Sunday, May 31, 2015

We Are All Prophets (5/31/15)

We Are All Prophets
John Shuck

May 31, 2015

Prayer for Peace
 Hoang Minh Nhan, Vietnam 

 I would like to say some simple things, 
Simple as a field of rice or sweet potatoes, 
Or a silent early morning. 
Please let me breathe again the air of yesterday. 
Let children frolic in the sun 
 With kites over bamboo bridges. 
 Just a narrow little space will be enough 
Four rows of bamboo trees around it; 
And leave a little space, for an entrance, 
A place for a girl and boy to tell the story of the moon, 
For old women with babies to gather and chatter. 
Please give me back these things I’ve mentioned— 
A story as simple 
As a bird’s unbroken song, 
As a mother, as a baby 
As the life of long ago the poets used to tell… 

Luke 4:16-30
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 

He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

We are nearing the end of the season of Spring.    During Spring we reflect on the Creation Spirituality path of the via transformativa, the way of justice-making and compassion.   This is the dream of the world transformed.  It is the season of our aspirations.  

The New Creation is the mythological symbol.    A new heaven and a new earth.  In the final verses of the book of Revelation, we read:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.   Rev. 21:1-2

In this new city all tears are wiped away and all the saints reign forever in the light of the Lamb.  

We are dreamers.  The one speech of Martin Luther King that everyone knows is “I Have A Dream.”  He delivered a lot of speeches, many filled with detailed analysis of the world’s injustices and strategies to overcome them, but it was the dream speech that captured the nation’s heart. 

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.

Perhaps the most interesting and important feature of the human species is the drive to articulate dreams and aspirations.    Our dreams and our hopes are what give us meaning and purpose.    

We all have dreams and have had them.  We have dreams for ourselves, for successful careers, to fall in love, to have a home, to raise happy, good-looking kids who are above average.    

Of course we adjust our dreams as we add on the years.  I no longer dream of playing second base for the New York Mets.   But who knows, my nephew might.  I can dream for him.     

Of course, while we were dreaming, life happens.     Our dreams may need to be adjusted.  For a time, they may disappear.  Our former dreams may be taunting reminders of what can never be.    Those are walking in the dark times.  

In time, dreams return.  We dare to dream again.  Dreaming is risky because the flames of disappointment scorch and no one is eager to be exposed to that again.  But nonetheless, we dream because we are human and we have no choice.    When dreams stop we enter the fog of non-existence. 

The people for whom we build monuments and name libraries and streets were usually, not in all cases, but often, big dreamers.   Their dreams moved beyond their personal welfare or the welfare of their immediate kin.   They dreamed about a transformed world.    A good exercise is to make a list of those dreamers and their dreams and ask why they come to mind for you.  

Some of these dreamers were not honored in their lifetime.    

I personally light candles for the heretics, who were hounded and defamed, even executed for articulating dreams that afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.  From Galileo to Darwin to Susan B. Anthony to Rachel Carson, we owe a great debt to those who told the truth as they saw it when the truth they were telling wasn’t popular. 

Of course, the biggest heretic of all is the one for whom our religion is founded.   I think we should shudder every day at the irony that the heretic extraordinaire, Jesus of Nazareth, was named as the founder of an institution that hounded heretics.  

Ironic also, that the one we turned into a god had sad in so many words, don’t turn people into gods.     Mark 10:17-18:

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

The historical Jesus consistently refused the pedestal.    

We aren’t really sure what to do with dreamers, prophets, and poets.    Two choices it seems:  we kill them or turn them into gods.  Often both.  Kill them, then divinize them.   Dead gods make no trouble.  It is the live humans that are the problem.  

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement was starting to hear rumblings of her praises.   She said, “Don’t you dare call me a saint.  You won’t get rid of me that easily.”   Despite her protests, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to canonize her anyway.   Once your dead, you can’t complain. 

Prophets and poets are problematic because they dream.   They dream of the end of poverty, homelessness, war, and inequality.   We all dream those things, right?  Sure, or we should.  But the prophets and poets put a fine point on it.   They tend to name names and point to causes of these ills and make us feel a little uncomfortable, well a lot uncomfortable, because these causes can hit close to home.   

