Posts Tagged ‘prophecy’

Advent 2: In the News

A few days ago the “45 Most Powerful Images of 2011” were released on a site called Buzzfeed.  Take a look at these gripping reminders of what the world has been through in the past year.

When I was in seminary, the other students and I got excited when we read the headlines.  We got excited because we all wanted to be “prophetic,” meaning that each of our activities — from internships to sermons — would be designed to challenge the ruling powers of the day.  Our seminary joke was, “I feel like Jeremiah”:  we nerdy and well-fed kids were a little too quick to compare ourselves to giants of the faith.  Thankfully, we were able to laugh at our self-importance.  I discovered when I took my first call that prophecy is hard work, and half the time, I don’t even know what the prophetic response to a situation would be.

Yet when you look at images such as those on Buzzfeed, how can you not yearn for a prophet?  Someone needs to come along and tell us what all the violence and suffering means.  Someone needs to come along to show us another way.

Perhaps the church’s call for the 21st century is to bring out those prophets.  If we paid more attention to Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea, perhaps some ordinary church member would hear the call coming through those ancient words.  I live for the day when someone tells me that they spoke up against some injustice or another, because of what they learned at church.

We’ve all seen what’s in the news.  What is God calling us to do about it?

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Advent 1: Where Did “Away In a Manger” Go?

Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for favored sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign. 

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see. 

(Hymn written by Charles Wesley, often used during Advent)

Many people wonder why most churches don’t crank up the Christmas music as soon as the stores do.  The simple answer is that Advent is not Christmas.

Yet that answer isn’t really satisfying, because to be honest, we crave the comfort of Christmas carols.  Singing them gives many of us a warm feeling.  The feeling is even more nostalgic and cozy when we think about singing carols with family, in church, or going caroling in nursing homes as a teenager.

So if your church organist hammered out some intimidating Advent hymns on Sunday, you may have felt a little jarred.

Friends, if you’ll bear with me, maybe I can turn that unnerving experience into something meaningful.

  • First, reflect on how you felt on December 26 last year.   Were you a little sad when Christmas was over and all the great songs were packed away?  Did you think, wouldn’t it be wonderful to sing Christmas carols all year long?
  • If you wished for Christmas carols year-round, you actually hit a goldmine of faith.  The Christmas carols tell an essential part of the essential story!  They tell the story that God is with us, that the Messiah is born, that peace on earth is not far away.
  • Now reconsider Advent.   The Incarnation — the Christmas story — was just the beginning of God’s incredible work through Jesus Christ.  Advent reminds us that there is more.

So I hope we will all sing these odd Advent hymns, the hymns with words about John the Baptist and “clouds descending” and prophetic stuff, with zest.  If you believe it’s true, then sing about how God is at work, and how God has plans for a still “more excellent way!”

Amendment 10-A: I predict … ?

So we’ve had the Big Vote in the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Amendment 10-A.  I’ll spare you an explanation, since I think most of my readers are Presbyterians!  But please let me know if you need more information.

In the days and weeks and months leading up to this vote, scores of people have predicted how its passage would either liberate or obliterate the Church.  I think a lot of people view this moment as a prophetic one, as it will reveal the moment we did something awfully heretical, or awfully faithful.

You might have an occasion to think about prophecy this Sunday morning.  One of the Scripture readings for this Sunday, May 15, is Acts 2:42-47.*  This is one of “those” passages that can raise uncomfortable questions about one’s lifestyle.  In a weird way, it is exactly what I needed to hear at this moment.

The early Christians depicted in this passage participated in a shared act of prophecy.  Theirs was prophecy in the true Biblical sense:  a statement of God’s intentions for the world, not necessarily a prediction of the future.

When a believer “does” prophecy, the Spirit speaks a word against human self-absorption and self-indulgence through her.   The believer conveys a godly word of challenge, guidance, and a reminder of who is in charge (and if you need a hint, prophecy reminds us that we are not the ones in charge!)

The early church, filled with elation over the saving act of Jesus Christ,  decided on a prophetic act of self-reliance. They emerged from a socioeconomic system based on legalized inequality and decided to take care of all their members’ needs.  Slavery, usury, and debt — the things that gave the ancient nobles power and  kept the rest of the population from fully prospering — were banished from the early community of believers, as a way of stating that God wishes to banish those things from creation.

The debate continues over the various forms of human bondage and oppression experienced today. In fact, just this evening, the Presbyterian Church (USA) website featured an article on how we can act to eliminate modern-day slavery.  Many American Christians feel that they are theologically oppressed, but there are widely divergent views of what the theological oppression is.  Some will see tonight’s passage of 10-A as a release from the bondage of homophobia in the church, and others will see this event as a descent into the bondage of theological relativism.

The problem for me is, that in the midst of all this, I still feel bound.  From time to time students have asked me about 10-A, and I have almost felt unable to speak.  I’m silent not because I can’t think, but because of what I have witnessed as a campus minister.  Among today’s emerging adults there is a gnawing need to perform, to be accepted, and to be excited — and it’s all combined with true confusion over where they fit in the world.  In the ministry I direct, students have been all over the map in regard to sexuality and intimacy.  Some have come out, others have retracted their coming-out, some have gone too far with a date, and others have been totally unable to find a date.   And no matter what the circumstance, they are incredibly anxious, confused, and desperate for guidance.  Some days I feel like Job’s friends, who, before they smothered him with long speeches, simply sat with him in silence because his suffering was so great.

I’m oddly comforted by the prophetic witness of the early Christians with their shared resources.  There is a way out of bondage!  There is a way to challenge the things that we happily accept because we’re unaware of the chains tightening around us.

And even though prophecy doesn’t always equal telling the future, my big prediction (drum roll) is that we aren’t done yet with larger issues of sexuality.  Until we who call ourselves followers of Christ can free ourselves from the bondage of:

  • the “me-first” approach to relationships;
  • our fear of discussing sex within our homes;
  • our aversion to commitment;
  • our belief that momentary pleasure equals deep spiritual meaning; and
  • a sex-saturated media environment,

we will not be done with this conversation.

I’m ready for a prophetic word on how God wants us to live out the matters of the heart.  If God can challenge the entrenched financial realities of the Roman Empire, surely God can help us learn to be together in a way that God could call good.

I love the church that raised me and I pray for her every day.  May the Holy Spirit continue to speak the needed word to my dear church and to the surrounding world.

* at First Presbyterian we’re actually doing a sermon series, so this week’s Scripture will be from John.