Friday, January 26, 2018

January 28, Epiphany 4, Prophecy #4: The Teaching Is the Miracle

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

Our reading from Deuteronomy is one of the reasons for my doing this sermon series on prophecy. Prophecy is big in Biblical religion. And it takes various forms.

Typically the prophet is the person with a special connection to God, who has something to say in a time of crisis, in a day of decision, who tells the truth in a moment of truth. Prophets break open the logjams of history, they get things moving, they challenge the status quo.

That’s why they’re opposed, not only by those in power who have interests in the status quo, but also by those in bondage to the status quo, who have reason to fear the prophet only making bad things worse. “Moses, just leave us alone!”

Two weeks ago I said that Biblical prophecy is more often speech than sight. I said that when it’s sight, it’s less often seeing into the future than seeing the hidden reality, the reality hidden in plain sight. I said that when it’s speech, it’s rarely predicts the future, like a Greek or Roman oracle, but it states the crisis that is now, with its future implications, so that you can make the right ethical choices to bring about the better future. The Greeks and Romans believed in fate and destiny, but the Hebrew prophets taught human freedom, freedom for the sake of doing righteousness.

The Gospel reading from St. Mark offers Jesus as the kind of prophet that Moses predicted in Deuteronomy. And because all the prophets after Moses always had one eye on the Torah, and the because the Torah was read out loud in the synagogue, the synagogue is where Jesus offers himself as a prophet. In the liturgy there, the Torah reading would be followed by the Haftarah reading, usually one of the prophets. Jesus offers himself as a prophet, he’s offers himself as a sort of living, breathing Haftarah! He’s a teacher but more than a teacher–a prophet like of old.

He’s got a new teaching, a new departure, an advance, depending on your point of view. While the other rabbis continued to teach that a person is always a free moral agent, and always able to choose between good and evil, Jesus taught that your freedom of choice has been compromised and impaired, that you’re in bondage to spiritual powers too big for you, so that you do not have the freedom you’re supposed to have to choose the good. And what need is liberation.

That’s the second thing that St. Mark wants to show us, that Jesus is the liberator. He liberates the guy in the synagogue from the power of the unclean spirit over him. This is the first miracle by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. The point of the miracle is that the miracle validates his teaching, that his teaching has prophetic authority. His words are more than just information. His teaching brings about what he teaches. He only has to say it. Like the prophet Elisha of old, his words have power to cleanse the unclean and liberate the man in bondage. His teaching does the liberating.

The teaching of the scribes did not have such authority. They didn’t expect to. They didn’t see themselves as prophets. Their job was to interpret the authorities already established, using the official commentaries, in order to work out the rules and regulations of daily behavior. No scribe would ever claim a fresh, new, personal interpretation of his own, but like any lawyer today would always cite some prior authority. While Jesus claims his own authority. Who does he think he is? He acts as if he speaks for God. He could be dangerous. His authority is at once appealing and threatening. Liberation is threatening if you’ve spent your life in a cage.

The scribes taught not for liberation but for survival, for holding the Jewish people together under a foreign regime. They taught you how to manage your ethics under a regime that was hostile to your ethics; how to get along under the Romans and still be holy; how to share the marketplace with your pagan neighbors and still be clean; how to have no other God even when the Roman gods were the ones in power. The teaching of the scribes was to manage this predicament. And here is this prophet of liberation. The danger of that is sensed by this man who speaks up.

Don’t get this story wrong. Don’t assume that the man in the unclean spirit was rabid or abnormal. I suspect the unclean spirit was not obvious to the others in the synagogue. Maybe the guy was unlikable, or maybe known for being contentious, or even maybe a creep, but it was not with some demonic voice that he challenged Jesus. In fact, he was being reasonable: Jesus will be trouble.

The Gospel says he had an “unclean” spirit. Unclean means good dirt in the wrong place, on your shirt instead of in the garden. Or good food going rotten, which is still food, only now for bugs instead of you. Or unkosher, or treyf. Unclean can mean pollution, a toxic environment. The Gospel calling the spirit “unclean” means the spirit was not essentially bad but only effectively bad.

