Lydia, Dorcas & Phoebe
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Ida B. Wells
You may recognize some of these names. Others you may not. This is my personal list of people whom I would consider in the line of prophets. Perhaps there are others you would add. This list of men and women, in my opinion, have stood on the proverbial watch tower and called to us to pay attention. Through their vocations, activism, and presence, they have opened the door for others. Some have received biblical, national and international acclaim while others have been silenced, censored and lost to popular conversation. Some of were persecuted, eyed suspiciously, or outright disregarded because of their prophetic leadership. In their own ways, they were run out of town...much like Jesus was.
Regardless of their noteworthiness, they all acted out of a place of faith, hope and love. They responded to God, the needs of others, and the call to bring healing into the world because they believed and acted upon Jesus’ command that we love one another.
Last week and continuing into this week, the Gospel lesson from Luke had Jesus reading the scripture from Isaiah to those gathered at the synagogue. In the passage Jesus read from, he proclaimed that he was sent to tell the good news, heal the blind, set free the captive and the oppressed, and to tell of the year of God’s favor. In reading that passage from Isaiah and then telling those gathered that day that “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, he is claiming his voice as a prophet. He is speaking in love to those who had gathered around him, and yet, the response was to chase him out of town.
So what went wrong? What is it about his message of liberation and hope, a message spoken out of love, a proclamation to pay attention and care for one another...what is it that angered so many people? What were they afraid of?
As theologian David Ostendorf explains, “The good news that God bears through Jesus is...not the narrative [the priests and scribes] were used to, not what they expected…” (Feasting the Word, Year C, Vol 1, Kindle Edition).
You see, the stories Jesus told pointed to how God often uses the “outsider” to bring about the Kingdom. God used Elijah and Elisha to proclaim through word and action to a widow and a leper God’s grace and healing, and then they went on to make believers out of others from their own belief and transformation. God was doing something new through these people. They weren’t the local religious leaders and priests, but were people who had experienced transformation and love. And when Jesus tells this story in the synagogue, he is reminding the religious elite that this is how the Kingdom of God works…new things happen through the most unlikely people; not necessarily through appropriate temple sacrifices and public acts of piety.
What Jesus is offering to those people gathered in the synagogue that day was a new narrative of hope and justice. It was and continues to be a narrative of a “dynamic, raucous God who jars us [from our complacency and] provides us the opportunity to partner in the creation [of something new that is] unfolding in our midst.” (Ostendorf, Feasting the Word, Kindle Edition)
And that new narrative can be really scary for some people.
Let’s go back to my list for a moment and take a look at some of the other folks God has used to create this new narrative…
Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe...unless you attended the midweek Eucharist this past Wednesday, those names might not be altogether familiar. Lydia was a prosperous cloth merchant in the days of the early church who provided food and lodging to Paul and Timothy and her house was used as one of the first gathering places for early Christians. Phoebe was one of the first “deacons” of the church, also providing housing and sustenance to Paul and his congregation. Dorcas (also known as Tabitha) was known for her charity and good works. Without these three women, and others like them, the early church may not have survived.
Desmond Tutu...Nobel Peace Prize winner, activist against apartheid in South Africa, and first black Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond has served as the voice of the voiceless in the United Nations on issues of HIV/AIDS and TB, he has supported Gene Robinson and other leaders in the gay rights movement, has advocated for an end to violence against women, and is known as a “Climate Ally”. Speaking to 800 people at St John's Smith Square in London on the lecture's topic "Is violence ever justified?" he talked about the process of truth and reconciliation, the transformative nature of forgiveness and the uniquely African concept of Ubuntu – 'I am me, because you are you', saying that when wars come to an end, only forgiveness enables people to fully move away from conflict. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/forgiveness-cannot-be-demanded-says-tutu-1972201.html)
Alla Bozarth...is a Portland native and her mother, Alvina Bozarth, was an artist and Russian émigré, who worked with Church World Service to resettle refugees throughout the nineteen-fifties, and went on to help foster international harmony through the United Nations People to People Program. Infused with her parents' spirit and vision for beneficial change and justice, Alla became the first woman to be ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon in 1971. She was one of eleven women to be ordained the first female priests in Philadelphia in 1974, which opened the door to women’s ordination in the Episcopal church. (http://woh.pdx.edu/heroine/6337)
Tissa Balasuriya...was a Sri Lankan Roman Catholic priest, who because of his refusal to recant and revise his theology in the book “Mary and Human Liberation” was charged with heresy and excommunicated in 1997. After a time of investigation, conflict, censorship, and an intense six day period of negotiations with the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Signatura, the excommunication was rescinded in 1998. In his statement on reconciliation, he said, “my life commitment has always been to endeavour to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, to serve the Church and to work for integral human liberation, including a more just society.” (http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/ORTISSA.HTM)
For me, these individuals, continue in the tradition of offering a new narrative of God at work in the world. They point the way to a more just, more loving, and more faithful way of being in the world.
When Jesus finished reading the scroll from Isaiah and made these proclamations, the people were afraid and they ran him out of the synagogue. Jesus had invited the people into a new narrative of the Kingdom of God. He’s also inviting us into a new way of being. So what are we going to do about it? How are we going to respond to this invitation? What is the new narrative that we want to participate in with Jesus?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.