Speaking of home, that is where Jesus preached his first sermon according to Luke.   This sermon is likely an exaggeration by Luke.   The whole scene appears fabricated.  The Jesus Seminar voted it all black, except for the one phrase that may have gone back to him,  

“The truth is, no prophet is welcome on his home turf.”

The story is not history for a number of reasons.  Jesus, as a member of the peasant class, likely would not have been able to read or write.   

The supernatural element of Jesus being divinely protected from being thrown from a cliff show us that we are in the realm of storytelling.  

Most importantly, the story fits the theological pattern of Luke-Acts.   That theme is Jews rejecting Jesus and the Gentiles receiving him.   That is an unfortunate pattern throughout Luke-Acts. 

In this particular story, Luke creates a scene of Jesus returning home from doing his wonderworking and healing and he preaches in the local synagogue.   The folks like him at first, then turn against him when he says the good stuff is not going to happen for them but for the outsiders.    

There is truth to this story even though the truth is not historical.  One truth is that prophets are not welcome, especially in their home towns.   Another truth is that prophets are not welcome most anywhere.  That has nothing to do with Jew or Gentile or Luke’s supersessionist  theology, the fancy word for replacement theology, that Christianity replaced Judaism as God’s favorite religion.  

Prophets are rejected because they tell painful truths.   Luke was right about that regarding Jesus.   Jesus was a Jew from birth to death.   He had no intention of starting a new religion.   He spoke of a transformed world.   His metaphor of choice was kingdom of God.  He spoke as prophets and poets before and after him did, of justice for the poor and of love for enemy.   It was very much in line with the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and the Hebrew wisdom sages.  

Luke was right to put on Jesus’s lips those profound, poetic, prophetic, powerful words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

I am certain that the historical Jesus knew those words, because he lived them.  

I also think Jesus dreamed that the world would be transformed non-violently.   
Violent uprisings were not going to get people where they needed to go.   If we were going to get to a world that lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, lived in peace with neighbor, we weren’t going to get there with violence.    

In the year 2015, following a century of war, we ought to know that by now.   

Historical Jesus scholar Dominic Crossan says we are addicted to violence like a drug and we need a twelve-step program to beat it.   

Not only do we need to listen to poets, prophets, and dreamers, we need to be poets, prophets, and dreamers.    You see the dreamer and poet and the prophet is always mocked and put down as silly and impractical.   They are called “dreamers” right?    This is the real world, so we are told.  

In the real world you need guns.  
In the real world security trumps freedom.  
In the real world you need to extract the oil and gas faster and faster and green energy is for, well, dreamers.   
In the real world you get peace through domination and power.  
In the real world you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and those who don’t have deserved it.    

But the poets and prophets know that is wrong.    What we confuse with reality is nothing more than fear trying to gain power.  The real power is in the truth.   The real power is found in the words of poets and prophets who didn’t allow the bullies to silence them.    

They said in spite of threats and bluster, “This is what I see.  Can you see it, too?”   

It is the poets and the prophets who turn the world around and who show us possibility, who ignite our dreams.  When our dreams are ignited, they join with the dreams of others.    Out of that, possibility arises that no individual can see or calculate or even understand.   

Dreams inspire dreams.   They grow and build and are a life of their own.   

That my friends, is the Spirit of God,    

We are an aspiring species.   We can do better than to follow the wisdom of the so-called realists who can’t see beyond the next voting cycle.     

We are so much more important than that.   We, that is human beings, are the consciousness, the language, the poetry, the music, the meaning, the dream of the universe.     

It took 13.8 billion years for you to get here.  It took all of that time and all of those reactions and all of that evolution for you to be here.  All of this complexity is incredible.    It isn’t over!   These dreams, hopes, and aspirations for humanity’s flourishing are real.  It is the really real.  

We don’t need to destroy what we have received with guns and selfishness and short-sightedness.    We don’t need to calculate the future.  We only need to be open to it.   And we need to articulate what we see.  And trust it.

We need to accept the assignment, the calling that each of us is a poet, each of us is a prophet, each of us is a dreamer.    

I know it is painful.  It is hard to dream when we grieve.  It is hard to dream when we are afraid.   But it is    during these times, in this time, that we have no other choice but to dream.   Because that is what it means to be given the gift of humanity.     This life is a gift and we can never, ever forget that.    It is a gift to use.

If you are alive, this is your moment.  

This is your time to participate in the Spirit.    
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 


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