In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Being a follower of Jesus means that you wear a lot of hats. Some days, you are called to be an evangelist, sharing God’s good news of grace and hope. Other days, you are called to be a healer, praying for and giving words of comfort to someone who is in a dark or broken place. There are days you are called to be a teacher, days you are called to be a worshiper, days you are called to speak in parables and days you are called to be a model of compassion and charity.
And then there are the days you are called to be a prophet. And from today’s texts, we get the sense that being a prophet, however necessary, is a challenging endeavor, to say the least.
We hear this strange and disturbing gospel today, a gospel reading where we aren’t quite sure that we feel right responding to it by saying “thanks be to God.” We hear the end of a story started for us back in Advent, when we hear about this strange guy, John, who is out in the wilderness wearing a camels-hair coat and eating locusts and wild honey. We hear about how he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, and to baptize people for the forgiveness of their sins. In today’s gospel, we hear about how he stood up to the immoral behavior of the king, and how doing so cost him his life. We get the sense that being a prophet might drive us to take risks that we might not otherwise have chosen to take.
Then, we have Amos. Amos was called out of his own country to proclaim God’s word of judgment against a king and a kingdom that believed their weekly acts of worship would make up for the fact that they ignored and oppressed the poor and helpless in their midst. Amos was pulled from his ordinary, humble, farming life – tending his animals and his trees – and led to a hostile land in order to denounce the status quo. His is not a message of hope, but rather one of judgment, and the message is clear: Israel has not measured up to God’s desire for justice and righteousness; Israel has not fallen in line with God’s will.
Of course, the response to Amos’s message is a hostile one. The king’s personal prophet tells Amos, “Go back home and prophesy there – earn your living prophesying somewhere else; we don’t want to be bothered with your kind around here.”
And Amos responds, “I’m not in the prophetic business to make any money. I wasn’t a professional prophet back home, and I’m not a professional prophet here. I made my living as a herdsman and a tender of sycamore trees. I’m not here speaking these hard words to you because I feel like it or because I’m making money off of it. I’m only here because God has plucked me from my ordinary life and sent me here. I didn’t choose to be a prophet; God made me one.”
I’m guessing that we all relate more to Amos than we do to John. I’m guessing that most of us, if questioned, would respond like Amos: “I am no prophet.” If being a prophet means standing up against the powers and principalities in grandiose fashion, if it means standing up face-to-face against oppressors who would take our lives from us because of our message of justice, then no. Most of us aren’t prophets.
But what if being a prophet meant something else? What if we were yet called to be a sort of “everyday prophet” in the world?
Today’s reading from Ephesians tell us that
In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.There are two important things going on here: first, there is the good news that we have been redeemed. But second, there is the good news that, having been saved, we now have a new hope and vision for the world, because we know God’s plans for its salvation. Since we know the hope that is in Christ, we are to live as people of hope.
Put very simply, God has saved us, and has thus called us to act in the world for his sake.
Every week in worship, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. My guess is that many of you pray it at other times during the week as well. Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re praying for? In this prayer, we ask that God’s kingdom come, and that God’s will be done, not just in heaven, but here on earth. We pray that those who are hungry, either physically or spiritually, would be fed. We pray for peace and forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray that God would deliver us from times of trial. I hate to say it, but if you pray this prayer, then you are indeed an “everyday prophet,” because we are praying that God would help us to bring about his kingdom of justice, peace, and reconciliation here in our own world.
So I have a question for you, brothers and sisters, “everyday prophets:” As a Christ-follower, what compels you? What issue or idea or news story or world event gets you fired up? What cause do you feel passionately about? What does your faith drive you to care about in the world?
Dan is a coffee-drinker. Given the opportunity, he traveled to Nicaragua to see coffee-farming in action. He met coffee-farmers, learned about the economics of coffee production and sale, and came face to face with the hands that picked the beans that made their way into his cup. He also learned about the ways that coffee farmers and their labor are exploited; the way that the coffee trade is not always fair and just. When he got home, the plight of these coffee growers remained on his heart, and decided to do something about it. He started buying fair trade coffee and encouraging his friends and family to do so. He helped his church to commit to using fair trade coffee during fellowship hour and at receptions and potlucks. And when he heard that the ELCA was hosting a video contest based on the theme God’s Work, Our Hands, he put together a short, creative video about fair trade coffee, getting the message out to anyone who would watch it.
But like Amos, Dan would say, “I am not a prophet.” And yet he is, indeed, an “everyday prophet.”
Amy was in high school and felt drawn to the cause of world hunger. She decided to host a hunger awareness weekend at her church. On Saturday night, she and some volunteers hosted a hunger meal for the congregation. Everyone who came to the meal drew the name of a continent out of a hat when they walked in the door. They were seated accordingly. Depending on the continent, people sat on the floor or on cushions, at a bare table or at a table dressed with a white tablecloth and candles. They were fed accordingly, some eating rice out of a large bowl with their hands, others eating a chicken dinner with real silverware. It was a hands-on way of experiencing the ways that poverty, hunger, climate, and culture were intertwined in issues of hunger.
After the dinner, Amy played a video for the group that highlighted the work of organizations like ELCA World Hunger and Bread for the World, and to end the evening, all who were present set to work writing letters to local politicians and organizations, advocating for policies that addressed the needs of the hungry across the world.
The adults left, but the junior high and senior high youth stayed. Amy had planned a lock-in for the evening that involved games and stories and conversation about hunger issues. This group of youth also spent time preparing for Sunday morning’s worship, which they were to lead. They picked Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5000 for the gospel, and built a service around the idea that with God, even our small efforts – our meager loaves and fishes – can be multiplied to extraordinary ends. Amy inspired a congregation to learn more about hunger, and to take deliberate actions to help feed the hungry.
But if you asked Amy, she’d say, “I am no prophet.” But again, we know that she is, in fact, and “everyday prophet.”
We know that it is our faith and not our actions that saves us. But we also know that this faith in God is a living and active faith, that moves us and shakes us and challenges us and, at the end of the day, stirs in us the deep desire to make God’s plans for justice and peace a reality in our world.
So how do we do this? Well, at its most basic, the life of the “everyday prophet” has to do with the choices we make in our lives. The choices we make about where to spend our time and money, the choices we make about how to treat others, the choices we make about what we choose to eat or watch or read, the choices we make about how we vote or the causes we support, the choices we make about what we pray for. Living as everyday prophets means committing to a deeper engagement with the world around us and to thinking more deeply about how we interact with our world.
So I ask again: as a Christ follower, what compels you? And as a Christ follower, what has God called you to do about it?
My hope is that you leave worship today feeling a bit unsettled. A bit dissatisfied with what you see in the world. A bit troubled by the troubles of the world. And my hope is that you thus feel driven to be God’s hands in the world. It takes some strength. It takes some resolve. It takes some risk. But God does not leave us alone in this task. Jesus took the brokenness of the world upon himself and nailed it to the cross so that our world might be healed and restored. And we remember this brokenness every time we break the bread together.
When we come to the table, we come on behalf of a broken world: this meal is food for the sake of those who are hungry, abundance for the sake of those in need, peace for the sake of those in the midst of war, community for the sake of those who are rejected, and life for the sake of those who are dying. It is a table that transforms our ordinary selves into everyday prophets, sent out as people compelled by faith to bring God’s justice and peace to world.