Here is Today's Sermon. The readings were Ezekiel 2, 1-5 and Mark 6, 1-13.
Friends I must confess a terrible sin to
The sin of singing in public while wearing
my iPod headphones.
No one has as yet actually found me out as
I do it early in the morning while walking the dog, but I do feel better for
having got it off my chest. This week I have mostly been belting out this as I
stride across the fields.
You are only coming through in waves Your lips move but I can't hear what you're
saying When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse Out of the corner of my eye I turned to look but it was gone I cannot put my finger on it now The child is grown The dream is gone And I have become Comfortably numb
Those words from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably
Numb” are out of context here, but I include them in today’s talk about
prophecy because they express what I feel is a big problem in the church in the
Western world. We think we have outgrown the need for prophecy, and we have largely
lost touch with the part of us (perhaps our childlike nature) that could
interface with God as Ezekiel did.
There are lots of things in the Bible that
Jesus does that amaze people and today’s gospel reading is just one – the
people in the synagogue at Nazareth (or possibly Capernaum, depending on where
you think ‘his hometown’ refers to) were amazed by Jesus’ teaching. But have
you noticed that there is only one thing in the whole of the New Testament
narrative that amazes Jesus – their lack of faith. Now I know that Darth Vader
was right when he said ‘Your lack of faith disturbs me’.
We have a lack of faith, and today’s
readings give us a window into why that is, and what we might do to fix the
problem. I would like to be able to amaze Jesus with something other than my
lack of faith. How about you?
In the Bible, being a prophet is not much
fun. Almost all of the Old Testament prophets including Moses, Jeremiah and
Ezekiel, try to come up with excuses as to why God should in fact not call them
but someone else – I’m too young, too sinful, I can’t speak properly, I think
you want my brother Aaron, and so on. As their stories unfold it always turns
out God made the right choice in the end. So if you do feel called to be a
prophet, hang in there!
Ezekiel is however given a bit of
encouragement in chapter 2. Not only in that he did in fact hear God speaking
directly to him, but also in that God says to him that even if the people
reject the message he brings they will know that a genuine prophet of God has
been among them, so he should not be afraid to speak God’s words to them.
Jesus’ own teaching in Mark 6 also implies that prophecy is a tough gig, with
the famous quotation about prophets being without honour in their hometowns.
And just as in Bible times, being a prophet
today is not without its hazards. I will freely admit that I have never aspired
to be the kind of person that God instructs to go up to a stranger and tell
them to address the issues of adultery in their life, as happened to John
Wimber on a plane many years ago. I am you see, like most of us would be,
fearful of the consequences. However I have recently become convicted that I do
not speak up for God enough, so today I am preaching to myself as much as to
you. Prophecy is God’s gift to the church. If I give you a present and you
leave it on the shelf, how will I feel when I pop round for tea? It’s the same
with the gifts God gives us – they are meant to be used.
In Mark 6 the people are amazed at Jesus’
teaching, but they, like the western world today, immediately try to analyze
him and rationalize the situation – “Isn’t this Mary’s son, and the brother of
James Joseph Judas and Simon?” Especially in our 24-hour news channel society,
nothing can happen these days without someone immediately trying to explain it.
So the world has a problem, which is that
they think they can either do without or explain away the word of God. The
church has a twofold problem, because we are often unable to hear what God is
saying, and we are too timid to speak it out if we do hear it .
I believe that if Christians can fix the
Church’s problem, then the world’s problem will be more easily fixed.
This is about communication isn’t it?
I read a quotation this week from “A
History of proper English” by Henry Hitchings:
"The devices we now use to communicate promise greater immediacy,
but they can make depth seem shallow, intimacy alien, transparency opaque.
[...] Being 'always on', perpetually connected, compromises our ability to be
reflective. We are saturated with information, and that makes it harder for us
to know our selves."
Roger Waters sang (rather better than me)“You
are only coming through in waves, your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re
saying”. It seems possible to me that the more we communicate with each other –
by text email Facebook twitter and so on – the harder it is to hear what God is
trying to say to us directly. Let’s be clear, I know we would say God has
spoken to us if another person said or did something that had a big spiritual
resonance with us, but let us not forget that the New Testament church of which
we are part was given the gift of prophecy – of God speaking directly to his
people through individuals. – Its as if the airwaves are clogged with so much
information and communication (a lot of it of dubious value) that God can’t get
a word in edgeways.
But God says to Ezekiel “I will speak to
you”. God wants to communicate with us, it is his intention to speak to us –
its why we have the Bible and its one of the reasons why he sent us his Holy
Spirit, so we should not make the mistake that many in the world and in parts
of the church make – to assume God is not speaking any more.
How do we fix that part of our problem? I
think it’s going to be about prioritizing our listening. I hereby resolve to
spend more time in reflective prayer than I do on Facebook, and I will see
whether the Lord can get through more easily. How about you? What device or
connection might you turn off or down to be able to hear God?
Once we hear from God, our next problem is
that we cannot bring ourselves to speak it out. We are uplifted by tales of
treasure hunting – of seeking out people in the street to tell them a word from
God, but for most of us that is something that someone else does. But why not
you and me?
I think it is because we have become
comfortably numb. Just as Pink in ‘The Wall’ is injected with painkillers to
enable him to perform but severely limiting his perception, our comfortable and
easy lives have effectively numbed us, preventing us from communicating
properly with God and with our neighbour.
If you doubt me consider this; Christian
communities such as those in Iraq, or Pakistan, or China, and other places
where being a Christian can be an arrestable offence, are places where prophecy
takes a very strong role in church life. Equally, in Africa, where home
comforts for millions of people are a lot less comfortable than for us, the
concept of community and neighborliness goes a lot further than it does even in
our very close communities here. In those places, people are not numb to each
other’s needs, nor are they so numbed that they cannot hear what God is saying.
As I have said, I think it is harder to
communicate effectively because our means of communication have proliferated so
much recently. We become immune to the images on the news of suffering
elsewhere, so I thank God for things like Tear Fund or J1010 or even The
Braintree food bank who bring these issues right before our eyes and challenge
us on our own levels of comfort.
So I think we need to be more like the
Ugandan or Chinese or Iraqi church – more dependent on God, less on our own
strength, ability and prosperity. That way, just like Ezekiel who started with
nothing, we are going to be in a better place to hear from God.
But I don’t think we should cease using the
resources we have – they can mostly be deployed in the service of the
Kingdom (however I just don’t get
Remember those words I have been belting
out on my morning walk? At the end it goes
I turned to look but it was gone I cannot put my finger on it now The child is grown The dream is gone
so one possibility will be that to avoid
losing the ability to process things we see out of the corner of our eyes –
spiritually speaking – which are the things God wants to tell us about, is not
to lose the child in us, to remain child-like.
This is not the same as babyish, but it
does imply a dependence on someone other than ourselves – on our Heavenly
Father. I am going to invite my old friend Phil Steer, who has written a book on this
subject to come and speak to us about it sometime soon. For now I think it is
enough that we begin to listen – if we aren’t already – for the voice that
Ezekiel heard. The voice of the Spirit who gives the gift of prophecy to his
church. I’d be very happy to have more people than just me or the usual
suspects out here sharing what god has said to them.
We can also be assured that when we speak
out what we hear from the Lord, even if it is rejected, ‘a prophet has been