The Rev. Preston B. Hannibal
Come Holy Spirit: come as the wind and cleanse; come as the fire and burn; convict, convert, consecrate our lives, to our great good and your greater glory. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
The annual convention of the diocese of Washington ended yesterday afternoon. As usual there was worship, prayers, and music; committee reports, voting, and debate. The Bishop’s address and this year’s keynote speaker, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, a son of Howard University and St. George’s, DC. Bishop Wright is now the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta.
Those present had the chance to catch up with folk we had not seen since the last convention. And perhaps most Holy and poignant of all, was the opportunity to remember before God, our sisters and brothers who, in the past year, had gone home to the Lord.
Overall, it was business as usual, except in the midst of the convention, Bishop Wright challenged all present, and by extension our diocese to risk ourselves for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now if we are honest we have heard such statements before. In fact we have heard them over and over and usually consign them to the platitude file deep within the recesses of our minds.
But this was different. Maybe it was the environment, maybe the context of the speaker’s words, maybe the emotional and spiritual mix in the room. But there was a distinctive difference.
He asked, “Do you think that what is at stake is important enough to take a risk?!” He was talking about our faith. Our diocese. Our parish!!
He was talking about our personal belief in the risen Christ and what Jesus, day–to–day—hour–by–hour can do for each and every one of us. And what we can do for Jesus, or rather what we can do to do the work of Jesus in our communities, our work environments, and in our homes.
It is so easy for each and every one of us—me included—to consign Jesus to a certain cubbyhole of life only to be brought out when we really need him. Like some heavenly insurance policy.
But what Bishop Wright was challenging each of us to do was to take charge and actually initiate the change that we so often wait on the Lord to start. Bishop Wright said that in his opinion our Lord’s most important sermon was one word—“Go.”
Go into the world and work for God’s Kingdom in our midst.
Today’s Hebrew scripture lesson tells us that the leadership and voice of a community comes from within.
My text this morning is taken from a portion of the 15th verse of the 18th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. It reads: Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet (like me) from your midst, from among your own people.” (REB version)
Now the danger in a preacher focusing on a verse like the one I just read is obvious. Unless a disclaimer is issued from the outset it might be thought that the use of such a verse is meant to convey some small semblance of the preacher’s prophetic kinship with the likes of Moses.
So let me immediately provide the disclaimer.
For me, the importance of this text taken from a section of Moses’ farewell discourse to the people of Israel before his death and their continued journey into Canaan, lies not in the specific reference to prophets and the correct interpretation of prophecy but rather in the general concept that God raises from among the worship community those who have the ability to lead and contribute to the good, not only of the community of faith, but also to God’s wider creation.
Pretensions to prophetic status notwithstanding, the acceptance of God’s call is a choice that all those who call on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior must in one way or another think about as we seek to discover the role that God would have us play in the working out of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness in our midst.
As the divine revelation of God was transmitted to humanity from one generation to another, it was the women and men of faith who were able to interpret, and then transform God’s word into the day–to–day speech of their contemporaries.
Time and time again through the words and actions of faith the people of God showed that the self–revelation of God continued and as such enhanced the lives of the people touched by the reality of that revelation.
From generation to generation we learned through those chosen by God that the divine revelation was not closed to humanity.
It was open and accessible to all who realized that the words of God and the actions of God’s people were inextricably linked by the knowledge that this fundamental truth flowed directly from the heart of God.
But to accept this fundamental truth of God is to also accept a very real responsibility. It is a responsibility rooted in an awareness that humanity is God’s ultimate concern, and as such we must deal wisely, reverently, and judiciously with whatever purports to be God’s revelation to us, and for us.
Later in the same portion of Deuteronomy we read, “I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” Deuteronomy 15:19-20
Harsh but realistic. The work we are called to do is life changing, life alerting.
In the final analysis, the method of our encounter with God is of little importance. What is important however, is what we do after we recognize the sustained, and sustaining presence of God in our lives. And there we can learn directly from the prophets and apostles, ordinary people who down through the centuries submitted themselves totally to the will and purpose of God for their lives.
But the reality is that most of us do not have the prophetic passion of Moses. Most of us do not have the apostolic zeal of the desert fathers and mothers.
We see ourselves as respectable New Testament Christians, trying to live Godly lives in the midst of the chaos which seems to be ever engulfing the world.
We try to follow the example of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament.
What more must we do?
With all that is asked of us in our day to day lives, how can we take the time needed to dedicate ourselves to the service of God?
How do we challenge a society that pays lip service to the God we worship?
How do we challenge and support each other as we attempt to remain faithful to our Lord’s promise of salvation?
I have said it before but it remains true, that I—more often than not—encounter people who say that they believe in God but don’t have time for religion or regular Sunday attendance or anything like that. This I fear is the silent majority that dismisses the Almighty until needed and then expects God to immediately and almost magically transform any number of personal or national calamities into personal or national triumphs.
When our assumptions and preconceived notions as to the nature of God fail to materialize we are hurt and offended that we, as a sophisticated and respectable people, would be silly enough to actually believe in something so irrational and finitely unbelievable as the reality of the triune God in our lives.
It is at times like these that each and every one of us turns away from God and fails to confront our own Apostasy.
This loss of faith is not so much faith in God on a superficial level, as it is the calling into question of our ability to worship and proclaim the truth of God’s saving grace in all aspects of our lives. It is to turn away from the prophetic and move to the comfort of the secular aspects of our lives.
For want of a better term, we might call it the loss of the discipline of faith, that is, the discipline to focus on our duty as Christians, to God and to those around us.
We seek the safety of a truth that is concrete in our reality.
Yet our quest for respectability, for being respectable Christians does not lie in our concrete reality nor does it lie in our ability to mouth the proper Christian platitudes or fool ourselves into believing that we are actually leading a Christian lifestyle.
The discipline of faith that God calls us to, and Jesus shows us how to live, leads to a new awareness of God’s grace and mercy as the working principal of redemption in our lives as well as in the depths of a world in despair.
As Christians our response to the chaos that has engulfed our cities, and this nation is the response of those who with prophetic zeal and stubborn determination proclaim and then work for the justice and righteousness of God to be an actuality in the lives of all people.
George Adam smith once wrote: “The great causes of God and humanity are not defeated by the hot assaults of the devil, but by the slow, crushing, glacier like masses of thousands and thousands of indifferent nobodies. God’s causes are never destroyed by being blown up, but by being sat upon.” (The Book of the Twelve Prophets, ii, 1899, pg. 54)
Many of us are not guilty of unbelief or apostasy.
But by the same token the assumptions that we have made and continue to make about our lives cause us in no way to be overwhelmed by belief. In a God that many who do not know God, deem obtuse.
The assumptions we make and the preconceptions we have in regard to what it is to be called by God are often dictated by the community that we find ourselves part of.
We must guard against the tendency to reduce all things to the lowest common denominator, our God included.
Thinking that our individual contributions make little difference allows us to live in the illusion that we may remain faithful Christians without having to really put forth much effort.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, and with our God, we must admit that our involvement in the world does affect what happens in our lives.
We cannot separate ourselves from God’s love or from his creation.
To understand that basic fact, is to understand that our Lord’s involvement in the world, and in our lives, is not limited to our own personal reality. Or the dictates of society at large.
Moses challenged his people, “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet (like me) from your midst, from among your own people.”
Bishop Wright challenged us yesterday. He reminded us once again by asking the question,
“Do you think that what’s at stake is important enough to take a risk?” GO and be a prophet for your time and your generation.
Let us pray.
Goodness is stronger than evil; love stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through him who loves us. —Desmond Tutu