Archbishop Justin Welby said this week that we ought to keep our sermons claptrap free – that most of the sermons of old preached in england could be boiled down to: “wouldn’t the world be a nicer place, if we were all a bit nicer?!’ That’s the sort of moral claptrap that Jesus simply doesn’t permit us to accept – SO before I begin…I issue an unreserved apologia if I fail in that task this evening.
Just the other day, I received a phonecall from a tv documentary production company – a lovely lady called Kate rang to ask to speak to me, and she was looking for young Ministers, who have responsibility for churches and who are under 40…so I said, great, OK tell me more –
She said she’s making a documentary for SKY about young ministers and faith in general, and how they manage their role – then she said that she was looking for young ministers, particularly young modern ministers….
Now, there are many words that I’d use to describe myself, but modern isn’t one of them…so I had to burst her bubble. I said, have you seen any photos of me, or read anything that I’ve written…she said she had done, but I’m not so sure. It’s as ridiculous as putting me on the cover of men’s health magazine…!
Anyway, it didn’t completely put her off, she’s coming up to Cardiff to meet for coffee and we’ll talk more about this programme – now I agreed, only because I’m very critical about Methodist ministers not being more public and not appearing more on the TV and the radio, so I thought what a hypocrite I would be to turn down this opportunity…
Over the past few Sundays, we have had readings from the books of the prophets – last Sunday we had Jonah and the conversion of Nineveh and how the people were saved from their calamitous end, the Sunday before that we had Samuel the young boy called at 12 by the Lord – directed by Eli to listen and to respond to God’s calling, today we hear from Moses and how the Lord will raise up a new prophet like him, and then finally next Sunday Isaiah when we hear that ‘those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’.
It’s interesting that the dictionary definitions of prophecy are almost all connected to prediction, to predicting what will occur, giving a forecaste…but for me, the phrase that I believe most matches the feeling I have about prophecy and being prophetic is ‘a message of divine truth revealing God’s will’
That has nothing to do with prediction, or future revelation, or guessing games – but simply to do with speaking the message of divine truth.
St Augustine said a great thing about truth – he said: “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
We, as the body of Christ, the Church – have a duty to proclaim the truth, a duty to be prophetic in the world and sometimes we are, as Christians (though I don’t think Methodists do this so much) but sometimes as Christians, we are so busy defending the truth that we fail to proclaim it.
We are so busy protecting our values and our views and our beliefs that we spend no time helping people to understand why we believe what we believe…
Last week, as the first female Bishop in the Church of England was consecrated, the secular world was congratulating the Church on catching up with the rest of the world…all of a sudden the church had become relevant and with the times. I happen to think that the most positive thing is that everyone can get on with doing the task of sharing the good news and stop discussing things that are really of little significance the other side of life.
We saw not that long ago, the awful scenes from Paris, the cold blooded murder by those who think that they are hearing and carrying out God’s will…of course they are not people of faith at all – they are atheist criminals working under a theological narrative…theology is their excuse for murder, and it’s a poor one.
And as we watched the so called political “leaders” from all around the world marching against extremism and in the name of freedom of expression, I couldn’t help but think of the hypocrisy – of how life in one case has value and worth and meaning, but in many places around the world it has little or none.
It’s not okay for you to kill innocents they say, but we through our governments can find ways around that if needs be for us and ours, and we will get away with it on the whole if and when we abuse our powers!
Couple that with the painful silence that same week about the massacres by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the way in which so many of us so quickly forgot the abduction of those 200 school girls last April and you begin to wonder…
Where are the voices?
Where are the priorities?
Where is the righteous anger?
Where is justice?
Where is God?
Where is the prophetic voice of the church in all of this?
One of the problems we face today, is that we unfortunately have relegated, mission, evangelism and prophecy to the fringes of the church…
We employ mission enablers, and evangelists, outreach workers and actually these things are for each of us to be doing – and the only mission enabler is the Holy Spirit. The problem is with having the people to do those things, but the language is disturbing…
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath – the people were completely astounded by his teaching, for them – here was someone who taught with authority…not just an intelligent person, but one who is prophetic in his teaching!
And just as Jesus is teaching, in comes a man with an unclean Spirit – deeply disturbed by Christ’s presence and Jesus rebukes him, tells the spirit to shut up and to leave the man, and the evil spirit obeys him.
So unusual was this experience for the people around Jesus, that they are completely astounded by his power and teaching, and word about Jesus spreads throughout the whole area.
Now, the interesting thing is that we so often forget, that we as the body of Christ share in that authority…
That we have the power to teach, to challenge, to confront, to heal, to condemn.
Sometimes the Church must take a good hard look at the world, and be brave enough to tell the world that it’s wrong!
Remember that definition of prophecy: ‘a message of divine truth revealing God’s will’ well we know that truth, we proclaim that truth, we seek to live that truth…and we ought to tell it to the world too.
One of my major inspirations Fulton Sheen once said: ‘It has always been the characteristic of a generation in decay to paint the gates of hell with the gold of paradise. Right is right if nobody is right & wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong’…
Perhaps we wonder, whether God can use us, whether we are able to be used as the prophets and saints who have gone before us were..
The answer of course is that God can and God longs to use us in that way. We have to be prepared to respond, to actually get up and do something, sometimes we need an Eli, or a blazing bush, or the stinking stomach of a Whale to get us in the right places, where God is calling us to be.
But whatever it may take, God is calling each of us to be the prophets of today – that means that as Christians we can’t keep quiet about the things that matter…
That we need to get right up into the face of injustice and evil and speak truth to power, just like Jesus did.
That We need to be less concerned about our reputation and more willing to get our hands dirty for the sake of the Gospel like John and Charles Wesley.
That we must stand with the marginalized and the oppressed and the broken hearted and the hungry…
So often, I don’t see that kind of Church.
In a world in which word from God seems to be rare – we, the body of Christ, the Church are to be beacons of hope. Agents of change. Because we are, each of us capable of playing our part in the new evangelization of the world.
In all the mess our world is in today, I have to ask –
Where are the voices of politicians and parliaments?
Where are the voices of doctors and lawyers?
Where are the voices of talk show hosts and radio hosts?
Where are the voices of Mothers and Fathers?
Where are the voices of preachers and teachers?
Where are the voices of those who should be leading voices in our world today?
There is a deafening silence.
A silence which our voices could fill – our prophetic voices, small as we may be.
I was in Jerusalem for two weeks in November last year studying the Holocaust, and if I learnt anything out there it is that human atrocities and the destruction of society and communities can only occur when there are those prepared to commit those evil acts, and those who are happy to remain silent.
In our world that is so desperate to leave God in the margins of life, in our world where religion is seen as the cause of all evil and terrorism and conflict, we have a duty as Christians, as people of faith – to show that those truths which we proclaim are as true today as they have ever been.
For God’s sake, quite literally – let us find a new confidence in the Gospel, let us be brave and courageous as Christian people –
Let us demonstrate the power of love.
Let us show the transforming power of forgiveness and trust and hope.
Because as Christ had power of the forces of evil, so we, in Him have power over the darkness of our world – even here in Cardiff.
Where the poor are suffering, libraries threatened with closure, schools failing and the elderly and sick being neglected and unvalued.
Brothers and sisters, preach the faith, live the Gospel, be the Good News to and for each other, and together let us transform our world through the truth and power of the risen Christ.