It was not a demon from hell. The Gospel is not a medieval document. The unclean spirit belongs to the natural spirituality of the world, but of a world corrupted, a spirituality polluted by human violence and greed and oppression, disordered by human sin in its political and economic expressions.

It’s a toxic environment, and the man is infected. He’s in the power of pollution. Maybe he’s got a toxic boss, or a toxic family. Maybe he’s Tony Soprano at Mass. He is bonded to powers greater than himself, powers human and more than human. He is beholden to corruption both natural and supernatural.

As all the Galileans were in Jesus’ day, more or less, willingly or not. They were in the power of Roman soldiers, Roman taxes, Roman imperial idolatry, and Roman gods and goddesses. Did the Roman gods really exist? Not essentially, but effectively, from human projection, so that their power did exist. Their spiritual authority existed and their spiritual power was unclean.

This guy was specially infected maybe because of his obvious spiritual sensitivity. He calls Jesus “the Holy One of God,” which means he can sense the holiness of Jesus, his purity, his cleanness. The guy is telling a visionary truth. He’s being prophetic. “Jesus, I can see who you are.”

But his prophecy comes up short. He thinks he sees Jesus starting a liberation from the Romans, a rebellion they cannot win, and they’ll end up collateral victims of Roman reaction, so sensibly he challenges Jesus to just leave them alone. They’re stuck, there’s no way out.

And the guy himself wants no way out. He’s corrupt. What deals has he made, what are his conflicts of interest? We don’t know, but he resists the authority of the savior who can help them in their predicament.

Jesus rebukes the man’s resistance. He silences his corrupted sensitivity. He calls the spirit out of him. Jesus the prophet could see the unclean spirit hidden in the guy, and his word had power to cast the spirit out and liberate the man. That shows that his teaching is more than information. The teaching of Jesus is the liberation to set you free to start choosing for the new creation.

Here’s your first take home. If you are looking for the miraculous power of Jesus in the world today, you don’t have to look elsewhere than his teaching. His teaching is the miracle you need. Be open to his teaching and you’ll be open to his power in the world. Honor his teaching with his authority and experience his power in your life and in the world today. The teaching is your miracle.

The second take home is that because the miracle is teaching it is not anti-intellectual. It may cross into the supernatural but it still is for your mind and for your intellect. It may be mystical but you are meant to engage it with your understanding. To follow Jesus is to be a lover of learning.

The third take home is that if his teaching is threatening to you in any way, that means you’re getting it. If you think the teaching of Jesus is all nice postcards, then you aren’t listening. If his word is in some measure threatening, then you’re getting it. It is life-and-death teaching, so it is challenging. It’s like learning Latin, or calculus, or gymnastics. You’re going to fall, you’re going to make mistakes, it can be hard, and it resists you, and it takes time. But you can learn it. You’re meant to.

And this teacher is on your side. As I said last week, this prophecy is on your side. This prophet is more than a messenger of God, this prophet is the incarnation of God, this prophet is in it for the love of his people. This teacher doesn’t just love the material, he loves the students.

This prophet is like that high school teacher who sees you, and sees more in you than you see in yourself, that teacher who calls you to become the person that you can be, that teacher who makes a difference in your life. That is a kind of love, a very important kind of love, and that is how God loves you too.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Friday, January 19, 2018

January 21, Prophecy #3: The Good News of God

Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:6-14, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

You might remember from a decade ago a man named Harry Knox who attended our church. He had moved to New York to work for an organization in the Marriage Equality movement. Harry was a devout Methodist who had been turned away from ordination because he was gay. He was an activist but also a kindly encourager. He led us in Bible studies and in prayer, and he helped us to understand same-sex marriage. Eventually he moved on to another job in Washington DC.

He told us that what drew him into Old First, this introverted Reformed church, and not some more activist congregation, was a sign I had posted out front. The sign simply said, “The Bible is on your side.”

