January 31, 2013

No Excuses

Filed under: Lectionary,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 8:36 pm

O God of all the prophets, you knew us and chose us before you formed us in the womb. Fill us with faith that speaks your word, hope that does not disappoint, and love that bears all things for your sake, until that day when we shall know you fully, even as we are known by you. Amen[i]

It’s a pattern:

God announces himself and calls the prophet to his or her vocation.

The would-be chosen one responds with a flurry of excuses, all designed to avoid the call—I’m halt of speech; I’m shy; I’m too young; I’m too old; I’m not really a leader; I’m already on a different committee; I think I have a root canal that day.

And God replies as only the Author of All Creation, as only the one who knew us in our mother’s womb, can: Get over it.

It happens every time: Moses…Isaiah…Ezekiel…Jeremiah…me…and you.

Prophecy, it seems, is the gift no one wants.

In First Corinthians, Chapter 14, the passage immediately follows the Epistle reading in this week’s lectionary, Paul names “prophecy” as the most desirable of spiritual gifts. This would have made sense to his hearers. The church at Corinth was made up mostly of pagan converts whose Hellenistic background would have given high honor to prophets, especially to those who were given to “ecstatic” prophesy.[ii]

So why is it such a hot potato?

Well, first of all, it’s dangerous—the people were going to throw Jesus off a cliff for goodness sake! Speaking up, speaking out, being the voice that says what needs to be said isn’t something that many of us want to do.

Second, it’s kinda nutty.

The first time I met with a Spiritual Director was about six or seven years ago, shortly after I had experienced what can only be described as a clear visitation from the Holy Spirit, a distinct and unmistakable call to vocation. He was the second person I had confided in after this happened—the first being my bishop—and after listening thoughtfully and reflecting for a moment he spoke:

I believe that what you describe really did happen. I believe that you are called. And furthermore, as I sit with you I am discerning in you the gift of prophecy.

I literally choked. I think I started laughing. Prophecy? Seriously? I don’t even know what that means! And I’m certainly not going to go around telling people “I have the gift of prophecy.”

I mean…Try it: I have the gift of prophecy.

How does it feel? How do those words feel in your mouth?

Now try it again, and this time really claim it.

I have the gift of prophecy.

Because the truth is, every single one of us is called to be a prophet. Maybe not individually, but as a community we are called to listen deeply to the Holy Spirit’s calling and to respond collectively in the exhortation of Christian truth through mission and ministry.

In this season of Annual Meetings and vestry retreats, I have the pleasure of working closely with a variety of vestries. During this time that we spend together, I often feel the abiding presence of faith, hope, and love in our midst, the greatest indeed being love—love for our God, love for our church, and love for one another.

Richard Rohr defines true love as the moment when giving and receiving meet. “Receiving is not experienced as disempowering—something that makes you lower—instead, it is empowering. Your deepest power is received by letting someone else grace you, gift you, love you.” And it is in the receiving that our response, our own giving, is born.[iii]

At this point you would be justified in wondering how love is going to get the work done. How is love practical enough for the tasks at hand, especially in these times of shrinking attendance, decreases in pledge and plate, and care for aging buildings?

I return to our reading from Paul: Without love, everything else is pointless. It is love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.

And so each of us, called now as prophets in this generation….in our communities…throughout Judea and Samaria…to the ends of the earth.

 …will come to the Lord’s table mindful that true love is where the giving and receiving meet.

We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ with confidence that true love comes in that place there giving and receiving meet.

And when the difficult moments are upon us, when the questions of discernment weigh heavily, the true love born of giving and receiving will strengthen us to seek and serve Christ in one another, to love our neighbor as ourself, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

So go ahead…Whether you are a recently elected Warden, a vestry or bishop’s committee member, or a faithful communicant, follow in the footsteps of all the reluctant prophets. Hold close the reassurance of your baptism and accept God’s call to prophesy.

No excuses.

[ii] Plutarch, The E at Delphi 387B in Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the new Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986. P.29.


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