4 Epiphany C, 2019

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The prophet Isaiah’s Lips Anointed with Fire by Benjamin West

Somewhere in the recesses of your life
burrows the memory of a time
when you angered your family.
I do not know what you did, of course,
but I am pretty sure whatever it was,
they got doggone mad.

For some of us, there is more
than a single memory of such times,
and those memories can’t burrow
far enough down into the forgotten to hide
because they are too fat for cover.
But I would put money on the table
that every one here
has angered
those we have lived with
and loved
and been closest to.
It is just an ordinary event in the human domain –
an elementary property of the physics of love.

Not only have we angered someone,
but someone with whom we are close
or closely related,
has gotten US
hot under the collar –
more than once, if I am not mistaken.

We are never so lonely
as when we feel alone with those we love;
and few moments make us more isolated
than being angry with those we love
or feeling their anger toward us.

Jeremiah and Jesus lived the restless,
perhaps even tortured life,
of those steeped in the anger
of their peers and contemporaries.
But Jeremiah and Jesus
could not have been more different.

Jeremiah came from money –
the small power elite class of his society.
Jesus came from dirt, as in dirt-poor.
Jeremiah was educated,
and it shows in the exquisite images
and parallelism of his poetry.
Jesus was likely illiterate
and it shows in the pithy, earthy parables
so easily recitable from memory.

Jeremiah was a priest
before he was a prophet,
and his father was a priest who taught him the trade.
Jesus was a peasant who made doors
and wheels, and tables and ploughs
just as his father taught him to do.
But both of them, Jeremiah and Jesus,
separated by almost six hundred years,
knew from a very young age
he would be in trouble.

Both of them knew
that the wisdom they were given
would cause those who loved them
to become very angry.

WHAT they knew, was what God
had given them to speak.
Both of them were what we would call, preachers.
Just like the Bible is more sermon than text,
(as I talked about last week),
the main characters of the Bible, its prophets,
are more preacher than magician or guru.
Whatever magic they had
came from their lips more than their hands.

But this idea is hard for us.
The idea that God speaks on the lips
of an ordinary human being
is not something we believe today.

We know that if someone were to walk in that door
and tell us that God
had told him or her to come in here
and give us a message,
our knee-jerk reaction would be to think
he or she were crazy.
And yet, that is the idea of a prophet.

A prophet had the unenviable task
of speaking God’s mind to humans,
and sometimes
speaking the mind of humans to God.
The prophet was a mouthpiece:
not welcomed to speak his or her own mind
but to articulate GOD’s vision
or dream
or judgment.

In poor Jeremiah’s case,
he was given the words of ‘doom and gloom’
to speak to an affluent society
that was ‘partying like it was 1999.’
600 BCE in Judah,
was like the 1920’s in the USA:
a big party before the big bust.
In the middle of it was poor old Jeremiah
lobbing stink bombs and water balloons
on everyone’s good time.

Fortunately, he got some good news
to spread toward the end of his life.
I say fortunately,
because I do not think Jeremiah
loved being a prophet of doom and gloom.

At the end of his life,
when Jerusalemhad been torched
and ground down to rubble,
and his peers and contemporaries
brutally carted away into exile,
Jeremiah was finally given a vision
of restoration and hope
to spread among the survivors.
He was given a vision
of how it would be
when God welcomed them back
with open arms.

Jesus was more like the prophet Amos,
a peasant sent into the halls of power
where he did not belong;
sent to deliver both judgment against
the status quo
and an alternative vision
for how God wanted us to live.
We know that didn’t end well.

But here we are in 2019,
and I’m pretty sure anyone claiming to speak for God
would be thought of as nuts,
or a shyster.

This very idea of speaking for God
puts us smack up against our trust in God –
or more specifically, our trust that there IS a God.
It has to do with our willingness to believe
that God has any input
or influence
in life as we live it,
rather than as some nebulous concept of a Creator
who exists at great distance from creation.
Let’s face it,
many people who attend church each week
are functional agnostics.

While we or they may believe in God,
or the ‘idea’ of God,
we are also fitted so snuggly with a secular lens
that we can’t understand how God
could actually DO anything real –
anything that could be measured, quantified,
or replicated.

And truthfully, God
does not make much of an appearance
in a world defined only by
what we can touch and hold and measure
within the grasp our instrumentation.
Because, let’s face it,
on the other side of this equation
is our very limited instrumentation.

But in such a world as ours,
prophets do not exist
because there is no actively involved God
to give them an utterance or vision.
Yet, for some of us,
just as surely as we have a memory
of our family being angry with us,
we also have a memory snuggled deep inside,
of God breaking through.
It probably is not a Bollywood spectacular, rather,
something quieter –
as in the crisp air off frozen lakes;
or in the warm salty tear
magically drawn
by love we can see but not measure
in the iris of a friend;
or in a tender green shoot reaching out
from dark moist earth;
or in inextricable kindness or even
life-threatening heroics between strangers…

God’s presence breaks through
our modernists lens, and when it does
we suddenly have to decide
if we will trust it or not.
Very often,
the vehicle of that presence breaking through,
is the voice of someone
whose words we have discovered over time,
point to a power greater than ourselves.

The prophet’s voice could be
a big voice,
like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malala,
someone whose wisdom seems even wiser
after having put their body on the line
for the words they speak.

Or it could be a small voice,
one that few people hear in the way we do –
a grandparent
or teacher
or that person who always sits across
from us at a 12-step meeting
or a book club.

And a community can be that kind of voice –
those people we admire
who are always doing something
or witnessing to something
or quietly showing something
to anyone who will listen.

Well maybe that is a good place to stop
on a day we have our Annual Parish Meeting,
and to remember those folks
who have spoken wisdom and insight in our lives,
and those folks who we have gotten angry with
because they told us some truth
we didn’t want to hear.

It is a struggle in our world
to give credibility to any voice,
let alone suspect that God has laced it
with some wisdom
or perspective we needed to hear.

On a day like today,
it is well that we consider
who those voices have been for us,
and whether or not,
as a community of faith,
we can be such a voice for others.

And now,
sitting or standing as is our custom for prayer,
we voice our own prayers and hopes
as a community of faith.