Title: "The Prophet's Burden"
Associated Readings: Deuteronomy 18:18-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
Date: 7 May 2017
Place: Clinton Presbyterian Church
Theme: Today my pastoral internship at Clinton Presbyterian Church ended. Serving the CPC family has been one of the great joys of my life, not to mention a wonderful season of professional development as a pastor. As my last sermon I spoke on "The Prophet's Burden": the difficult task that we, as Christians and as the church, are called to undertake: bringing God's Word to a world that desperately needs to hear it. Just as God rose of prophets in times of old, today God has, through faith and revelation, endowed the church with the task of bearing prophetic witness.
Click "Read More" to read the sermon. A recording of the sermon can be found by clicking here.
“For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake."
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty serious sweet tooth.
I love ice cream, cakes, cookies…you name it. And I understand that there is some cake in fellowship hall after today’s service, so I’ll try to keep this short for you.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, when my girlfriend Kaitlin and I were on vacation in Charleston, I couldn’t help but to bring her to this amazing dessert place called Kaminsky’s. It’s a staple in Charleston and is home to so many incredible home-made desserts.
Everything about Kaminsky’s is amazing. When you walk in you’re hit with the tantalizing smell of fresh baked desserts – each of which is carefully placed on display for you to see when you walk in.
The hard part is choosing what you want.
Making choices is hard. It’s hard enough to decide which dessert you want – but it’s even more difficult to decide where you want to go to college, or what you should do in your career, or how you should manage your family, your resources, or your time.
Our choices are difficult because we know that they come with a cost. Typically, by choosing one thing we inevitably have to choose to reject other things. So, at Kaminsky’s when I chose the Toll House Pie, I inevitably had to decide against the Red Velvet Cake.
When you read the Bible closely, though, you begin to see that God, too, works through choice. For instance, God chooses Israel to be a promised land and chosen people.
It’s all rather curious, if you ask me. Why does God work through chosen people and things as opposed to simply having some big, giant, revelation that convinces everyone in the world to be a disciple?
Who knows? But, we do know that for whatever reason God does work through choice.
But there is a big difference between how God’s choices work and how our choices work.
Our choices almost always mean that we accept one thing and reject others. We get something, and we give up other things.
But for God it is different. God’s choices are for the benefit of others.
So, unlike us, God isn’t making choices at the expense of other things…instead, God is making choices which benefit other things.
What almost all of these choices have in common is the ingredient of prophecy.
Unlike how we commonly think of the word, prophecy isn’t just ‘telling the future’. Instead, to be prophetic is to bring God’s word to the world. That’s ultimately what God’s prophets do in Scripture…they bring God’s word to people.
So when God chooses people, He is choosing people or nations or communities to serve in prophetic roles. In other words, God is choosing to use people for the benefit of others.
Whether we are talking about Moses or Mary, Paul or Amos, David or Rachel – those who are chosen are chosen to do God’s will.
But here’s the kicker: doing God’s will isn’t easy. Being prophetic isn’t easy.
Difficult work that God chooses these people to do.
To be a prophet is to carry a very real burden, because the prophets operated in a world that desperately needed God’s Word – they lived in a sinful and broken world. Ultimately, this is the message behind why Jesus was crucified.
But better them than us, right!
We can live quietly because the heavy lifting of prophecy was carried out by chosen people a few thousand years ago.
It’s nice that we don’t have to bear that burden, yea?
Our Scripture reading this morning makes one uncomfortable truth pretty clear: God has chosen us to be the bearers of the Good News.
Today’s reading says that God has chosen the church – that is, us – to carry God’s Word out into the world. The Greek word for church is ἐκκλησία and it doesn’t refer to a building or an institution or a denomination – it refers to people of faith working together.
God has chosen us to carry the burden of prophecy.
Now look back at all the people that God chose in Scripture. Almost all of them felt unworthy to be chosen.
So, I’m sorry if some of you are sitting here thinking: “I’m not worthy” or “I’m not equipped” or “I’m afraid” to do God’s will.
Unfortunately, God seems to be saying in Scripture, “I don’t care. I choose you anyway.”
You can run away if you like, but guess what? Jacob tried that. Jonah tried that. God will just chase you, because God chose you.
So, the sooner you stop fighting it, the better of you’ll be.
Difficult work that we’ve been chosen to do.
Like the world of the Bible, our modern world is also plagued and gripped by the forces of sin. We don’t need to look very hard to see it. It’s usually staring us in the face, on the front pages of our newspapers or the corners of our streets.
Our reading from 1 Thessalonians makes this petty clear. We are in possession of God’s Word. It’s right here in written form. But it’s also on our hearts and souls. It’s also in the movement of the Spirit in our worship and in our homes. It’s in the bread and wine that we will partake of together in a moment. We have it, but are we bringing it out into the world? Are we bearing the weight of prophecy that we, as people of faith, are called to carry?
Today, as you know, is the last official day of my internship here. And so, most sadly, it is the last Sunday that I’ll be with you regularly for worship.
For fun, I logged on to CPC’s website and listened to my first sermon here – back in early October of last year. I started that sermon by talking about first impressions, and so as I now end my internship I began to think about parting words.
And I think that today’s topic is exactly what I would want to finish with. I think it’s the most important message that I have for you: make your faith real.
It is, no doubt, more difficult to be a prophetic voice in the world. It is, no doubt, more difficult to be a prophetic actor in the world. I’m not going to lie to you, an inauthentic faith makes for a much easier, probably more prosperous life. It does.
But it’s not the life God has chosen you for. You are here today because you are Christians, or because you feel that God might be calling you to be a Christian. In other words, you’re here today because you sense that God is calling you to be a part of the ἐκκλησία: the gathered faithful.
That calling is a gift from God. Today, I want you to leave this place not feeling restricted by the burden that you carry, but overjoyed that you have the privilege to carry it.
It’s a calling that not everyone has. But God has chosen you from amongst others to carry that burden, to bring God’s Word to the world in both word and deed. And if God has confidence in you, then there is no reason for you to think otherwise.
Let’s get to work.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.