Monday, October 1, 2012

Pentecost 18B, 2012: ALL Christians are meant to be prophets

Proper 21 Lectionary: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Moses said: “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (Num 11:29)

My former bishop, The Rt. Rev. Bob Gepert, was fond of saying that all Christians are meant to be prophets. Bp. Gepert said this often and he meant it.

I remember that the first time I heard him say this, it shocked me a little and I found myself thinking, ‘Surely not everyone is called to be a prophet.’ I immediately thought of the Scripture verse that tells us that we are given gifts so that some of us will be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11) Though I was a bit shocked at first, I also felt deep down that he was right, so I’ve spent some years pondering this.

In general I try to avoid comprehensive statements – the kind that include the words ALL or NONE, ALWAYS or NEVER. But I think I’m with Bp. Gepert on this one. All Christians are meant to be prophets.

All followers of Christ are meant to be inspired teachers and proclaimers of the will of God…which is what being a prophet means. In order to do that, all Christians must be intentionally formed in our faith and encouraged to mature in that faith.

Regardless of our age, we all begin each leg of our journey of faith as “little ones” – people who are new or young in our faith. For those of you, like me, who began in a different faith tradition, do you remember what it was like learning Episcopal-speak?

I remember once being told that what I needed was in the narthex and having no idea where that was. I had been a Christian all of my life, but was, at that point, a “little one” when it came to being an Episcopal-flavored Christian. With time and continuing exposure to the Episcopal way of things, we find our rhythm and learn the language, customs, and perspective of our tradition.

For all Christians, a continuing involvement in a community of faith also enables us to see evidence that God grants gifts to everyone and often uses the least likely (in our estimation anyway) to serve, or to open the door to a life of faith for someone else. This is something the people of God have long struggled with: being as inclusive as God would have us be.

This is illustrated for us in our Old Testament reading. Moses complains to God that leading these people is too much for him. I love how Moses makes his complaint (I can relate): “Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child…” (Num 11:12)

‘It’s too much for me,’ Moses says. ‘If this is how you’re going to treat me, Lord, just kill me now!’ So God tells Moses to choose seventy from among the people who can help him lead. ‘Meet me at the tent of meeting,’ God says, “I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you.” (Num 11:17)

Moses obeyed, and brought the seventy to the tent of meeting. When the spirit of God rested on these chosen ones, they began to prophesy.

While Moses and God were making this new support staff, two men who weren’t at the tent of meeting also began to prophesy – in the camp where everyone else was. These men were Eldad and Medad and the Scripture tells us that the spirit of God rested on them too.

But someone ran to Joshua, who was one of Moses’ chosen 70, to tattle on Eldad and Medad. Joshua, in turn, asked Moses to tell Eldad and Medad to stop, but Moses, who was spiritually mature, wouldn’t hear of it and replied: “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!"

We see Jesus’ chosen ones dealing with a similar problem in the same way in our gospel reading. John asks Jesus to stop a stranger from casting out demons (which, by the way, the apostles had just failed to do earlier in this chapter). Make him stop, John says. He isn’t in our membership book.

Jesus’ response is radically inclusive, and crystal clear. “Don’t stop him,” (v 39) Don’t stop anyone who is manifesting the love of God.

Then Jesus turns and issues a very stern warning to the community of faith gathered there. ‘If any of you who have been around awhile, impedes a “little one,” that is, someone who is new or young in their life of faith, from using their gifts and manifesting the love of God, there’s gonna be trouble.’ Sounding a bit like Mickey Blue Eyes, Jesus warns: ‘You would be better off being tossed into the chaos waters wearing a cement overcoat. Fuggetabowdit.’ (Just kidding! There’s no record of Jesus ever saying 'Fuggetabowdit')

The next part of Jesus’ teaching isn’t a recommendation for self mutilation. Jesus is speaking to the community of faith as a body – and this may be where St. Paul derived his use of that metaphor for the church.

‘You are one body with individual members. If one of you (say, the hand) sins – remembering that to sin is to separate from God – cut it off.’ In other words, if one among you inhibits the community from manifesting the love of God, or causes the community to separate from the presence of God, “cast [that one] out, for the sake of the [whole] community.” (Source: © 1996-2012 Chris Haslam)

So the two sides of this coin are: Be inclusive - don’t stop anyone from manifesting the love of God /and/ Be discerning – do stop the one who interferes with the community as it works to grow in faith and manifest the love of God through its members.

This is a tough teaching, but it’s true… and it’s important.

We are blessed at Redeemer that God has brought to us a diversity of people who bring a diversity of gifts. And I commend the people of Redeemer for making room for everyone to use their gifts to manifest the love of God.

Some who are chosen to serve in ministries here may seem like surprising choices at times. Others are not even in our membership book! But Redeemer is living what our Lord is speaking today, because at Redeemer, ALL are welcome to manifest the love of God through their gifts.

So I guess there are two comprehensive statements I am comfortable making now:

1. ALL Christians are meant to be prophets.
2. At Redeemer, ALL are welcome to manifest the love of God.

Let’s pray.

Open our hearts, Lord God, to your grace and truth; fill us with your life-giving Spirit and make us your prophets. Grow us in our faith and help us to live in peace with one another in our community, that we may love others in the power of your Holy Spirit and manifest your love in our world. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Adapted by Mother Valori from the Baptismal prayers, BCP, 305)

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