexander Hamilton, his contributions to the establishment of our nation, and tells the story in a way that also calls out injustices that occurred then and pervade our country now. And I just had to see it when it came out that spring.

But at $100-200 per ticket? Wasn’t going to happen. Still, Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted everyone to have a shot at seeing it so he (someone) created an app that a person can download and daily enter a lottery for 2 $10 tickets. 4 ½ years later, Howie, after conscripting my phone and – every day – entering the lottery with both, won 2 tickets for last Friday night’s performance!

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a modern-day prophet. He knows this country’s history and the constitution that supports it, and recognizes the beauty and potential the documents hold. He can also see the abuses carried out in service to it. And he tells it with culture-centric music styles, casting of diverse leading roles, humor and heartbreaking narrative, and excellence.

The prophet Hosea knows God and Israel’s history, and sees the abuses carried out in the name of religion, and tells the story through his own marriage – not much humor, probably no music, but definitely a lot of heartbreak – as uncomfortable as the entire narrative understandably makes us.

Last week we talked about Gomer, who is labeled a whore, and Israel is continuously referred to as a whore. And I mentioned that the narrative goes on to say that Hosea’s whore of a wife, was not faithful because she felt the only way to get what she needs is to go to other sources: “they give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” And later God say, “she didn’t know – she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and lavished her with silver and gold . . . that she then used for Baal . . .”

She didn’t know. Why did she not know this? Whose responsibility is it to tell her?

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. 

– James Baldwin, Sojourners Magazine, “Voice of the Day,” 8/1/2019.

And perhaps that is why we cannot see the Love that is lavished on us? And maybe that is why we cannot see those who need to hear and know of God’s great love for them, that they are created in the very image of God – because they wear a mask, and we don’t recognize it?

This is the role prophets: to notice what is not of God, not God’s goodness, and expose it.

God tells Hosea in today’s reading how God calls Israel God’s child, treated them as such, with the lavish love of a parent, and the provisions necessary to live, and still more.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
   I took them up in my arms;
   but they did not know that I healed them. 
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
   with bands of love.
I was to them like those
   who lift infants to their cheeks.
   I bent down to them and fed them. 

Hosea 11:3-4, NRSV

God taught them to walk and took them up in God’s arms when they fell – was there with them from the very beginning, intimately involved in their development and nurture. But they did not know – they didn’t know.

They didn’t know that it was God who healed them, was with them from the very beginning, caring, nurturing, healing, strengthening them.

Why did not they know? Whose responsibility is it – to tell them it was God?

So we know that God’s word is already written on our hearts – in our DNA because we are made of God. But when we are not in communication with God (prayer, meditation, sitting together in the hearing of God’s Word) we search for a source and latch onto whatever or whoever provides at least some measure of what we think we need. We put on a mask, or mask the heartache, the shame, whatever. And loose a bit of our selves in the process.

Gomer was loved by a man who loved her and covenanted with her. But she did not trust his love and care for her.

Israel was loved by God the Creator, giver of life, lover of souls. But they did not trust God’s love for them. So they went elsewhere.

Whose responsibility is it to tell the truth about where the source of life is found? I’m just going to keep asking this question, because I need to keep asking it of myself. . . Whose responsibility is it to tell me that investing my energy in a project that seems like it could be fulfilling and might give me notoriety in my field and possibly the extra cash I need to survive at the standards that I feel I’ve got to sustain to make me happy?

Who will tell me differently? I do actually have a couple of people who are this to me – but I had to choose it, covenant with them – not run away at the first signs of discomfort.

Well, the person doing the telling must also know and believe that truth, right?

That is what the prophet Hosea is doing for Israel – and the people hate him for it.

Another prophet, Jeremaiah, laments:

v.7 O Lord, you have persuaded me,
   and I was persuaded;
you have overpowered me,
   and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
   everyone mocks me. 

8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
   I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
   a reproach and derision all day long. 
9 If I say, ‘I will not mention God,
   or speak any more in God’s name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot. 
10  . . .   All my close friends
   are watching for me to stumble . . .
11 But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
   therefore my persecutors will stumble,
   and they will not prevail . . . . 
13 Sing to the Lord;
   praise the Lord!
For God has delivered the life of the needy
   from the hands of evildoers.

Jeremiah 20:7-13, NRSV

You might remember the series I did in the wintertime on the 5-fold spiritual gifts as described in Eph 4. A prophet calls out hypocrisy – that forgetting who we are – image-bearers. That effort, attempt to live in a way that we are not made to live as.

The prophetic gift is likely the most difficult calling because it is unpopular at best and dangerous at worst. The prophets among us speak uncomfortable truths. They challenge us. Why are they uncomfortable to us?

Those empowered by the Spirit to be this so-called “mouthpiece of God” are often so unpopular their personalities can become off-putting further making it even more difficult for us to listen, to hear what God is telling us through this other human being. Who also happens to be gifted with the prophetic.

