Monday, 13 July 2015

Using the Ordinary for The Extraordinary.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:

 Using the Ordinary for The Extraordinary.

Our reading from Amos (7:12-15) seems to say that God isn't too fussy about who is called to be a prophet? God goes looking in some rather ordinary places to find “suitable” candidate for the all-important role of speaking for God to an often-resistant audience. The prophets themselves admit to being pretty ordinary until God called them. The prophet Amos preached in the northern kingdom at the King’s own temple at Bethel. The northern kingdom was enjoying prosperous times, so why did God need to choose and send a messenger to them? Because, while some had a lot, the needy were being neglected and religious practices had been reduced to empty ritual - which is people worshiping the ritual rather than worshiping through the ritual. Amos spoke against the excesses of society and the emptiness of its religious practices. The high priest at Bethel was Amaziah, who had prestige and religious authority on his side tells to Amos, “Off with you, visionary and flee to the land of Judah!” But good old Amos admits, “I was no prophet … I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” Let's face it, God chose a farmhand to go to a prominent religious centre to preach a message of reform to its people, prominent religious leaders and the king. So it's the old story of pride meets humility. The constant theme of scripture is 'God resists the proud but exalts the humble of heart.'

If God chooses the most unlikely to accomplish divine purposes and to speak God’s word then, God has to back up the chosen one. God must have been at work, not any mere human instrument on his or her own can fulfill such a calling. There have been some powerful prophets in our time from ordinary backgrounds, but obviously chosen by God to accomplish God’s intentions: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, artists and political voices, parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, teachers and even our critics, who address a word to us at a crucial moment and changed our present and future path. These were probably people without much formal faith education, perhaps even a young person. But they opened our eyes to the superficial character of our ways, or our social indifference to the needs of others. Amos describes of himself, “The Lord took me… and said to me, ‘Go to prophesy to my people….’” God chooses "ordinary people" like us to fulfill special tasks. Each of us, through our baptism, have been called to be a prophetic person because we share the life of Jesus. Last week Mark' gospel focused on Jesus’ rejection in his own hometown community. In response to their hostile reaction Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” This week Jesus sends the Twelve out to perform prophetic deeds and speak prophetic words. Mark (6:7-13) makes the point that just as Jesus was rejected, so too, those sent in his name should expect the same treatment. When rejected and Jesus seems to expect they will be, they are to “… leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” We should not be surprised when our words or deeds in Jesus’ name are rejected and ridiculed. The sending of apostles did not end when Jesus sent out the Twelve. We too have been called as "ordinary people" to advance the reign of God, to act and speak in the spirit of Jesus. Jesus’ recommendations to his disciples about taking nothing “but a walking stick, no food, no sack, no money in their belts,” certainly cuts me out of the picture as I never pack light.

Why is Jesus asking so much of his disciples? It was the Jewish custom that as a person entered the temple courts, they would have to stop first, remove their staff, shoes and money belt and, only then, enter. They were entering a sacred presence and everyday things had to be put aside. His message and the healings it would bring, were to be the first concern for his disciples; everything else being secondary. A disciple, on the way to preach would be in the presence of the Holy One, even while on the road. The houses they entered and the families who received them, would be like the Temple where God dwelt. Jesus reminds his disciples that when things got difficult they should rely on God and not what they brought along?

Jesus sends us to be prophets, to call the world to repentance; that is the immediate world we occupy, as well as the larger worlds we are part of. He wants us to change our behaviour and so as to drive out the demons that would destroy and lessen us as a loving people filled with the Holy Spirit. So we gather for worship to become a holy people, living temples, nourished by the Word and Sacrament so we can go forth strengthened to be prophets - truth speakers - to the world Jesus has entrusted to us for healing. Yes, now it is 'OUR TURN' to go out.