Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28
In case you didn't know, today is Super Bowl Sunday. This is the day when one of the most epic battles of the year will take place. I’m not talking about the one between Seattle and New England, I think we know who will win that one. I'm talking about the war between Mac vs. PC; BMW vs. Audi; Coke vs. Pepsi. Yes, today is the day that advertisers come out in full force. Companies will spend $4.5 million for a :30 second chance to grab your attention…and convince you to come over to their side. They will use sexy celebrities, pro athletes, pop stars and diva’s, in hopes that you will take notice.
Did you know that each year advertising research firms come up with a new matrix or methodology to calculate how well these ads did, to see if their investment paid off...but none of these test have ever proven more reliable as the profit earned at the cash register. As the legendary Adman David Ogilvy would say, "They either buy the product or they don’t." It's that simple.
As for us, we've spent the last couple of weeks looking at different ways God has called out to us. We too have done so by looking at a particular methodology and how it worked to call nearly every biblical legend. That is to say, first they discover it is God who was calling; then they Decide on how to answer the call; lastly they took some kind of Action. Not as simple as deciding between McDonald’s or Burger King, but just the same we can either accept or reject God’s call.
Today, we are going to switch it up, and look at a particular kind of calling, one where saying, “No thanks” is not an option. I’m talking about the calling of the prophets. This is prophets spelled p-r-o-ph-e-t and not the kind found at cash registers. There is much to know about prophets. But since some of us have chicken wings and cheese dips to prepare, I'll just highlight a few of them.
First of all, Prophets are not popular people. They are nothing like the Tom Brady’s or Russell Wilson’s of Biblical characters. I suspect they’re unpopular because they’re called to speak the words of God. Words that we don’t always want to hear because they make us face the truth about who we really are. It’s also worth noting that prophets are not just unpopular, but often rejected and shunned. After all, being the moral and ethical agent for God is about as welcoming as...a telemarketer calling in the middle of the night. I can't imagine how much fun it is to hang out with someone who constantly holds up a mirror so we can see all the blemishes of our faith...in relation to what God wants of us. God chooses prophets. And it is through their words God calls us back into a covenant community through repentance. Jesus was the perfect example of a prophetic call, and yet, look where it got him.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus stands in the Temple, preaching with great authority. He preached like nothing they ever had heard before. He spoke the truth so boldly and clearly, that people were not just shocked, but worried. Like the prophets who had come before him, Jesus openly exposed their sins, but also showed them God’s mercy and grace. He gave clear directions on how to find redemption. In fact, Jesus was so good at proclaiming the Word of God that the people had no other choice but to repent...or to kill him.
Let me ask you this: Who in your life has told you the truth so clearly that you would want to kill him for doing it? Think about that for a second. Has there ever been a person in your life who has known you so well and spoken to you so truthfully that you’d do anything to keep that truth from exposing your sins?
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Jesus is not just the one who comforts, but the one who also challenges and upsets us, telling us the truth so clearly that we will do appalling things to make him shut up. If you do not believe that, maybe it is because you have not recognized Christ in some of the offensive people God has sent your way-people sent to yank our chains and upset our equilibrium so we do not confuse our own ideas of God with God.”
Prophets may not be popular, or always welcomed...but they are necessary if we are going to be faithful to God who continues to call out to us. This God is a God who gives us unconditional love so that we always have a place to come home to within God's covenant community. This is why Prophets are so important. They tells us what we need to know to keep our relationship with God faithful.
When God spoke through the prophet Moses, we got not 10 but 613 commandments on how to live in community with one another. And when God spoke through Isaiah and Jeremiah, we received the hopeful promises of God's grace for our repentance. Humans are not very good at obeying commandments, or faithfully relying on the hope of God’s grace. God spoke directly through Jesus, the very Word of God made flesh. Instead of listening to God, we listen to the voices in the world, the voices that tell us not only what to buy, but how to become powerful on the backs of the powerless, the poor and the weak. God calls the prophets to set us straight. But how well do we listen?
As the children of Israel are about to enter into a new land, God promises them a prophet to replace Moses. This prophet will come from within the community, from one of “your own people.” Because of this we often have trouble seeing prophets who are "one of us." They are too much like you and me. They know too much about us. Jesus quickly discovered his own people could not see him for who he was; the promised Messiah that they had been praying for. Ironically, it was a demon, who called him out by name the Holy One of God.
When Jesus walked and talked among his own kind, they didn’t like what they were hearing. When he ate and drank with the less fortunate and undeserving, his people didn't like what they saw. Jesus was saw them and exposed them for who they really were. He called them out, naming their sins in public. Many would repent. But others killed him.
I wonder how different we are today. Bob Marley once famously sang, “How long will they kill our prophets, while we stand around and look? Some say it’s just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book.” How many prophets have we sacrificed for our sins? Mahatma Gandhi. Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr. to name a few.
I can’t imagine in our politically correct society that we are any different than our Jewish ancestors. If Jesus were here today, would we even recognize him? Do you think we could hear him speaking to us among the political rhetoric? Better yet, could we see him among the millions of homeless people on our streets? Prophets may not be popular, but they are needed.
And so I ask, “Where are all our prophets today?” Where are the voices crying out in the wilderness of modern society? Where are all of those who are standing up for social justice and human rights? Where are those who not only speak the words of God, but also put their words to work?
Where are those who answered the call to be the hearts and hands and voices of Christ among us? Are they on the streets of our inner cities standing up against gun and gang violence? Are they in our classrooms, and churches and synagogues and mosques speaking up on the dignity of difference? Are they behind bars and prison walls, offering redemption and forgiveness; handing out pardons for a new life in Christ? Are they feeding the hungry, giving clothes and shelter to the poor, or advocating peace and freedom for all? Are they in the art galleries, publishing houses, or public airwaves upsetting the status quo and exposing the world to God’s love for justice and mercy? Are they us? Are we them?
If we are called by God to proclaim the Word of God, then what are we saying? What are we doing to redeem the world back its creator? Are we proclaiming God’s words so truthfully and clearly that people would want to kill us? Who here is willing to answer such a call...to live as Christ has commanded us to live? Who is willing to put down their guns and poisonous pens, and sit at the table with their enemy, to share the blessing of our Lord God?
(move to communion table)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”