July 4, 2021 / 6th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
First Reading Ezekiel 2:1-5 Second Reading 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 / Gospel Mark 6:1-13
Who Speaks for God?
At worship, when the lector concludes a reading from scripture by saying, “The word of the Lord,” we all respond by saying: “Thanks be to God.” When you think about it, we really mean it! We are deeply grateful to have a God who speaks to us, who communicates his word, his will, his promises, his law, his love and mercy. The written word of God contained in the bible is a lasting treasure. In the bible we have an available and dependable source through which God reveals both guidance and grace.
There are times when God is silent (or at least seems to us to be silent), times when we wait for a word, for some sign from the Lord. After all God is mysterious, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are God’s ways our ways. Nevertheless, God has been and continues to be a God who makes himself known – who addresses the people he knows and loves. The opening verse of the Letter to the Hebrews describes God’s nature as one who speaks to his people: “In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets; but now in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son.”
The prophets we meet in the bible were powerful spokespersons for God. Towering figures like Amos and Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel brought God’s words of both warning and promise to God’s people, boldly announcing: “Thus says the Lord . . .” Serving as a prophet can be a thankless task. At times prophets are required to deliver a message that no one wants to hear. They bring hard news as well as good news. Speaking the truth is no guarantee that people will believe what you say – or that they will even bother to listen.
Today we hear how God called Ezekiel to be a prophet at a very troubled time in Israel’s history – early in the sixth century B.C. God doesn’t sugarcoat the mission. Listen again to the job description God presents to Ezekiel: “I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel is called to speak to people who have rebelled against God, who are impudent and stubborn, who may very well refuse to listen. In other words, this is not exactly a plum job! However, God assures Ezekiel that whether the people listen or not, “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” Exactly how will they know that? What will make it clear to them that Ezekiel was indeed speaking the truth – that he was proclaiming to them a word from God? As the prophet Jeremiah once observed, the only way to tell for sure whether a prophet is genuine and truthful is by way of hindsight. Time will tell, and the truth will become apparent to all. “When the word of a prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord truly sent that prophet.” (Jeremiah 28:9)
People are not always inclined to listen or to believe what a prophet has to say. Even Jesus experienced such doubt and rejection when he came back to his hometown. The people of Nazareth complained: “Where did this man get all this – he’s just a carpenter.” And so Jesus was moved to say: “Prophets are not without honor – except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own house.” Of course, in hindsight it can be clearly seen that Jesus was indeed sent by God, and that he proclaimed the Truth in resounding and enduring ways.
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Who speaks for God today? Surely God has not gone silent since Jesus ascended into heaven. In many and various ways, God continues to speak today to the people he created. Pastors are ordained as ministers of Word and Sacrament – that is, they are called to be instruments through whom God communicates his gracious will and promises. When the scriptures are read, we hear the living word of the Lord. When a pastor preaches, this, too, is the word of the Lord. When the pastor proclaims to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, and when the pastor says, “the body of Christ, given for you,” this is the word of the Lord.
God speaks to us all the time, through all kinds of people. Many regard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a contemporary prophet. Like the biblical prophets, Dr. King was by no means a perfect, sinless individual. Yet his words spoke the truth in powerful and memorable ways. Recall some of the prophetic messages uttered by Dr. King:
“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” (Apt words in this time when we are so divided.)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (We cannot pretend all is well, when down the road in Chicago people are being shot to death every day.)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Is this not the message of the gospel?)
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (Prophets cast a vision – and their words keep the dream alive.)
“Life’s persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” (Prophets remind us of God’s priorities.)
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word on reality. That is why right, though temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (Prophets take the long view, and proclaim that God has the last word.)
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King also said this: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” These words are a prophetic warning to all of us who are called to be Christians. You and I cannot afford to be silent. The truth is, that like prophets before us, we have been given a word to share – not just some of us – ALL of us. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the believers. Peter explained what God was doing, quoting from the prophet Joel: “your sons and your daughters shall PROPHESY, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams . . . . I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall PROPHESY.” (Acts 2:17-18)
At Baptism, each one of us was blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – and so you and I are qualified and commissioned to speak. We are called to a prophetic task (as it says in the liturgy for Holy Baptism) “to proclaim the praise of God and to bear God’s creative and redeeming WORD to all the world.” Bearers of God’s word.