A prophetic voice in an active Advent

A sermon for Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

Today we are surrounded by prophets. We hear Isaiah the prophet proclaiming freedom is coming. We hear John the Baptist, proclaiming redemption in baptism, and also the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Psalm 85 has a prophetic ring to it. And when we remember prophets explain the future based on current behaviors (Lewis) even 2nd Peter has a prophetic ring to it.

So, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because I’ve always held that I’m not a prophet, and cannot be prophet because I am of the institution. And prophets always come from the outside, and have to, because they have to see the present differently in order to see and proclaim the future God is offering, the future we are all ignoring. However, Karoline Lewis offers a different vision of prophets. She says they are truth tellers. By implication brutal truth tellers. She quotes Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will really [tick] you off” She continues that when the truth gets suppressed crucifixion happens. She includes Ferguson as a manifestation of suppressed truth; (Lewis) I’d include New York and Ohio both in the news this week for revelation of questionable police actions. And nothing suppresses the truth more than fear.

In his column last week Thomas Friedman wrote about the continuing effects of September 11. He writes from David Rothkopf’s National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear in which Rothkopf names this as the age of fear. In response to Friedman’s inquiry he wrote:

Largely, this is because 9/11 was such an emotional blow to the U.S. that it, in an instant, changed our worldview, creating a heightened sense of vulnerability.” In response, “not only did we overstate the threat, we reordered our thinking to make it the central organizing principle in shaping our foreign policy.

Friedman writes: “the focus on terrorism, combined with our gotcha politics, has ‘killed creative thinking’” (Friedman)

In his column in the Gazette this week John Brummett notes how remarkably effective the political use of fear is.  (Brummett) I believe they both correct, in fact I believe the gotcha politics itself is a response to fear. The scriptural use of wilderness is a good metaphor for us as we find the way to face our fear, and our fear driven destructive behaviors.

There’s another emotion / belief that contributes to destructive behavior, and that is that there is no second coming. That is a concern addressed in 2nd Peter. Folks are of tired of waiting, (Hogan) and they have crafted some bizarre beliefs allowing them to get on with life in some rather risqué ways. If 100 years is a long time to wait 20 time 100 is really a long time. The loss of belief in Jesus’ return and fear are combining to create the deeply troubled times in which we live. And that brings us back to the prophetic voice.

Isaiah’s prophetic voice we heard this morning always rings with today’s opening hymn, and I always want to wrap up in a warm blanket, or go get some warm blankets for others to wrap up in. Not bad, but just perhaps, it’s a bit shallow. Scott Hoezee notes ‘comfort’ comes from the Latin cum and fortis or with strength. (Hoezee) The people don’t need warm blankets, they need strength. They need strength to follow the prophet’s map to Jerusalem, because it is not the water laden normal route; nope, it’s straight through the desert wilderness. Harsh? Perhaps, but it’s so very similar their origins in the wilderness journey through Saini on their Exodus journey to freedom. (Wendland) Mark’s Gospel has John quote Isaiah, and Malachi and Exodus. But the point we often miss is that neither the prophet nor the people are on their own. God’s servant is preparing the way. (Powell) The word here is singular, and it’s clearly a reference to John. However, in the broader context of scripture and of our times, it’s God many servants who will make the preparations who will give strength to the people. ~ Just who are these servants?

Karoline Lewis, David Lose and Lucy Hogan all have the same observation … us. Lewis suggest that we join the prophetic ranks by radical truth telling. (Lewis) Lose suggest that we quit waiting for Christmas and get in the game, (Lose) that we join the prophetic ranks. Hogan suggests we hear 2nd Peter as if it were written to us and live into the new creation, the new heaven and earth [we] find right here and right now. (Hogan) But what about all that I can’t be a prophet stuff because I’m part of the institution.

I’m beginning to believe all bets are off, because the church institutional and Church – body of Christ is outside our political and secular institutions. And in so much as the shepherds, as Isaiah referred to in the latter verses of today’s reading, is always a political metaphor everything we’ve heard is a call to us to be a part of the prophetic voice that challenges all our political and power brokering intuitions by speaking the hard truth.

And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about policy truth, thought there is room for that, I referring to the truth Advent lays before us. We believe in the incarnate presence of God, that’s looking back. We believe in the resurrected presence of Jesus, that’s looking to the future. We believe in the continuing presence of the Spirit, that’s looking at the here and now. Therefore we are not afraid not even of death! And as we come to believe and as we come to trust we will lose our fear, and we can make faith based loving good news bearing decisions about everything. They will be seen as counter cultural, because they will be; they will be seen as courageous because they will be; they will be seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom of God right here, right now because they will be.

Afraid? I am. And every prophet in scripture was afraid, and tried to wiggle out. But every time God’s presence prevailed. God always has been God is and will be with us as we begin to see and speak the truth. Join in an active advent, (Lose) and a fearless future.

Amen


References

Brummett, John. “Down Texarkana way.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 12 2014. web.

Friedman, Thomas L. “The Gift That Keeps Giving.” New York Times 3 12 2014. web.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Isaiah 40:1-11. 7 12 2014.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on 2 Peter 3:815a. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher – A Truth Telling. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Active Waiting. 7 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

METZ, THE REV. DR. SUSANNA. Sermons that Work – Finding comfort vs. being comfortable. 7 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark, Mark 1:18. 7 12 2014.

Wendland, Kristin J. Commentary on Isaiah 40:111. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

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