I remember having some hesitation when I put that sign up. Was I making it too easy? Was I too much appealing to the Park-Slope feel-good self-indulgent consumer spirituality, that in Park Slope we can have it all? What about repentance, what about God’s judgments? And then what about the racists and slave owners and bigots who claimed the Bible was on their side? Well, yes, to all of that, but if you didn’t believe that ultimately, somehow, the Bible is on your side, you wouldn’t be here.

We wouldn’t be here if the gospel were not “good news.” Yes, there’s bad news too, important bad news, but the news that is bad is bad for what is bad, and it’s good for what is good. It’s even good for what is bad. The news is good for what we don’t expect it to be good for, and that’s what makes it “news”. It’s “news to us!” We had not expected it, it’s not what we anticipated in the world.

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” In that statement there are two strange things.

The first is that the arrest of John the Baptist should be bad news. A bit unfeeling on Jesus’ part, and wouldn’t a Messiah try to get his cousin out of jail? Or maybe this is like our Epistle, “Those who have cousins are as though they have none, and those who mourn are as though they are not mourning.” Like soldiers in the army. When a lieutenant gets killed in battle, the captain does not stop the battle to grieve his lieutenant but only fights the harder. The arrest of John the Baptist was the signal for Jesus to get on it, no more waiting, no more preparation, put it all on the table.

The second strange thing is that Jesus was announcing “the good news of God.” That’s rare in the Bible and unique in the gospels. Usually it’s “the good news of the kingdom” or “the good news of Jesus the Messiah.” Here it is “news of God.” Jesus had new things to report about this God, he was announcing that God was starting to operate in ways they did not anticipate.

The people of Galilee believed in God, whom they were commanded to love, but they’d had no news of God for centuries, just old news. God was not with them. They had no evidence that God was even on their side. To deal with this, their political parties developed different strategies.

The Sadducees were in power, and their platform was that the status quo was all there was—just do the rituals and support the temple hierarchy and make the best of it until you die.

The Pharisees were the party in opposition; their platform was scrupulous legal observance for everyone, in order to earn God’s forgiveness and get God to come back to them.

And the independent intellectuals wrote that God had just plain gone over to the side of the Romans, and for proof just read the news.

Jesus comes with other news. In the Gospel of Matthew, he lengthily explains the news, but in the Gospel of Mark he just acts it out. He demonstrates the news of God—he models it. We will watch him do this in the coming weeks, as we read the lessons from Mark. By watching what Jesus does we learn what God will do. By watching what Jesus is like we learn what God is like. And by extension what God wants. It’s the news of God.

To give us the news of God is prophecy. It takes prophecy to tell us that the news of God is good news. It takes prophecy because to get this news requires working the interface of revelation and reason, of gospel and science, of God’s Spirit and our souls, God converting our self-sufficient thinking to receive the information that comes exclusively as the gift of the self-defining God.

It takes prophecy to break you out of ordinary time, and all the sufficient strategies you’ve developed to get you through your ordinary time. The prophet Jonah said, “In forty days you will be overthrown.” St. Paul wrote that the appointed time is short. The Lord Jesus said, “The time is filled up.” Your ordinary time is not full, but empty space in front of you, and it’s lengthy, not short. Ordinary time just goes on day after day, unless you suddenly get news. And prophecy is that news.

It takes prophecy to get you to respond. It takes prophecy to get you to repent, whether it’s the repentance from your sins like Nineveh or the more positive and non-remorseful repentance of the fishermen simply to change their minds and change their ways and set a new course. But for both sorts it takes prophecy to get past your resistances. I mean, ordinarily, who responds so dramatically as those fisherman did to Jesus, or as the whole population of Nineveh responded to Jonah?

The story of Jonah raises many questions, more than just the part about the whale, like why would an imperial capital so totally repent for a foreign god whom their own gods were defeating? And why would real-life fisherman do something so unethical as abandon the work they were doing, so that someone else had to finish it, and as if they didn’t have families to feed? They had wives but they acted as if they had none. They had business obligations, but they acted like they had none.

