Reflection for Sunday – January 31, 2016

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13; Luke 4:21-30

Ouch! Rejection hurts! Stings! Cuts to the heart! Of all people, prophets are most susceptible to that kind of pain. Prophets, the ones who speak the truth of God, whether they want to or not. The ones who say truthful things that most people don’t want to hear. For the nudge of God is simply too strong to be ignored. Even though the reaction of folks is often predictable rejection—in the form of anger, even rage. Denial. Pushing the speaker away, even over a cliff, if they can. Building a wall, anything and everything to keep that word of truth as far away as possible. You know what I mean.

Today we meet the prophetic word head on, with all its predictable rejection. In Jeremiah. In Jesus. In his disciples over the years. And, in us. Take Jesus, for example. His word was exhilarating to his neighbors … until he began to read their hearts. What? They were not the only ones chosen by God? There were others, too? Outsiders? Naaman the Syrian? The widow of Zarephath? God loved them too? That’s just too much to tolerate! Get rid of him!

On Monday January 18th we honored one of today’s great prophets, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Like Jeremiah, he was given tough words to proclaim. Like Jeremiah, he made an “iron pillar” and a “bronze wall” in the face of stinging rejection. Take Selma, for example. Or his imprisonment in the Birmingham city jail for the non-violent protest of bigoted, segregated structures. His profound disappointment in the public letter of eight white ministers—urging him to “Slow down!” and to “Cease and desist!”—touched his prophetic nerve. And birthed his famous letter from the Birmingham city jail, dated April 16, 1963. Slow down? When so many Negroes had become “completely drained of self-respect and a sense of ‘somebodiness’?” When simmering anger could erupt into violence? When—and this is the truth—“we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” When we are caught between the extremes of bitterness and hatred on one side and complacency on the other.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the silence of the good people.” What, then, is the way through? “There is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle.” Indeed, “if the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial character of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring … and will be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.”

In his words we see and understand: the prophetic word is always meant for healing. Healing the wounds that divide people. Wounds of segregation. Wounds inflicted when one group attempts to create inferiority in another for the sake of domination and control. No, prophets have a way of putting on the glasses of God. Seeing the dignity of all people. Seeing the possibilities of the beloved community, with all its warts, with all its limitations. The genuine prophetic word, then, is always rooted in love. Divine love. The kind of love that investigates the facts, tries to negotiate, is committed to purification, and only then takes action. The kind of disciplined love (note the connection to the word disciple) that refuses to return violence for violence, no matter the provocation. The kind of love that never ends.

Wow! How impressive! Are those words beyond us? Or, can they possibly impact our lives? Yours and mine. Consider this. We’re all baptized into Christ, you and I. And every baptism concludes with these words: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Hmmm. Priest, prophet and royal person—each of us, all of us. So, how do we live out that call to be prophetic? Despite the pain, the sting, of possible rejection? Despite the desire to remain complacent, silent, and safe from controversy? Nearly eight years ago now I was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land with 33 other women. The night before we were to go to the Jordan River, we were asked to answer these two questions:

• What had we come to deeply believe?
• And what would we do about that?

The next morning, one at a time, we walked into the Jordan … proclaimed our truth … and had water poured on our heads. Tears were shed to the ringing of many prophetic voices.

What, then, will we say? Perhaps our life experience has moved us to join others in non-violent protest of the sickness of gun violence … or drunk driving. Or to advocate for the full inclusion of women in our beloved Church … the restoration of God’s beautiful creation … or any number of just causes. Perhaps our everyday relationships call us to utter hard words of truth: “I love you, and it hurts to see that you really have a problem with alcohol … our relationship isn’t working; we need counseling.” We can all fill in the blanks. Indeed, rejection stings. Cuts to the heart. But it hurts more to ignore the loving nudges of our God to help heal so many broken brothers and sisters.

How can we not respond to our own prophetic calling?

Gloria Ulterino
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