Tag Archive: Prophet


Sermon from July 12 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

These texts today about Israel losing God’s favor and Herod beheading John the Baptist are not exactly pick me ups.  They’re the kind of texts where you respond to “the Word of the Lord” with “Thanks be to God?!”  What on earth does this have to say to us? Where is the good news? However, these are stories that, oddly enough, have to do with our every day lives.

In Rwanda, one of the first places we visited was the genocide memorial in Nyamata.  It was a Catholic Church that had been the site of the killing of 10,000 people in 4 days.  There, on display, within the walls of this church were the skulls of some of the victims.  I was horrified.  And yet, I knew I had to be there.  I had to learn from what I saw before me.  When we had time to walk around, I found myself in front of those skulls, praying that I would never forget what I had seen.  I asked God that I might know what lesson I was to take away from that place.  The answer came in the form of a question: how many times have I hurt others or caused death in their lives with my words or deeds?

Staring at that gruesome scene, I realized that the truth of the matter is that we all have the potential to do harm to one another.  Maybe not in such stark ways, but in a thousand different ways each and every day.  The potential is there and the temptation to power and force always beckoning.  As the famous Lord Acton quote goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Herod and his wife succumbed to power.  John’s words of truth spoken against them stung and eventually, they proved to be too threatening to the established power.  Herod’s wife Herodias wanted John dead and Herod, for the sake of an oath and to save face among his contemporaries, would not refuse her.

The established court priest and prophet Amaziah didn’t like that the farmer prophet Amos was speaking on his turf – in the king’s sanctuary at Bethel – and saying such negative things about Israel and the king! So Amaziah tried to get Amos to leave, but Amos was following a higher calling.

Jesus and his disciples set out, preaching and teaching, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near and that all people should turn once more toward God.  But this proved threatening to the established religious leaders, to Rome and to those who wanted to put themselves first, rather than God.  Jesus would be crucified and many of his first followers martyred for speaking of God’s kingdom and against the powers that wanted to coerce and manipulate.

We are often threatened by words of truth – they have power – they challenge us, shake us out of our comfort zones and complacency, cause us to reconsider what we thought we had figured out, and make us squirm.  Sometimes we become frustrated or angry because we know that what has been said is something that is really too close for comfort.  Words can make us angry because they pull back the masks we present to the world and ourselves, and we cannot hide the truth from ourselves or anyone else anymore.  Words can cut to the heart and we see revealed, all too clearly, that with which we are struggling.

These words can be read or heard in Scripture, preached from the pulpit, heard in a song, from people we know and love, or even from strangers.  I know that I hate it when someone else speaks that kind of uncomfortable truth to me.  They say something and it’s absolutely irritating because I know in my heart of hearts that the other person is right, but I don’t want to admit it or deal with it.  And now that whatever I was conveniently trying to ignore is out in the open, I have to deal with it.  Has anyone else experienced this?

As much as this can be incredibly uncomfortable, challenging and even painful, it is one of ways I know I learn.  And I give thanks for the people in my life who are patient and wise guides, able to shepherd me through this learning process.  Those who speak truth and gently urge me to give up the power and control I think I have in favor for the forgiveness and healing of Christ.  We all need people and communities that can hold us accountable and call us to be the people God is calling us to be.

Because that’s the paradox of the Gospel.  Real power – power that isn’t coercive or manipulative – springs forth from the cross of Christ.  It was through Christ’s weakness and vulnerability that salvation came about.  It is through death that we are able to experience new life.  It’s through letting go of the things we want to hold so tightly – being right, important, intelligent, rich, or even our mistakes – that we discover true freedom and the power of Christ’s love to heal and redeem.  And without being in touch with those places where we have sinned or fallen short, the good news remains something that sounds good, but stays at arm’s length and cannot change our lives.

The cross, and following Christ, bid us to die to ourselves.  Being a disciple is hard.  Following Christ will cause us to examine our lives and let go of things we thought important in order to follow God.  It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is profoundly good.  And the Holy Spirit is always guiding and strengthening us to follow.  Following God frees us to become more open to what God is doing in the world – to see things through the lens of the cross and resurrection, and to work on behalf of God’s kingdom.

It’s like a scene from A League of Their Own, about the women’s baseball league started during World War II.  In that scene, coach Jimmy Duggan, speaks passionately about baseball to Dottie, an amazing player, who is leaving the league now that her husband is back from war.  Jimmy says, “Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.” When Dottie says, “It just got too hard,” Jimmy responds:  “It’s supposed to be hard! If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great!”

Trying to follow God is hard.  I’m sure Amos, who was a simple farmer, called to be a prophet by God, had his moments of thinking, “this is an awful gig – I don’t want to do this.”  But he knew he had to.  And John the Baptist, as wild and unconventional as he was, probably knew that speaking the truth to the king and to all people would end up getting him in trouble, but he pressed on, knowing he was called to proclaim God’s truth.  Jesus sent out the disciples knowing that they would encounter those who wouldn’t want to listen.  And we, too, are called to listen to what God is proclaiming to us and to share that news with the world.  It is hard, but in doing so we experience new life and resurrection.  And the good news is that God never ceases trying to reach us, calling us to be transformed by God’s grace, and to share the good news with the world.

Words, especially words of truth, can catch us off guard and frustrate, irritate, or challenge us.  But they can also help us to turn once more toward God.  As the Psalmist says “I will listen to what the LORD God is saying.”  Are we listening? What is God saying to us today? Are there things God is calling you to reexamine in your life?

Maybe what you hear is that God is calling you to step out of your comfort zone to follow God into a new place or a new task.  Amos was a simple farmer when God called him to be a prophet.  How might God be calling you?

