Published by Michael Bigg on Wed, 11 Jul 2018 10:21

The text of Mike's sermon from 8th July 2018 - Trinity 6

(Ezekiel 2:1-5, Mark 6:1-13)

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Did you hear what I did there? I prayed for the gift of prophecy. I asked that my words may be God’s words (and implicitly there is the hope that you will receive my words as God’s words to you).

Let’s talk about prophecy. There’s a common misconception that being a prophet is primarily about telling the future.

That may be part of it, but as we see in the reading from Ezekiel 2, the central role of a prophet is simply to speak God’s words to people: “I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them: “Thus says the LORD God”.”

When Jeremiah is commissioned  God says: “you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you”. At Isaiah’s commission he recounts: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:...

In the next chapter of Ezekiel the prophet is given a scroll: He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.

Moses is sent to bring God’s words to pharaoh. Jonah is sent to give God’s words to the Ninevites. You get the idea!

Sometimes prophets say things along the lines of: “You have turned away from God. If you don’t turn back then disaster will befall you”. They predict the future in the hope that people will change their ways and so that future will not come about! The mark of a successful prophet is not that what they predict comes about, but that their speaking of God’s words into people’s lives provokes a change of heart and a change of attitude to God.

Jonah is by far the most successful prophet in the Old Testament and is notable because none of the things he predicts come about because of the great repentance of the Ninevites. Prophet is not a biblical term for “fortune teller”, it means “truth teller”.

Let’s pick up another theme from Ezekiel. People are sinful. In verses 3, 4 and 5 God emphasises that the people of Israel are stubborn and rebellious towards him.

Ezekiel was writing around 2,500 years ago during the Babylonian exile and God identifies the people of Israel and stubborn and rebellious. They were sinful and nothing has changed in the intervening years. People today are still sinful. I am sinful. You are sinful.

That’s not a moral judgement on any of us. I know that this church is full of upright and moral people who do much good. But the fact remains that often our hearts are turned away from God and resist God’s work in our lives.

The fact remains that we regularly need to turn back to God and that’s primarily what our weekly act of confession is about.

Prophets are there to speak the truth of our broken sinfulness into our lives and situations. Sometimes it’s a lonely declaration, sometimes it might be done through stories and parables (as Nathan does in his rebuke to King David in 2 Samuel 12), or it could be through prophetic act (like Hosea’s taking a promiscuous woman as his wife).

So what makes for a good prophet? We get a few clues from Ezekiel. Firstly, a prophet must be someone who will listen to God. In verses 1 and 2 Ezekiel describes God speaking to him and listening to that voice. It’s not always easy to do, but the intention must be to hear God speak and to listen carefully.

Secondly, a prophet must be someone on whom the Spirit rests (v2).

Thirdly, a prophet must be willing to speak the words heard to others without fear.

Even if people are impudent and stubborn the prophet must be willing to say “Thus says the Lord” so that all must acknowledge that a prophet has been among them, whether they listened or not.

Now prophecy is a specific gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament through whom God gives special revelation, but I believe that all of us are called to play a prophetic role in speaking God’s words to an unbelieving world. We can all be people who will listen to God in prayer, scripture and meditation. All Christians are already people on whom the spirit rests.

We can all choose to be bold and to speak God’s words into the lives of others. I therefore invite you to think of yourself as a minor prophet. Think of yourself as a person whom God might use to speak his life-giving word into the lives of others.

Now let’s turn to the Gospel reading and think about this a little more. Jesus gives a few insights into being prophetic.

Firstly, it is perfectly natural that you might be concerned for those closest to you to hear God’s words of love in their lives.

And yet, as Jesus himself notes, prophets often struggle to be heard by their nearest and dearest. It is those who know much about you who will find it hardest to recognise God speaking through you. If even Jesus suffered with people saying “Is this not the carpenter, Mary’s son?” then don’t feel discouraged if people close to you say similar things.

My experience has often been that I’ve most easily been able to speak God into someone’s life when we have not been close.

Look out for those opportunities to be God’s messenger and pray that others will have those chances for speaking to those whom you love.

Secondly, as both Jesus and Ezekiel make clear, some people will just refuse to listen. It is a repetitive theme throughout the Bible that many have ears that cannot really hear and eyes that cannot really see.

It’s tempting to think that those who refuse to hear are a “project” that you can gradually wear down and persuade.

Jesus’ advice? Don’t waste your time. Brush the dust off your shoes and try someone else. When the opportunity comes to really share something of God’s love it usually comes fairly easily. Don’t hammer away at a locked door. It is God’s job to open those. Pray for God to open doors and be ready to speak God’s words when they do.

Remember that Jesus send his disciples out with nothing other than the sandals on their feet and the staff in their hand.

This is a reminder to us that we have nothing to offer other than the good news that we are loved beyond our wildest dreams. We live in a world in which people wonder, does anyone really love me? Does anyone care? Who am I? Where do I find security? We offer the good news that you are loved by God. You are secure as a child of God. We offer the good news that God loved the world to the extent that he sent his only son to die for us and invite us to return to him. We carry the good news that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

We live out the good news that God adopts us as children and gives us a purpose by inviting us to share in the mission to bring all the other children home with rejoicing.

You may not yet be a follower of Jesus. If so, then hear God’s words to you in my words: “You are loved. Come home to God and be healed, restored and forgiven.”

If you are already a follower of Jesus then you are also a prophet. I’m not suggesting that you get into the habit of prefacing everything you say with the words: “Thus says the LORD”.

However, as you go out from here think of yourself as a prophet commissioned by God to speak those gracious words to others: “You are loved. Come home to God and be healed, restored and forgiven” so that they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. Amen.

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