The point is freedom—the relativity of your obligations, and the fragility of your self-sufficiency. I think that’s the point of the Epistle, which is better translated not as admonition but description, so that in the pressing moment the married are as the unmarried and the unmarried are as married. It is neither your obligations nor your lack of obligations that define you or confine you. You are committed and you are free. You are free to be committed and you are committed to be free.

When I was a kid I got sent to evangelical summer camp. That’s where the child-evangelists worked, and they were skilled at getting us kids to give our lives to Christ. I always wanted to please adults so I got saved again every summer. In 1963, we were living in Bedford-Stuyvesant. When the summer days were hot, the big kids would open up the fire-hydrants. Powerful gushers of water and amazing fun. Until the cops would come.

One hot day, the big kids had opened up the hydrant, and I was ten, and I was wearing a cool new yellow bathing suit, and I wanted to get out into the street, but I knew it was illegal, and I had given my life to Christ, so I called the cops. I watched for the cops to come from inside the house with my bathing suit still on. It didn’t take long for me to feel ashamed and confused, and I stayed inside all day.

You know those child-evangelists had told me the wrong good news. They just wanted to get me to conform to their ideas of salvation, but they should have cared about me, and my peculiar life, and what it was like for me to be a white kid in a ghetto, a preacher’s kid, and taught me why I was free to go play under the fire hydrant.

When there’s so much wrong news in religion, prophecy tells the right news. Prophecy takes you in your real life seriously, and doesn’t force you into some religious paradigm. Prophecy can see the individual details that rule-makers cannot see. Prophecy tells you that God is with you, prophecy tells you that God is on your side and the Bible is on your side, and that you can repent precisely because God already is on your side. Whether you repent of your sins or you make a drastic and risky change in your life, God is on your side to keep talking into your new obedience.

So that’s your take home today, it’s simply that God is on your side. I don’t care who else misuses that thought, it doesn’t take away the truth of it for you, God is on your side. And you should tell others that too.

When Jesus announced the good news of God, he began to act it out. When you watch him in the Gospel of Mark you watch a powerful and sometimes even scary working out of love, a passion of love, an investment of love, a sacrifice of love, liberating love, healing love. And he called others to join him in the active incarnation of that love. That was the good news of God. It’s never old news. I invite you to believe the broadcast of it every week, and report it to others whom you know, that God is love and God loves you.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

January 14, Second after Epiphany, Prophecy #2: "Follow Me, Here I Am"

1 Samuel 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

From our First Reading, I am going to explain how the prophecy of little Samuel develops.

The prophecy begins as recitation. Samuel recites verbatim what the Lord God had told him.

But this objective recitation gets framed within little Samuel’s subjective experience, his childlike mind and innocent thoughts and natural fear of what he’s been told. His experience of the prophecy becomes part of the prophecy. 

And so does the hearing of the recitation by old priest Eli. The prophecy has become three-dimensional: the prophecy includes the objective recitation, plus the subjective experience of reciting it, plus the other subjective experience of hearing and receiving it.

And then it gets four-dimensional, when it extends through time, when the story is passed down and then written down in a book, so that it can be read out loud. The book itself is a prophecy. You know the First Book of Samuel is listed as an historical book in Christian Bibles, but in the Hebrew Bible it is counted among the Prophets. The story of the prophecy becomes the prophecy.

So when we read the story out in church, the prophecy gets prophesied all over again, and again in three-dimensions: the lector reading it out, which recapitulates the original objective recitation, then the experience of the lector and the preacher, which recapitulates Samuel, and then the listening of the congregation recapitulates old Eli and his “let it be.”

And the prophecy keeps moving forward into the fourth dimension of time, to open up space in the world, space in our lives, and in that space to welcome our questions and answers and our hopes and fears, inviting our faith, and in that space to call us into a community of mutual speaking and listening, generating our testimony and witness for us to share in shaping the world, so that we might share in creating the new creation.

