What is a prophet? A prophet is not someone who foretells the future – we would call them a seer,… ….but rather one who after much prayer and discernment (an informed conscience), calls people to take notice of the present time, ….to alert them to the error of their ways and to tell them turn around, to help them get back on the path. To turn around – that is the word repentance – metanoia in Greek – which means to turn around. A prophet is One who speaks God’s truth to others. A prophet is a person who tells it like it is – who calls a spade a spade. Who speaks truth into the current situation when others have become blinded or numb to the reality they are living in. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, I’m sure you can think of others.
We have always had prophets among us. Prophets are usually not very appealing. We often don’t like what they have to say. Their words go against the grain. They unsettle us and we’d rather ignore the places they call us to. In my own lifetime there have been many prophets. I am very grateful to the prophets of the 1960s and 70’s. The tree hugging hippies – who people thought were crazy, but their actions and passion helped save vast amounts of forest that was earmarked for pulp mills back in the beautiful town of Denmark where I lived for 7 years. Fortunately we still have environmental prophets today – who warn us of multinationals and GMO produce, who call us to good stewardship and to preserve the resources of the earth. If you want to be liked and be popular, don’t be a prophet. Prophets live on the edge. They live between worlds and they put themselves at risk. Modern day prophets are often ridiculed, sent to prison, some are assassinated - John the Baptist, as we know, lost his head. Being a prophet isn’t easy. We have a taste of what it is like to be a prophet when we speak out against the culture of our time.
So here in todays Gospel we are introduced to the prophet John the Baptist. Chapter 3 begins… In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when pontious Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod ruler of Galilee, his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, some of Zechariah in the wilderness. The purpose of this very long sentence isn’t to challenge the poor priest or deacon with tricky pronunciations. This introduction to the third chapter of Luke is to set the scene – the time and political circumstances for the emergence of John the Baptist. This was written at a time before there was a dating system as we know it (which didn’t happen until 533CE – 533 years after the founding of Rome). This is a roll call of important persons – governors and kings, even the high priest.
There is a surprising contrast here, “The word of God” comes not to any of these, but to an unknown prophet out in the wilderness. The redemptive work of which Mary sang in the Magnificat is under way: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”. In all ages, God’s word proceeds among the poor and the dispossessed. The redemptive events that began in a remote corner of Judea were, by God’s design, the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s concern for the salvation of all flesh. This is a theme running throughout Luke’s gospel. God’s activity crosses all boundaries – Salvation is for everyone. God’s action is often found in the most unlikely of places and God’s word with the most unlikely of characters.
As you know, before I came to Canada -I worked for the past 5 years with some of the most desperate of people. People who were recovering from, or still emeshed in lives of addiction and violence. I would go to work and I would find God – in my clients in their struggle, in their raw authenticity and humility, and in my co-workers who tirelessly gave so much to help others. Sometime I would go to church and sometimes I would walk out feeling empty. When I worked with people with disabilities, I found such great faith and profound presence – and it was so unexpected.
We are so blessed to live in a country of such wealth, beauty and willingness to include. But even here, on the North Shore – there are many desperate people. People who are in pain, suffering, sick or lonely – people who been abused, people who are disconnected from family and friends. We have so many resources and so much to share -if we have the courage to look hard – to explore the possibilities and really give of ourselves. We have already began that process of connecting with people in our community. The community meals on a Thursday evening are one such opportunity for us to share and connect. We encounter God’s presence in those we serve.
We will continue to encounter God in unexpected places, and we will grow – grow personally and spiritually, and grow as a community who continues to embody and be transformed by love. There will be new energy and new people to share God’s unbounded love with. We have the resources to make a difference in the lives of others and we must take action. We cannot stand by, we cannot pass by on the other side. We cannot close our eyes and hearts. As Christians we MUST be part of the solution – to speak out for human rights and dignity – think of the Caravan in Mexico, children starving in. Yemen and any one of the horrific headlines we see each day. We cannot wait. We cannot make excuses that we are too few, or too poor, or too busy or the many other ways we have of tuning out. We must do what we can.. Write letter to policitians, learn more and help educate others To give of ourselves – as Jesus did.
We must make straight the paths and make mountains low, crooked roads straight and rough ways smooth. We are people of transformation. We are people who are called to bring light to the dark places, to herald in the salvation of all…for we are nothing less than the Body of Christ in the world. Just one little candle shining penetrating the darkness.