This is the transcription of a sermon that I preached at Elk Grove Congregational Church on 6/29/14. It is, in fact, the first transcript I’ve ever shared and the form is different from what I normally post on an irenicon.
[Lectionary: Jer 28:5-9 | Mat 10:40-42]
Good morning, friends.
Thank you, James, for this opportunity to speak and, as he says, “it’s better when we’re together.” It’s good to be with you all.
My name is Allen and, as some of you know, I am a recent seminary graduate. In my past life I was a youth pastor, had even received my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies, but attending Seminary has given me a new (and ever growing) appreciation for the significance of what we do.
It’s a big thing to speak the words of God.
It’s a big thing to identify as a Christian and claim to know that God would have us do “X” or that God would have us do “Y.”
It’s a big thing, for that matter, to march with your Church in a Pride Parade and attest to the inclusive love of God…
And it’s a big thing to stand before your brothers and sisters on a Sunday morning and preach, hopefully conveying in some adequate way God’s message for the world.
So when I think about the prophets, I have a measure of sympathy.
They speak for God.
There’s a popular notion that thinks of prophecy as if it were a crystal ball, that prophets tell people about their futures… but that isn’t the whole picture, at least in the Bible anyway.
The prophets of old practiced a mixture of both future-telling and forth-telling, of prediction and prescription. God would have us do “X,” God would have us do “Y.” This is what will happen, but this is what God wants us to do here and now.
In every case, however, the words of prophecy (if they were genuine) originated in God.
In our first text this morning, Jeremiah responds to the man Hananiah, a prophet who claimed Israel’s subservience to Babylon was over, that God would rid them of oppression within 2 years.
Mark your calendars – 2 years!
But Jeremiah, a prophet himself, wasn’t so sure:
The day that a prophet prophesies peace, Jeremiah says, and this peace actually comes true, that is the day we will know this prophet comes from the LORD.
You see, God’s people had a history of soothsayers – of prophets who coaxed kings and rulers, telling them what they wanted to hear. “Peace” (which meant “wholeness,” “completeness” or “rest on all sides”) was the favorite word of every leader, especially the oppressive ones, and these prophets knew it.
So they spoke peace even when there was no peace (Jer 11).
Now, I’m no king (just ask my wife or parents, who are here today) and I don’t exactly have advisers and prophets on my payroll, but I know what it’s like to be promised peace… Do you?
If you just purchase that car,
or go to that school.
If you just win the affections of that person (or those people),
or secure that sort of retirement.
Surely then you will have peace! Then you will experience rest on all sides!
Those ancient prophets who proclaimed peace were so bad, in fact, that anyone opposed to them was silenced or even, ironically, killed. Far from trustworthy, these people clouded the words of God.
The day the peace-speaking prophet is proven right, Jeremiah says, is the day we know that one comes from the Lord.
Well, Jeremiah, that day has finally come, and it come with Christ.
Jesus the prophet can tell his followers in Matthew (in the Gospel reading this morning) that whoever receives him receives God, because he is the peace-speaker who has come from the Lord. He can go on to say that whoever would accept him shares in a prophet’s reward, because he is a true prophet.
Unlike Hananiah, Jesus speaks the words of God.
Hananiah had predicted peace would come when God toppled Israel’s oppressors with violence, but Jesus announced peace… made peace by breaking the cycle of violence and defeating violence itself. He did not return evil for evil, but (though he was God) was crucified. In rising from the dead, he defeated the power of violence.
We know Jesus is, as Jeremiah says, “the prophet form the Lord,” because his peace is a different kind of peace – not one that is achieved through violence, but one where God absorbs the blow.
The modern prophet Martin Luther King Jr. connects with this idea:
Violence is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
Praise God that Christ has both saved the liar and murdered the lie, saved the hater and murdered the hate!
You see, some forms of peace are better than others.
In Matthew we are invited to receive Jesus, his agents, and his peaceful vision for the world:
A world where the smallest act of peacemaking, the gift of a cup of cold water, is not forgotten (Mat 10:42).
A world characterized by difference, but not division.
A world where Paul can say that in Christ there is no division between Greek and Jew, slave and free, male and female… to which we might respond that (contrary to the way things sometimes seem) there is no true division between Ukrainian and Russian, Chinese and American, “traditional” and LGBT, CEO and part-time employee.
Jesus has made us one people.
And ultimately, in Christ, “there is now no condemnation…” there is even peace between the human and the divine.
All of this is summed up beautifully in Ephesians 2; Christ has made peace between us and God, peace between those inside and those outside the family of God.
Let’s look at it together.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
We, friends, are the very product of Jesus’ prophecy;
our community validates his legitimacy.
Let me say that again.
If the peace-speaking prophet is validated as coming from God only when peace is realized, then we validate Jesus’ legitimacy (or at least we should).
This week marks the 57th anniversary of the UCC.
I know this, because I saw it on Facebook; the denomination posted a reminder of the commitment which the uniting denominations made in 1957 and continue to uphold today. It reads like this:
Elk Grove Congregational Church, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and it has been inaugurated with Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Its practices have been passed down through the “apostles and prophets” and the long span of church history to us. In claiming this work as our own, we receive the ones that Christ has sent, receive Christ himself, and receive the One that sent him.
We are called together as one people to grow a just and peaceful world,
starting with us.
Friends, if you are at odds with someone, go to them.
If you have wronged someone, make things right.
If someone has wronged you, tell them and forgive them (even as God has forgiven you).
Our actions have cosmic dimensions.
And if you have yet to accept the love of God, to receive your portion in God’s family that Jesus has set aside for you, go to him and receive.
Let each of us live into this reality. Let us hear God say, and ourselves echo back, the word of the true prophet who has come: