Epiphany IV Year C: News Of The World

Jeremiah 1:4-10
I Corinthians 14:12b-20
Luke 4:21-32

Waiting in line for the cashier at the grocery store, one is confronted with a lot of alternative newspapers: “Weekly World news”, “National Enquirer”, “The Star”. Many times, the front pages of these papers are filled with predictions for the coming year, and they are often listed as “prophecies to be fulfilled”. But contrary to the way the word “prophecy” is used by these newspapers, biblical prophecy does not mean predicting the future. Scriptural prophecy is about God speaking through humans. Occasionally, prophecy might have some predictions for the future, such as the prophet warning people that if they continue on the course they have plotted, bad things will come of it, but if they repent and change directions, they will be headed for good things. But overall, prophecy is about God using humans to make God’s will known to other humans.

Our first scripture reading today is about one of the more famous of the biblical prophets – Jeremiah – whom God used to let the people of Judah know that Babylon would soon conquer them and lead their government into exile, but not to worry about it or resist it, because God was going to use the Babylonian victory for the good of the people of Judah, and eventually for the whole world. We just heard about God letting Jeremiah know that he was to be God’s prophet, and about Jeremiah protesting that he was “only a boy”. We might say the very same thing, or something similar, if we were in that situation. Moses told God that he could not be a prophet because he was not an eloquent speaker. Isaiah said that he was a man of “unclean lips”. In all three situations, God sent them anyway, because God is bigger than all of those problems, and God is bigger than any problem we might bring up in order to get out of our own calling as prophets.

And we are all called to be prophets, even though most of the time it won’t be like Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah. Paul talks about this in our second reading from his letter to the Christians in Corinth. He reminds them, and us, that we are all given gifts from God, and that we need to make sure we use those gifts to help everyone, rather than using them simply to gratify our own desires. Not all prophecy comes in spoken words. Often, the strongest prophecy is simply living the way one ought to live regardless of how easy it would be to live another way, even if the majority of society is not living righteously. Of course, that backfires and becomes blasphemy if the ones living righteously look down upon those not living righteously. It also turns from prophecy to blasphemy if the words we speak in God’s name or the way we live in God’s name are actually based on our own desires and neuroses, instead of really being God’s ways and words. That is why we always need a lot of prayer and self-examination to make sure all our thoughts, words, and deeds are coming from God as the center of our lives, rather than from ourselves trying to run things.

That is also why we need to make sure to listen to and watch the prophets God sends to us – the people sitting around us now and the people with whom we live and work. Of course there will be false prophets among us, just as we are sometimes all false prophets. But that doesn’t take away our responsibility to be prophets, nor does it take away our responsibility to heed the prophets around us. Just because the people around us are humans like us who make mistakes and sin and aren’t perfect, that does not negate their prophetic function. Even Jesus (who did not sin) was not heeded by the people in his hometown of Nazareth. They even tried to throw him off a cliff, as we heard in our gospel story this morning. So just because the people around us seem too common to be prophets, we need to remember just how common Jesus was, or Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Moses were, and yet how much the world needed to listen to them. In the same way, we need to listen to God speaking through the common people around us, and we need to allow God to fill us so that our own words and actions are reflections of his love for the world. We may never be on the headlines of those newspapers in the checkout line (hopefully we will never be), but we can be prophets – letting the world know that God has more and better things in store for us than we could ever imagine or could ever procure ourselves. God has called us, and even though we will fail God, God will never fail us.   AMEN