I said last week that Biblical prophecy is typically conversational; not exclusively, but typically. Some prophets were loners, but Jesus gathered a fellowship, a community. Jesus says, “Follow me.” Follow me into my words, follow me into my life and conversation. And the Gospel reports this marvelous three-way conversation zipping around between Jesus, Philip, and Nathanael.

It’s electric and it moves fast, from the “follow me” to a “eureka-we have found him,” to a sarcastic put-down, to a second invitation, to a double-entendre compliment, to a defensive question, to a surprising answer, to an ecstatic profusion of titles, to a penetrating rhetorical question, to the climactic prophetic prediction. In the beginning was the talk, and the talk was made flesh and dwelt among us. We can detect an image of the Holy Trinity in this three-personned prophecy. The conversational prophecy began with Philip confessing his name, and it ended with Our Lord’s climactic prediction.

I said last week that Biblical prophecy is more typically speaking than seeing. But not exclusively. And when it is seeing, it is rarely seeing the future and usually seeing the hidden reality of now, seeing beyond the veil of human limitation, seeing the present world as heaven sees it. Here Jesus calls it “seeing greater things.” 

And the vision that he predicts is strange. He adapts the Old Testament vision of Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob’s staircase, stretching from earth to heaven with angels moving up and down, and he makes himself the escalator! Shall we picture a giant, stretched-out Jesus, toes in the earth and finger-tips in heaven? Or the other way around, toes in heaven and fingers in the earth, so that we can see his face? Where is Jesus when he says, like little Samuel, “Here I am”? Is he in heaven as the Son of Man, representing us and pleading for us and judging us, or is he here with us, the Son of God in whom the whole of God is pleased to dwell? Or both? How to interpret this strange vision? Does the prophet always understand what she can see?

Prophecy tells more than we can understand in order to challenge our understanding and to nourish it. Prophets often don’t comprehend the greater implications of their prophecies. When Nathanael confessed Jesus as “the Son of God and the King of Israel” he meant those titles as equivalents, and at one level they were, so he was right, yet he did not comprehend the greater implications of those titles.

I know that I often have to speak to you of things I do not fully understand. And yet I always appeal to your understanding. So let me invite you to speak of things you do not fully understand. Not from willful ignorance, but because you want to be as open to what’s beyond you as was Samuel, you want to be as quickened by it as Philip and Nathanael were, and you want to enjoy it.

But prophecy can be trouble. It can tingle your ears. Little Samuel could sense the trouble in it. With touching economy the narrative reports him sleepless after the message, and then he goes about his chores as if nothing had happened to avoid Eli.

In coming weeks we will read other troubling prophecies. Biblical prophecy can sound hurtful or vengeful, but even then its purpose is to clear away and open up. It makes space in the world, space within the clutter of humankind’s initiatives, space within the rubble of human self-aggrandizement, and space within the garbage of human pride. Space in your own life, space within your fears and commitments and assumptions.

And into this space that prophecy makes, Jesus says, “Follow me.” He invites you to follow him into the great conversation that both judges the world and renews the world. He calls you both backward and forward. You follow him into these old books and stories, these poems and histories, these ancient narratives, and then as you talk about them with other listeners God speaks to you.

Somebody asked me how come God doesn’t speak to us anymore like in the ancient days. God is still speaking, but in a different way, by means of the four-dimensional Biblical conversation that you can be part of. It will be the Lord, though you can never neatly distinguish God’s voice from your own subjective experience or from the back-and-forth of dialogue, but by the Holy Spirit it will be the Lord. That’s the way that the Lord Jesus has set it up with his companions.

And you also follow him into the present and the future, as his conversation moves forward in time, and as you put it into practice, on your own and in community. Not just ethical practice, but prophetic practice, bearing witness to the truth amidst the prevalent confusion, and by your lifestyle you testify against the news which is not fake but has no hope.

One of you told me this week that it’s precisely in times that we are living that prophecy is relevant and necessary. Right within the sad and crazy world the dynamic conversation is gradually, and with humility, creating a new heaven and new earth. “Let this be, let that be, it is the Lord.”

