Click here to listen to it all (With sound effects!!)
In case you’ve never experienced it, it can be really difficult to speak when you are unconvinced that your audience is paying attention. When I was in my first summer as a camp counselor, I called my parents one weekend when we were on break, and I was saying to them how most of the campers to that point had been really great, but this past week, I’d had a cabin full of 7th & 8th grade boys and I’d say something to them about where we needed to be next or picking up trash or asking whose random sock was in the middle of the cabin floor and they’d look at me like I was speaking Swahili or something and then they’d just go right back to doing whatever they were doing… After a second or two of silence, my mother said, “Mmm. Well. Now you know what YOUR middle school experience was like for us!”
That frustration, that “speaking to the wind” feeling might give us an insight into what the ancient prophets must have felt like. With the exception of Jonah, where the people of Nineveh actually repent and return to the Lord, more often than not, the messages of the prophets went unheeded, if not mocked, until doom and destruction was imminent and the people said, “Hmmm. Maybe that crazy guy who’s been yelling at us was right…”
The burning question for us today is this: “Who are the Prophets of our time? And are we willing to hear what they have to say to us?”
I would venture to guess that each generation sees its own prophets, people who have spoken the Word of God when it was very necessary, though not at all popular with the masses. Three women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee (both of Liberia) and Tawakkol Karman (of Yemen), were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work". These were not popular messages in their respective countries, but Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, both proud and devout Anglicans, knew that the rebuilding of their nation would not and could not be done by the men who had perpetuated the destruction.
Right now, delegates from around the world are meeting in Durban in South Africa as part of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. What they are saying about caring for the environment and the world that God has created and left in our care is critical to sustaining the world’s food and water supply not only in vulnerable areas of the world, but even in the bread baskets of the world.
We ignore these, and all, prophets at our own peril. We have to pay attention.
I know: it’s hard to hear them sometimes. We are a busy, distracted people. There is static and noise everywhere we go. We turn on the TV in the morning, have the radio on in the car, check our cell phones constantly, are always looking at the latest thing on the internet, we’ve got the buzz of life in our work environments, our kids’ sports events, caring for aging parents, over-burdened calendars, and whatever else that creates the static that keeps us from hearing God’s messengers in the 21st Century.
Two of our Scripture passages this morning are about voices in the wilderness and straightening out the highways and pathways for our God. How in God’s name can we make a straight path if we can’t even hear the voice calling us into action?
It’s not much of a rhetorical question. The answer is, We can’t… It’s not possible. If we allow the static of our lives to pull us in every direction except towards the Holy One, then we cannot do the counter cultural work Christ has given us to do in the world: to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and proclaim release for the captives. If we let the hectic-ness and the craziness of our day-to-day routines get to us, especially this time of year, we miss out on the stories of people who are being God’s hands and feet in the world: Young people like the cheerleading squad at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, who work and cheer side-by-side with teenage girls with special needs . Further evidence of the radical inclusiveness of our God.
We’d miss out on people like John Hoffman, a North Carolina man who found a wallet on the side of I-40 near Hickory earlier this year. He returned the wallet, and all $1,600 that was in it, to the local police who found the wallet’s rightful owner . Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.
If we pay more attention to the static than we do to the voice of ones crying out in the wilderness, then we can’t ever know how or which path to make straight. And no, we would not be the first generations of God’s people to be deaf to what God’s prophets have to say to us.
But the call remains the same. And if we ignore it or use the excuse that we couldn’t hear it because our lives are soooo hectic, we are no less liable for what those prophets are calling us to do, whether that is to care for our planet or our neighbor or those who society considers outcasts.
It’s easy to want to ignore the prophets or to turn away from them because they often give us news we don’t want to hear. They tell us things about ourselves both individually and corporately that we don’t want to admit is true.
But the message from the prophets in today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptizer, is different.
There are some important parallels between Isaiah and John the Baptist:
- Isaiah was preaching to a community that had been carried away to a foreign land; John the Baptist was preaching to a people who had foreign occupiers.
- Both were looking for hope in a desolate situation.
- Both allow God to speak through them to the masses.
- And both certainly had people who didn't want to hear, let alone, believe, what they had to say.
- Both knew that a better world was just around the corner.
Theirs is a message of hope. It is a message of good news. It is a message of restoration and redemption. It is a message of the arrival of God’s kingdom and the end of any separation we may have had from God.
(And notice that I’m using the “present tense” and not the past, because their message is as poignant today as it was in their respective times.)
In the Second Letter of Peter, he writes: No prophecy of Scripture represents the prophet’s own understanding of things, because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21, CEV).
I don’t believe in ”not possible.” More importantly, I believe it’s not only possible, but healthy and holy, to see and hear beyond the static in our lives for where God is speaking, how God is speaking, and through whom God is speaking.
Maybe the Collect of the Day, that prayer that was prayed just before we heard the reading from Isaiah, needs to be our prayer every day. Maybe we need to pray that we hear and heed the warnings of the Prophets God continues to call so that every day, every waking moment, we can be prepared for the arrival of Christ into our hearts, our lives and our world:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives in reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”