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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Modern-Day Prophets

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

November 25, 2018

Jeremiah 1:4-10, 7:1-11 & Matthew 21:12-13

You may remember that last Valentine’s Day there was a terrible shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 14 students and 3 staff members were killed, and an additional 17 people were injured.

One of the remarkable things that came out of this school shooting was the way the students responded. They took to the airwaves seeking to use the attention gained by this tragedy to prevent mass school shootings in the future. They spoke with top elected leaders – President Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Florida Governor Rick Scott and others. One month after the shooting they held a march in Washington called "March for Our Lives" – the largest student protest since the Vietnam War, with 800,000 protesters in Washington D.C. and many more at the 450 marches held on that same day around the country. This past summer they went on a cross-country bus tour seeking common sense solutions for this problem of gun violence in schools.

They spoke with people on all sides of the issues, to try to find ways to work together for something everyone knows is right – the safety of students in schools. These kids, from an upscale suburban high school, reached out to poor black kids in inner cities who faced gun violence daily, sharing their stories, finding common ground, and seeking ways to work together.

They took on the National Rifle Association. They worked with legislators in Florida and got legislation passed called the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act." It raised the minimum age for buying rifles in Florida to 21, established waiting periods and background checks, provided a program for arming some school employees and hiring school police. It banned bump stocks, and barred some mentally ill and violent people from possessing guns.

They were effective in this role because they were sincere and unafraid to take on powerful, vested interests. They were not polished politicians spouting talking points, but teenagers speaking from the heart about friends they had lost and the need to keep kids safe in schools. These young people vow to continue fighting for school safety and not give up the fight. 2

So why do I bring this up today? These Parkland students are an example of modern-day prophets, much like the prophet Jeremiah. As Christians, we are used to hearing about God’s love and grace and forgiveness, but there is also a long history of God using his people to call attention to the things that are not right. That is the role of prophet, a role that you are I are called to, which we’ll think about here today.

Like the Parkland students, Jeremiah was a teenager – 13 years old when he first served as a prophet. He, too, spoke with national leaders – Including the last five kings of Judah – to draw their attention things that needed fixing. He felt unprepared for this role but was thrust into it. Jeremiah commanded more attention than you would expect from a 13-year-old, because he spoke from the heart. He didn’t have talking points or polished speeches; God told him what to say. His message was something that people knew in their hearts was right: God’s people need to live as God commands.

He took on vested interests, the wealthy and the elite of his day. His message was that they had strayed too far from the righteous living God wants for his people and they need to do more to care for those who are on the margins of society.

One of the hot-button issues he addressed was keeping the Sabbath holy. Wealthy business leaders didn’t like the idea of giving people one day a week off each week. That seemed like a waste to them. Why not have their workers work 7 days a week, like the other nations around them? They were at a competitive disadvantage with their competition. What was worse, they even extended this notion of Sabbath to animals and farmland, giving animals one day a week off from labor and allowing the farmland to lie fallow one year out of every seven. These environmental regulations were getting out of hand! These rules of God were just too unfriendly to business!

And they didn’t like the special privileges being given to widows and orphans and resident aliens. Why should these people be allowed to glean in the fields, picking up the left-over crops? They didn’t plant those plants or water them or weed them or do anything to care for them. Why should they have the right to gather grain? Or worse yet, why should farmers be expected to leave some of their crop unharvested for these freeloaders?

As a teenager, Jeremiah’s job was speaking truth to power. This meant advocating for fair treatment for day laborers and providing a safety net for people on the margins of society – the widows, orphans, and immigrants. What a tough job for a teenager! But the kind of kingdom God wants for his people is not a place where people are left out or struggling to survive, but where everyone is included and provided for. And God wants a place where animals are cared for and his good creation is treated with respect. 3

So, Jeremiah had his work cut out for him. He didn’t just speak to the rulers and the elite leaders, he also spoke to common, ordinary everyday people. He had a hard message for them, too. The people had grown complacent in their faith, trusting in things other than God to save them. Some were just going to the Temple for special occasions – like weddings and funerals and holidays – and not being faithful in their weekly worship. They had lost touch with God.

Clearly God didn’t like this. He gave Jeremiah the task of reminding people that he alone is their God, and a jealous God at that. There is no room to worship other gods. If they are to be God’s people, they need to live by God’s laws. They need to follow God’s Commandments – so that all would be well with them.

Jeremiah had a tough job to do, but he was faithful to his calling for 40 years. Despite Jeremiah’s repeated warnings, the people did not change their ways, so in 587 BCE Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The temple was destroyed, and the people were taken into captivity. Jeremiah went into captivity with them where he continued to share God’s word with them. He helped them learn that God is with them wherever they go – even in exile. He taught them that worshipping God doesn’t depend on having a beautiful building in which to worship, but in loving God with your heart and soul, obeying God’s commands, and trusting God above all else.

As we hear about the conditions at the time of Jeremiah, it is not surprising that God withdrew his protection as the people became lackadaisical in their faith. God doesn’t like it when his people give in to the culture around them and put other things ahead of him. For God to be among us, he expects people to honor him by taking time each week for Sabbath worship and rest. He expects us to live righteous lives by honoring our parents, and being faithful to our spouses, and caring for our neighbors – not stealing or murdering or lying about them or envying them but defending them, and speaking well of them, and supporting them in their physical needs.

God wants justice for all his people, especially the most vulnerable among us. He doesn’t want people to seek personal enrichment at the cost of the widow or orphan or immigrant. He expects those of us who have plenty to give up a little of what we have and share it so that everyone has what they need to survive.

In our gospel lesson for today we see Jesus in a prophetic moment, throwing the money changers out of the temple. He is angry that God’s house has become corrupt. People are charging inflated prices to those traveling to the temple to make their sacrifices. 4

Jesus is filled with righteous anger at this corruption, so he speaks against it and takes action to stop it.

We think of Jesus healing the sick and comforting the hurting. He certainly acts with care and compassion, but he also speaks out with a prophetic voice against injustice. He sharply criticizes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who follow the letter of the law but miss the spirit of it. He offers forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery, but also tells her go to and sin no more.

God offers love and grace and forgiveness, but God also has expectations of his people to do as he commands and live righteously. God calls us to speak out when we see things that are wrong, and to be agents for justice in the world.

As we are open to God’s leading, he works through us to bring about his purposes for the world. He can use us as his modern-day prophets. Being one of God’s modern-day prophets means having the courage to speak out when you see something that is wrong. Being one of God’s modern-day prophets means standing up for someone who is vulnerable even if that means being made fun of or being ostracized or ridiculed yourself. Being one of God’s modern-day prophets means noticing the things that are not pleasing to God and doing what you can to stop them – like the Parkland students have been doing.

It has never been easy to be a prophet – in Jeremiah’s day, in Jesus’ day, or in our day. But we are called to be modern-day prophets. We are all called to speak out for what we know is right. We are all called to be agents of God’s mercy and justice. That includes not only being God’s hands and feet (doing acts of love, and compassion and service) but also being God’s mouthpiece, speaking truth, even when it is hard.

As our culture is moves farther away from God’s expectations it takes courage to speak out for what is right. Jesus promises not to leave us alone in this work but to be with us - until the end of the age. God promises that when we are called to speak for him, he will give us the words to say. So, let us have the faith to open our hearts to God’s will, the willingness to open our eyes to notice the things that displease God, and the courage to open our mouths to speak up for what is good and right and true. Let us be willing to be used by God as his modern-day prophets.

May God bless you as you live and speak for him.

Amen.