The stories of Amos and John the Baptist remind us that we need God’s word and other people to speak truth to us, even if it’s hard to hear.  We need that help to remove the masks we wear, to challenge us to examine our sins, to encourage us to seek forgiveness, and to live in God’s grace.  Thanks be to God for the prophets old and new who point toward God and call us to follow.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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When Words Collide…

This is the sermon I preached this morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.  The texts for the day were Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30:

Jeremiah 1: 4-10
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’


Luke 4:21-30
21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

I preached sitting in a chair in the chancel and holding a binder (so it’d look a little like a storybook) with the title When Words Collide…  (© 2013. VicarBelle Publishing House)  😛  Enjoy!

 

Come, gather ‘round, Christ Lutheran Church!
I’m going to leave my normal perch,
And sit up here and tell you a story,
So sit back, listen well and don’t you worry!

I read these texts and hear an emphasis on words,
Or maybe that’s just because I’m a language nerd,
But there are some important themes running through,
And so I chose a word-laden poem to bring them to you.

By definition, words are little carriers of meaning,
They can be straightforward or need some sense-gleaning,
For two holy prophets were words crucial tools,
Even though some may have thought them fools.

First we hear about a young Hebrew fella’
His call to be a prophet made him turn a little yellow,
Jeremiah said, “Ah! Lord! I’m just a boy”
And the Lord said, “sorry, kid, you’re now in my employ!”

“I’ve been with you since before you were born,
And I’ll be with you from the dawn of each morn.’”
So now I’m putting my words in your mouth,
So you can go speak to the kingdom in the south.”

The young prophet Jeremiah was none-too-thrilled,
I mean, can you blame him, he might have been killed!
God had charged him to go forth to all the nations,
To tell them about all of God’s frustrations.

He was given the job without pay or pension plan,
Only the promise that he was God’s appointed man.
God told him, “do not be afraid of what lies before
I will deliver you as I did your ancestors of yore.”

So out he went and performed his role,
And though at some times it took a toll,
Jeremiah knew he couldn’t do anything different,
He was called to be God’s wandering itinerant.

Fast forward to Nazareth’s local synagogue on Shabbat,
A young man who’s been coming since he was a tot,
Steps up to read and opens up the Isaiah scroll,
He’s reading well – you might even say he’s on a roll.

It’s a Torah portion about bringing amazing news –
For the poor, the oppressed and all singing the blues!
He tells the congregation that today it’s all fulfilled,
And, naturally, they’re all super thrilled!

They love the words they’ve just heard from his lips,
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” one of them quips,
All are astonished at the skill of this homegrown lad,
All are excited and couldn’t be more glad.

But then this young man named Jesus gets upset,
Saying things that make the people start to fret.
He says, “you’ll want me to do miracles like in Capernaum!”
And “no prophet is accepted where he comes from!”

It’s almost like he knows their attitude will change,
And that’s why he starts speaking so strange.
He brings up Elijah and Elisha from the past,
Who went to people who should have been outcasts.

In this it seems he’s saying the news he brings,
Is going to be a boundary-pushing, daring thing.
It’s going beyond where we’re comfortable going,
It’s going far past the love and mercy we like showing.

That’s when people really become filled with rage,
It’s so palpable in the gospel, it leaps off the page!
Over a cliff this hometown hero is nearly thrown,
But he escapes through the crowd to become better known.

You see, words have the power to move us to tears,
They can calm our doubts and assuage our fears.
They can stir up within us feelings of joy,
Or they can make us slap our foreheads and say, “oy!”

Those who wield words can hurt or heal,
They can cause scandals or make business deals.
Words can draw us closer to family and friends,
Or bring short or long-term relationships to an end.

Tyrannical leaders can stir up people to harm others,
Or lead people to oppress their sisters and brothers.
Silence can be crushing when you need an answer,
Or a word can break the heart when you hear, “its cancer.”

But words can call forth God’s vision for the world,
And urge others to work toward the kingdom unfurled.
Others’ words can give voice to our prayers,
Hearing a kind word shows that someone cares.

But there’s one word that shapes the others we use,
One word that embodies powerful good news,
One word that seeks out and transforms humankind,
And if you’ve guessed it, you’ve got a sharp mind!

It’s the Word of God, the Word enfleshed,
God on earth, in human form dressed.
Jesus, the Word, who came to love all people –
The one we worship under this steeple.

We’ve experienced the tremendous power of a word,
But what about the Word of God, our Lord?
How does this Word shape how we talk?
Does this Word shape our life-long walk?

So my question today for all of us,
Is therefore, hence, as follows, and thus:
How do we use our God-given voices
or speak up when there are so many choices?

What words do we choose among all the commotion?
How do we follow Christ in our speech with full devotion?
Sometimes it’s difficult to speak against opponents,
But it can be important to do so at the right moment.

Perhaps there’s something you’re called to say,
But you’re hesitant to toss your hat into the fray.
What injustices weigh on your heart and mind?
How can you advocate while being honest and kind?

Jeremiah and Jesus also found it hard to speak up,
Neither of them wanted to drink from that cup.
But they did anyway knowing that God was with them,
And would stay with them even amidst opposition.

Or perhaps you’re being called to use words of love,
To forgive as you’ve been forgiven from above.
How does Christ’s love transform your reactions,
And build up ties rather than cause fractions?

Our words can help others glimpse our God,
The Word incarnate who dwelled among the flawed.
The Word of God who sets all people free,
who graciously forgives the sins of you and me.

So I suppose what I am trying to say,
Is “take this Word with you as you leave today.”
Carry the Word of God within your hearts,
And see what wisdom to your words it imparts.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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