December 9, 2012
Year C, Advent 2
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Prophecy. We are now right in the middle of Adventide. This is a season given to us, prepared for us by prophets. Remember, Advent is Latin for the Greek word Parousia: holy waiting, in this case, the blessed anticipation of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised to us of old. That is pretty important. We never would have known to be waiting for a savior had it not been for the prophets. Isaiah, Zechariah and his son John, even the little known Baruch, the friend and secretary to the venerable Jeremiah: to these servants of God we owe a great spiritual debt. The thing about prophecy is that it is a debt that demands repayment, and demands it in the very tangible currency of right and immediate action.
What is a prophet? ______ In the very simple words of the Jesuit master Karl Rahner, the prophet “is the envoy of God… The bearer of revelation.” The prophet is a person, not a mouthpiece, but a fully alive human being touched by God for a very specific purpose: to reveal the will and nature of God. How’s that for a job description.
So then what is prophecy?_____ I think Abraham Heschel, the great 20thcentury Rabbi and Hasidic theologian puts it best, writing, “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.” That quotation begins to illuminate the opening line to Heschel’s classic treatment of this subject, The Prophets, which reads, “This book is about some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived.”
On the ground, the prophet does his or her work mostly along two lines, the predictive (this is going to happen), and the accusatory (things are NOT as they are supposed to be, woe, woe, woe). Both modes of prophecy are holy, divinely sanctioned responses to a world that is not in keeping with the will of God, a world that is not in line with the true nature of things, at least not yet. Both are equally potent clarion calls to do things differently than we are doing them now because either something big is going to happen and we need to be prepared, OR, somewhere along the way we came to a fork in the woods and we took the wrong road. In either case, we need to get our acts together, reformulate the very structure of society and/or be prepared for whatever divinely ordained occurrence is to come.
The Adventide prophets tend towards the former, the revelation that something in particular is coming from God. Baruch tells us, people look east, like the song, “see your children gathered… at the word of the holy one… God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.” Baruck passes on a promise of salvation. Or Micah’s prophesy to a humble city, “But you, O Bethlehem… from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.” Or the more familiar words of Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us… and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” There is something on the horizon, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
These prophecies can be comforting in their way. Don’t worry, a savior is coming. Someday the lion will lay down with the lamb, the child will play over the asp’s den. The other type of prophecy, well, not so comforting. They are, as our basic definitions of prophecy point to, disconcerting, threatening, even, dire warnings that things have got to change not because something is immanent, other than perhaps your destruction or the directive to repent and believe because the Savior’s return is nigh, but because the will of God has been opposed. Thus says Jeremiah, “Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, Shall I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this?” Thus says Hosea, “So I will be to them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk beside the way, I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs…” And thus says the rather unsubtle Isaiah, “She despises you, she scorns you – the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you – the daughter of Jerusalem. Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!” I read plenty of somewhat lefty opinion online and that critique of the current state of the world pales in comparison to what the prophets of old had to say about things, the whore of Babylon, you brood of vipers and the rest of it. So prophets… they are telling us about things that are to come, and they are describing to us all of the terrible things going on in the world. In both cases, they are telling us things are not as they are supposed to be, so turn to, do it differently, do it now, be prepared for what is to come.
The thing is, prophecy is not just words. Prophecy follows the same pattern that preaching does as St. Francis’ legendarily described it, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” When I think of the Jesuits of El Salvador, Archbishop Tutu, of course Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X and Bobby Seale, even, I recognize the praxis of prophesies. Words not made flesh, but alive. Rosa Parks, a trained activist, trained in non-violent resistance, when she refused to stand up on that bus so many years ago, she prophesied as definitively and clearly as Isaiah or John the Baptist without a word uttered other than, “No sir, I will not give up my seat.” Actions, prophetic actions, can and often do speak louder than words; which brings me to the meat of things.
Who saw the Register Guardyesterday? What was on the cover? “Huts for Homeless” was the headline over a picture of a cute little kiddo just climbing out of the first demonstration model of a hut being proposed for use by homeless folks in Eugene. This is the work of Opportunity Village Eugene, whose board a sit on. It is a project of homeless folks, activists, residents and clergy who are at a loss about the state of affairs in our fair city of Eugene. 2000 adults on the streets. 700 kids in 4j without stable housing. An Hepatitis C epidemic that is fast surpassing HIV/AIDS in the acceleration of rates of infection. 940 breakfasts were served at First Christian in November. It is terrible. Nothing new, but terrible, as Amos pointed out so long ago: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, when will the new moon be over that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath over that we may offer wheat for sale… that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?” Some things change, and some things don’t.
In that Register Guardarticle, it was briefly mentioned that some churches might possibly hosting some of these little huts called Conestoga huts for their resemblance of the prairie schooners that carried some of your ancestors to Oregon 150 years ago. Yep. That is us. There might be some others, I’m working on that. But there is a good chance that we will, in conjunction with St. Vinnie’s parking lot program that we already participate in, that we will expand it and allow three of these little huts to be erected on these 2 ½ acres we have been entrusted with to do God’s work. We’ll give up our car camper to another church that will take on a family, and we’ll get three adults or possibly some couples, the same port-a-potties, the same vetting and screening in conjunction with St. Vinnie’s. Besides the loss of a couple of parking spaces, I imagine that it will largely be transparent to us, much like the program we are with right now.
I brought this to the vestry on Thursday and they unanimously voted to invite this program here to Hilyard Street. I cannot tell you how proud I am of our vestry. They are the first to commit to this in the entire city. This is prophetic action happening. I do not know how controversial this will be here in the congregation, in the neighborhood, in the city; it could be significant. This too is prophetic action happening. I don’t know how this pilot program here, if it happens, will work; it will be messy at times, inconvenient for sure. And I am not sure if a self governing homeless village that we are working on for the longer term will work, but like the prophets of old, I, we know that things are not as they are supposed to be. God’s will in the world is not being heeded, this fact is heralded in the countenance of each person behind a cardboard sign at a street corner, in each person suffering from trenchfoot, each man, woman and child who fears being robbed, beaten, raped, harassed by landowners or police for the terrible crime of not having a place to park their car or unroll their sleeping bag. And I haven’t even mentioned the rain and mud and cold and wind, and the fact that this time of year many of the public bathrooms start closing, and the Mission is full and we are all expecting the Eagan warming center to overflow, too…
This is not a Rosa Parks or Salvadoran Jesuit level of prophetic action. Not by a long shot. Really we are giving up 3 – 6 parking spaces, might get some flack from our neighbors and will probably cause some stress in out city government. (I’ll work diligently on the neighbors). But this is prophetic action. The world is not as it ought to be and this action points that out in Technicolor. When I brought this to your vestry, there was not even a hesitation. Some prudent questions, some quite assurances were needed, but the moral uprightness, the prophetic character of the action was in a word, Christian. If you have questions, comments, or complaints, I’ll be having a Q&A session after cookies.
This church is doing it right, paying off our prophetic debt with right and immediate action. On behalf of Jesus Christ, thank you. AMEN