Jesus says, “Follow me,” and what do these lessons tell you to say? Like little Samuel, you can say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Because you have to do a lot of listening to share in prophecy. Listening like Eli too. More listening than talking. I love the picture of little Samuel being open to God by being present to himself. Being patient in the silence for the still, small voice of God.

And you can also say something more basic, what little Samuel said to begin with, “Here I am.” Three times he said it, “Here I am,” which in Hebrew is Hineini. I have spoken to you of this before. It’s what Abraham said to God at the sacrifice of Isaac. “Here am I, here I am.” It’s what the Virgin Mary said to the archangel. It’s what Adam failed to say when he hid himself from God.

You have to choose to say it, “Here I am,” because there is so much to push you off, and even the Word of God pushes you off at least a little bit. Why does the Bible say that? What does this passage mean? And do I have to join another conversation, do I have to enter another community? Can’t I just hear God’s voice on my own?

I am not saying you can’t ever. But the deep purpose of the conversational prophecy is that it requires love and it’s a practice of love. You don’t just listen for God, you listen for each other. You don’t begin with, “Let me tell you,” you begin with, “Here I am.” The love that little Samuel had for old Eli is important to the story. “Here I am, I present myself, I am present to you, I offer myself to you.”

Our great example is the three persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally present to each other in their original and loving conversation. Even prophecy comes down to love. In love Jesus calls you, “Follow me,” and you practice love when you answer, “Here I am.”

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

January 7: The Baptism of Our Lord; Prophecy #1: Four Minor Prophets

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

Let’s start with Heidelberg Catechism Questions 31 and 32. It’s from 1563, so it’s real old-timey:

31 Q. Why is the Son of God called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?

A. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be: our chief prophet and teacher, who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance; our only high priest, who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father; and our eternal king, who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.

32 Q. Why are you called a “Christian”?

A. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed: to confess his name; to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving; to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.

You see how the second question follows on the first question: as the word “Christian,” which is used of you, derives from the title of “Christ,” which is used of him, so your purpose and identity as a Christian derive from his purpose and identity as Christ. And if Christ is a prophet, a priest, and a king, then you as a Christian are also in some sense a prophet, and a priest, and a king or queen or ruler or whatever.

Today, in particular, prophecy. According to the Catechism, you share in Christ’s anointing as a prophet. And according to the Catechism, your prophecy is simply to confess his name. Yes, but there’s more, there’s more to your being a prophet. So my sermon series for the next six weeks is on prophecy, and what prophecy means, and how prophecy is for all of you.

Prophecy is not unique to Christianity. It takes different forms in different cultures and religions. It is often equated with predicting the future, but that’s just one part of it. Prophets are often called Seers, but Biblical prophets are more like Speakers. In Biblical prophecy the future is not fated, as with the Greeks. The Biblical future is dependent on our choices now, so the burden of prophecy is to tell the truth about the present, to name the truth about the present reality instead of avoiding or denying it, so that we can make right choices in the exercise our human freedom.

In some religions, a prophet is a human oracle, a mouthpiece of destiny or of the gods. In Islam, the prophet recites the message of Allah word for word, taking dictation from the angel. But in the Bible, the prophecies are often conversational, God and the prophet having conversations, so that the prophets’ personalities come into their prophecies.

A Biblical prophet is more than a mouthpiece, and is even a partner with God’s Holy Spirit in the Word of God. That’s true whether their prophecies are simply spoken, like Elijah’s, or written as literature, like the Major Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Minor Prophets Amos and Obadiah. The prophets of the Bible have some say in the Word of God, because their say-so serves whatever God is saying.

What prophecy shares in all religions is that its information is privileged. Its information comes from beyond the normal capacities of intelligence, its truth goes past the normal limitations of reason, and its visions go beyond the normal boundaries of human experience, and yet it always means to address our intelligence and speak to our reason and make claims on our experience.

