Are You a Prophet? [Sermon]

One part of this church, the United Church of Christ side, traces its origins back to the Pilgrims.

The Pilgrims were a group of Puritans, a particularly strict reformed Christians. The Church of England was far too liturgical for them – they were like Catholics without a pope.

Because countries had national religions, these Puritans were not welcome in their home country. They tried living in Holland for a time, but some returned to England and 44 of them sailed to America on the Mayflower. Later, tens of thousands of Puritans came to the shores of America.

From the bloody wars between Christians came the austere and conservative church that would one day, in part, give rise to the United Church of Christ, one of the most progressive mainline churches in the United States of America.

Let’s go to God in prayer.

God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.

Amen.

Despite my cold open, this is not a thanksgiving sermon, and we will not be serving turkey during coffee hour.

This is a sermon about prophecy.

There are some ways that people think about prophecy:

Some see it as fortune telling. A prophet can tell an individual’s future:

“Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?”

“Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans © Jay Livingston Music Inc. and St Angelo Music c/o Wixen Music Publishing, Inc..

They may consult Tarot cards, or a crystal ball, or read your palm, or you might read their words in a fortune cookie or the cap of a drink bottle.

Others think of cryptic sayings by someone like the French writer Nostradamas, who wrote predictions for the centuries ahead based on previous writings – including the Bible – and astrological observations.

But prophets like Ezekiel were not consulting tea leaves or casting runes, and they were not writing to people hundreds of years in the future. They were speaking to the people who were present at the time.

Sometimes they were words of warning.

Jonah was told to prophesy to the people of Nineveh that they needed to repent from their ways or things would go very badly.

Ezekiel himself prophesied that if Israel didn’t turn from their ways that there would be consequences.

So one way a prophet may prophesy is as a warning about the direction a people is heading, and what may lie in the near future as a consequence.

One could prophesy about things like climate change: if we know what is happening now, we may be able to make some predictions about the future we may see if things continue as they are.

One could prophesy about the lack of affordable housing: if we continue to have insufficient affordable housing, the number of unhoused people will rise, and there will be other consequences from that.

When we see trouble brewing, and we speak up about it and try to persuade people to make change we are being prophets.

But prophecy is not all gloom and doom.

Later in his life, during the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel did prophesy about the hope of the people. He saw possibilities for a better future.

I want to note that the Hebrew prophets spoke a lot less about personal acts of devotion and a lot more about how we treat each other.

In Jeremiah chapter 6:13-14 we read

For from the least to the greatest of them,

everyone is greedy for unjust gain;

and from prophet to priest,

everyone deals falsely.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,

saying, “Peace, peace,”

when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 6:13-14, NRSVue

And later in verse 20

Of what use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba

or sweet cane from a distant land?

Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,

nor are your sacrifices pleasing to me.

Jeremiah 6:20, RSVue

In the first chapter of Isaiah verses 11-17 we read

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls

or of lambs or of goats.

When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more!

Bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

When you stretch out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove your evil deeds

from before my eyes;

cease to do evil;

learn to do good;

seek justice;

rescue the oppressed;

defend the orphan;

plead for the widow.

Isaiah 1:11-17, NRSVue

In Amos chapter 5, verses 11-15 we read

Therefore because you trample on the poor

and take from them levies of grain,

you have built houses of hewn stone,

but you shall not live in them;

you have planted pleasant vineyards,

but you shall not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your transgressions

and how great are your sins—

you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe

and push aside the needy in the gate.

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time,

for it is an evil time.

Seek good and not evil,

that you may live,

and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,

just as you have said.

Hate evil and love good,

and establish justice in the gate;

it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,

will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Amos 5:11-15

And in Micah Chapter 6:6-8:

With what shall I come before the Lord

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice and to love kindness

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8, NRSVue

I believe that the movement from the puritanical roots of the Congregational Church to the social-justice-centered United Church of Christ is one of which the prophets would approve.

Modern-day prophets also contrast a troubling path with a better path. When Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his “I Have a Dream” speech, he said

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

King, Martin Luther, Jr, speech at “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” August 28th, 1963

But he also said

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

King, Martin Luther, Jr, speech at “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” August 28th, 1963

This is a prophecy of warning about the direction in which society is heading, but also hope for the promise of the fruits of a new direction.

So my challenge to each of us this week is to ask the question:

Are you a prophet?

Are you someone who can see where things are headed?

If there are problems ahead, can you speak to the ways we can either avoid the problems, or solve them when they occur?

If there is misery and suffering, can you speak to the ways to being healing: not just the temporary easing of pain, but the long-term changes that will lead to better lives?

If there is despair, can you speak about the possibility of a better future, giving hope to the hopeless?

Can you see where our world is heading, suggest a better path, and imagine a better future?

Then prophesy.

Amen

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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