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2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

It is good to be back with you all today, though I wish you’d found a way to cool this church down while I was away. I was at our church’s General Convention in Louisville, KY, the national legislative gathering of the Episcopal Church, serving as a deputy from this diocese. It was a profound week, and an exhausting one – and blessedly, I was able to recover from it with a few days at a family camp with friends in New Hampshire, with 2 and 4 and 8 year olds donning costumes, acting out Bible stories, and swimming in the lake. An excellent way to reground after the week of work – I love camp, and I commend it to everyone, especially New Yorkers.

When I returned a few days ago I set out on a run and bumped into a colleague, who asked how General Convention had been. ‘Really great!’ I replied. ‘I found myself coming away genuinely hopeful for the future of the church!’ ‘Well, that’s good,’ she said, ‘I’m glad to hear it felt that way being there. Because from what I heard about it, I’m even more discouraged about the church. Why can’t we be more prophetic? Why does everything have to take so long?’

I chewed on that for most of my run, feeling irritated and wondering why I felt irritated. C’mon, Kate, I thought, obviously this was helpful feedback from the ‘outside’ church about how things were perceived, good information to take in as I process everything I saw and learned that week of Convention. But I still felt frustrated – it was the word ‘prophetic’ that caught me. What did she mean, we weren’t prophetic enough?

So I was interested to see in today’s gospel story that Jesus refers to himself as a prophet. He’s in his hometown – Nazareth, we presume – and no one is impressed with him. He tries to say and do the things he’s been saying and doing elsewhere, things that have been healing people and opening hearts and gathering followers who see in him hope beyond anything else they’ve ever experienced. But in his hometown, none of that seems to work. Isn’t this that kid Jesus? Why should we listen to him? Clearly frustrated, Jesus says, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Apparently there are some places where being prophetic just doesn’t fly.

But what does being a prophet mean? What does it mean to be prophetic? It was part of Jesus’ identity – but is it our call? And if so, how is it we’re supposed to be living it out?

Jesus seems to be claiming a part in the line of the prophets of old, those gifted by God with insight to speak to the people of God, calling them back to right relationship with God and one another. Throughout Jewish history, different prophets would speak God’s truth, often receiving disdain and ridicule in return. They talked to kings like children, refusing to kowtow to power; they skewered religious authorities for their hypocrisy and ritualism; they castigated people for falling away from God’s covenant and promises. Mostly people didn’t like them very much – Jeremiah, famously, got thrown in a pit for a while because of his prophetic behavior – but somehow their truth remained, captured in writings that are now part of our scriptures.

Jesus seems to occupy that same space, as one who speaks truth to the powerful and to the lowly about God and God’s desires for this world. He’s called ‘teacher’ by lots of people, and we have at least a few of his sermons in our gospels, and all those parable stories are words that contain revelations of truth. Some of what he gets in trouble for are those teachings, the things he says to Pharisees and religious authorities that offend them and question their power in society. Things he said clearly did make a difference.

But Jesus doesn’t just say things. He also behaves in ways that speak truth without words. He touches lepers and sick people and flouts the purity laws in favor of compassion. He ‘breaks bread with outcasts and sinners’ – and remember, the word ‘sinner’ is a nice translation of the truly offensive word used by the Pharisees – keeping company with the wrong kinds of people. And he gathers into his band of inner disciples a strange and motley group – unlettered fishermen, a tax collector making money off the Roman occupation, a Zealot plotting the overthrow of that same empire – and keeps that group of people with him throughout his ministry. It couldn’t have been easy: the arguments they must have had as they broke bread together; the murmuring the crowds did as they watched Jesus touch people who shouldn’t be touched; the complaining about what Jesus was and wasn’t doing as he walked resolutely toward Jerusalem. That was the family Jesus gathered around him, and that is the family that deserts him in the end. His behavior goes too far outside the pale for even his closest friends to keep supporting him. And yet that behavior is central to Jesus’ ministry and revelation – he doesn’t just say all are welcome, he shows it. Jesus’ words are powerful and his teachings resonate through the ages; but it’s his actions that bring us together here around the altar. His actions are prophetic – maybe even more so than his words. Living under the occupying Roman empire, he says nothing about it –instead, he heals the beloved servant of the Roman centurion, gathers regime collaborators into his inner circle, and brings them to the same table as synagogue leaders and Zealots.

We get together as the church and some of what we expect to do is come out and say things, take stands, make statements. Inflected by social media, our speech is more and more declarative, statements made to a faceless audience. That’s different from talking in conversations, dialoguing across difference, arguing things out over a meal. It’s easy to make a statement. Living with people who disagree with you, though, that’s a lot harder. And it’s so very much harder in the world as we’ve constructed it today, siloed off from one another into groups who simply don’t speak, don’t mix, don’t know one another – and actively choose not to. So little in our world today forces us into relationship with people who differ from us; so much greases the skids toward life lived only in bubbles of safety, from which we peer out at everyone else as the enemy. And that’s what feels most frightening to me about our modern world. We have so little chance to listen and learn from people whose experiences are different from our own, and so much encouragement to shout over them, distrusting and even hating those others.

That’s the prophetic work I see Jesus modeling for us today. Words are important, and yes, something like a church convention can get those wrong. Sometimes we can try too hard to get along, avoiding difficult subjects instead of fruitfully talking through differences. Much too often we allow one powerful voice to squash others that really do need to speak. We do need careful discernment together to figure out what we believe, what we think is the word of God to this place and time. But beyond the words and the statements is the stuff of real life – listening to people we disagree with or don’t understand, wondering what it’s like to be living their lives and not ours, stepping out of our assumptions to truly know other human beings. It’s slow and sometimes painful work. There aren’t that many places these days where we get to do this. But the family table, the church convention, the messy day-to-day of life with other humans, is still the place where the kingdom of God is worked out. This is the life of faith, complicated and hard and joyful all at once.

This altar is a family table. We say prophetic words from it – that Jesus gathered and said, this is my body, broken for you. Come and eat. But it’s maybe even more prophetic that we all gather around it, tax collectors and sinners that we are, and that we reach out a hand to bring in others as well. The work of faith is simple: to love God and to love another. And it’s the work this world needs, to heal. So may we live.

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