Prophecy assumes a privilege and standing and even authority that cannot be proven from within our boundaries and limitations. So human reason and experience may well doubt the claims of prophecy and deny its privilege. When I first moved to Hoboken, in 1991, an old evangelist named Mr. Ulfilas Shah solemnly told me that God had told him that I was to be the missionary to the Hindus of New Jersey. I told him, Sorry, but God had not told me that. He did beg my pardon.

Because prophecy is from beyond the boundary, there is always some mystery in it, even if just a little. How open are you to mystery? How much mystery do you want in your life? I don’t mean mysteries as puzzles waiting for solutions given sufficient clues and right deductions. I mean the magnificent mysteries of the universe, the mystery of light, the mystery of life, the mysteries that human reason embraces but cannot contain, mysteries inspiring us to joyful wonder and humility.

How much mystery, how much transcendence do you want in your life? And do you want that transcendence to be empty, and the mystery formless and vague? If you are open to that transcendent mystery having form and shape and color and meaning, then you can be open to prophecy, and you can even aspire to being the minor prophet that you were anointed to be.

Some of the mysteries of prophecy are prosaic, like, what was going on in that story from our Epistle reading, Acts 19? What were those twelve Christians doing when they spoke in tongues and prophesied? We will never know for certain, the author does not explain it. We can guess with some confidence by consulting other passages, but interpretations differ.

One faulty but popular interpretation teaches a second baptism after water baptism, a baptism of the spirit that results in speaking in tongues. But Jesus did not speak in tongues when the Holy Spirit baptized him. When the Ethiopian eunuch got  baptized, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in him was his joy as he rode home in his chariot. When the Philippian jailer got baptized he washed St. Paul and served him dinner. A variety of manifestations all point to one invisible reality, which is God coming into the world as the Holy Spirit entering into ordinary people to dwell in you and inspire you. Transcendence inside you.

In a few minutes four of you will be standing before us to be recognized as new members of this church. You each have your reasons for doing this, but these reasons you have in common: you are publicly identifying as a Christian, you are stepping up to share some responsibility for this congregation, and you are publicly declaring some measure of allegiance to Jesus Christ. We will anoint you with oil, to remind you of the anointing of your baptism, which marked you as a member of Christ, and we anoint you to suggest the invisible transcendence of what you are standing up for.

Just by your standing before us you confess the name of Jesus Christ, which, according to the Catechism, is the beginning of your prophecy. So today I am calling you minor prophets. Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Jack, Margaret, Ann, Philip. And beyond that minimum what shall your particular prophecies be? What will you say? What kind of things will you say? If you have been given the Holy Spirit of God, then you have a say in what God says, so how will what you say serve what God says?

Human beings are the creatures who speak. Among all the creatures of creation, human beings are the ones who talk voluminously and of necessity. Christian doctrine teaches that this is because, among the creatures, we are the images of God. We speak because God spoke. So your speech, your use of words, your writing, is inherently sacred, no matter what you’re speaking of, from pots and pans to prophecies.

And this too, we are also the creative ones among the creatures, because we are the images of the Creator. And the way that God created was by God’s speech. God shaped and formed the world not with the hands of angels or giants but simply by speaking it into shape.

Your prophecy is your having a say in the shaping of the new creation. It’s not that you see the future but that you have a say in the future of the world. You have a say in the forming of God’s sovereignty, by the truths you tell about the world, by the interpretations you espouse, by the reports you make, you help to create the future by your speech and how you talk.

You are a Christian for the world, not only for the church. Your access to transcendence is your gift to open up the world that is closed in on itself. The truths that you tell you help people make their choices. By the stories you tell and your conversation you keep the world open to joy and hope and faith and love.

And you are prophetic about your self, you tell the mysterious truth about yourself. You believe it and confess it, that you are known by name by God. That God has chosen to inhabit you. Reason cannot prove it, it takes prophetic speech to say such a thing about yourself, that God has said to you, Phil, Margaret, Ann, Jack, you are my Child, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased. The very beginning of your prophecy is to affirm that you yourself are loved by God.

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.