The prophet is queer – strange, odd, freakish, outlandish, remarkable, unorthodox, unconventional, perplexing, mysterious . . .

I don’t mean the kind of truth-telling that is from my own discomfort or frustration and I just have to tell that person she is wrong, or let him know how irritating something is. I’m talking about being so steeped in God’s presence, dwelling in the company of Jesus who resides within, and seeing an injustice, noticing when a system is not operating as an equitable community, and moved to call it out.

Or noticing a brother or sister is not living her best self – as image-bearer . . .

Perhaps it is more that we – I should say me – I don’t want to change or go through the effort of making a change or challenging the status quo because, quite frankly, I’m tired. But it might also speak to a prejudice or preconception I hold. And, let’s face it, we all harbor one or another to some degree.

But there are many prophets among us here and now. And we fairly burn with the holding in of the telling of God’s goodness because, to someone else it just might not look very good from one vantage point. She or he might need to let go of something she thought was so good in the beginning but has now become an idol – something that now controls him, is a habit, an addiction.

The prophet knows what God is about and what we are to be about as image-bearers.

Prophets are advocates, existentialists, hackers, and anarchists. They are mystics, environmentalists, whistle-blowers, and magnanimous.

The Macalan whisky making process has beautiful spiritual instruction for those who burn to call out truths. Because we can see spiritual truths and God’s presence everywhere!

So to make whisky, you start with the cask. To fashion the casks, acquiring and preparing the wood is time-consuming and harrowing. The wood comes from white Oak grown in Spain and the US. The “journey involves a trial by fire. . . Why? Because through fire comes flavor. In fact, up to 80 percent of The Macallan’s character comes from our extraordinary casks.”

It travels thousands of miles, but first “it’s been air dried for a year where it was felled, and then another year after being cut into staves in Jerez, Spain, the next stage of the journey readies it to meet the heat of fire.”

“The ‘standing of the casks’ is a unique process where the staves are carved and sanded into a rough form held in place by metal hoops, before meeting the fire that helps to mold the barrel.

Some things cave under intense pressure, while for others their true worth is revealed through the trial. Casks require heating to be crafted into shape, and to prove that they are worthy of their call. The level of heat treatment has a significant impact on the flavors created in the wood. In the bourbon industry the cask is heated quickly and it ignites, burning the surface of the wood to create a ‘char’. As well as adding flavor and color, char can remove harsher, unwanted flavors from the spirit, almost acting as a filter between the wood and the spirit inside. For sherry and wine cask production the cask is toasted at a lower temperature for longer. This develops a larger pool of complex characters that can be passed on, over time to The Macallan spirit.”

The cooper (cask-maker) sees the quality of the wood and the process; recognizes when one won’t stand up to the heat, take on the char and become what it is meant to be through the process; works to guide the wood with metal hoops and stick with the process over time.

For the prophet, it’s knowing God’s best – the beautiful way all creation must work together – and calling attention to when it is not, forcing the hand of ones who exercises power over the corruption – and sometimes sustaining the backlash. But always, always in the power of that very Spirit of God and in the presence of God, and with the unfathomable love of Jesus within – mulling, seeping, developing character, flavor.

Alcohol can be and become a problem for some. But one of the most frequently listed ‘sin’ throughout scripture is gossip. And the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Not the sexual habits of its citizens. Ez 16:49 “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” It was their lack of hospitality – their complete disregard for the guest, the immigrant.

The prophet sees the heart of the matter – God’s heart in the matter. It’s rarely the irrelevant behaviors we might be uncomfortable with. “If we have not love . . .” we’re making a racket. And nothing is better for it.

Sitting with the char, allowing the spirit and the effects of that fire (the consuming fire that does not consume – Spirit) mature and deepen in complexity and flavor and countenance – so we can become a healing balm, and BE the agents of God’s purpose in this world, to make things right, to call out injustices, to see it – and then take responsibility – together: discipling one another, telling each other, bearing witness to the unfathomable Love that God has for us.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
   How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
   How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
   my compassion grows warm and tender. 
9 I will not execute my fierce anger;
   I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
   the Holy One in your midst,
   and I will not come in wrath. 

Hosea 11:8-9, NRSV

May we be as God, as image bearers of God, Jesus residing in us, in the power of the Spirit: may we keep from approaching one another in wrath, but with tender hearts and great compassion. We have the calling and the power to expose what is less-than – to live the prophetic together – and to live it with compassion and tenderness. Others may still hate us for it, but Love wins. Always.

I will be doing a series over the next 5 weeks about what it means to be a reconciling community, and doing so in a way that is faithful to the character and heart of Durand UMC. As always, my sermons and slides and video of the sermon will be posted on the church’s website where you can read/watch/share – if you miss a Sunday, or want to look back over something you missed. Howie and I will also be doing another pulpit swap on August 18, and we are working together to communicate similar messages of reconciliation and community.

As we come to the table together, let us come with one heart.