I Am & I Rise | A Sermon on Ordinary Prophets
A sermon preached at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, on July 15, 2018.
I am glad to be back with you this morning. As many of you know, I’ve been at the General Convention for the Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas, for the past 148 days.
Actually, it was more like 12, but I swear it felt longer.
All joking aside, I had the good fortune to be at General Convention writing for a publication called Center Aisle, which is affiliated with the Diocese of Virginia. Because of my role as a member of the press, I spent a good deal of time watching legislative sessions and, more importantly, listening while others spoke. And, in the midst of the Episcopal Church handling her business - voting, passing budgets, amending resolutions and then amending them again - in the midst of all of this work, something Holy and wild happened. People told the Truth.
People stood up in front of their peers, their colleagues and, in many cases, their superiors and threw caution to the wind. They offered their Truths without knowing who would have ears to hear but trusting that Truth-telling is a Holy and faithful thing. Truths never before spoken were exposed to the light. And, I witnessed powerful testimonies across a range of significant and sensitive topics – racial justice, gender identity, treatment of lay employees, marriage equality and many others. The Truth was told.
I am seminarian, she said, and I rise to speak in favor of extending the anti-discrimination canons to seminarians, because my husband and I are experienced infertility. And, although I can’t be certain, I think part of the problem is the anxiety that I carry as a result of inappropriate (and unsolicited) advise given to me by someone in a position of power telling me that having a baby while in seminary was not a good idea. Advice he would not have given had my husband been the seminarian.
I am hearing impaired, she said, and I rise in favor of allocating resources to make sure that our gatherings are inclusive of deaf people and those with hearing impairments, because I feel isolated. I feel less than. I cannot follow the worship, because you have not asked me what would best serve me. You have provided only what looks the most helpful, not what is the most helpful.
I am a straight white dude. (That’s actually what he said). And I rise in favor of legislation that gets to work on the issues of gender discrimination, harassment and abuse, because not being harassed in the course of my ministry should not be a privilege simply because I am a man.
I am a black woman, originally from Jamaica, she said. And I rise to tell you that when I was young, people told me that I wasn’t as deserving as them, I wasn’t as good as them, because of the color of my skin. But Scripture, well, Scripture told me that in the beginning God created humankind and called it very good. I knew then that someone was lying to me. And, it wasn’t God.
I am and I rise. Those words, coupled with Truth and Love, made prophets of ordinary people. For what is a prophet anyway? But an ordinary person, called by God to speak the truth in faith and with love.
We need only look as far as Amos for confirmation: I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Truth telling makes prophets of ordinary people. And that moment is full of grace. It is a moment where one jumps into the arms of God, come what may, knowing that belovedness is not conferred by others, but by the Creator. To embrace our Truth is to acknowledge our belovedness. To gift that Truth to others is to acknowledge theirs.
Now, you can’t see my manuscript here, but I’ve capitalized Truth throughout. It occurs to me now that I did this to distinguish it in some way from truth that does not come from a place of love - love of self and love of others, as we were commanded by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Because, both are important. Like Amos, one must embrace who one is to sit in the seat of prophet. There can be no mistake about that.
Too often, our feelings of not enough keep us silent. Who am I to speak? I’m not important enough, smart enough, articulate enough, young enough, old enough, powerful enough. Who am I?
Child of God, you are beloved, and that is always enough. Don’t believe me? Look at Amos the herdsmen. Jeremiah, only a child. Moses, who didn’t speak well. John the Baptist, ate locusts and wild honey. Child of God, we are enough.
On the other hand, too often, we speak up and out with words intended to be weapons. Words fueled by anger, shame, guilt. Words that may hold a truth, but aren’t the Truth. God calls us to love. Thus, the Truth must always come from that place. This is not about tone, nor about passion. This is not about the language used, nor even, ultimately, about how others will take the Truth. Although all of these things might be affected. Instead, it is about motive. As I listened to the testimony of the prophets at General Convention, I discovered a pattern. Their Truth telling went something like this —
Who am I? A beloved of child of God. Why do I rise? Because so are you. And we can be better. We must be better. And this Truth I’m about to tell you, it needs to be heard so that we can commit more fully to being the Body of Christ.
While I have returned home, joyfully and a bit exhausted, I cannot shake the wild and Holy testimonies I heard. They are now a part of me. And, isn’t that the way of a prophet? To speak a Truth universal, a Truth that changes people. If only we will receive it. That changes the world, if only we will let it.
Because, make no mistake about it, as much as we are called to be Truth tellers, we are also called to be Truth hearers. When ordinary people become prophets they issue the rest of us an invitation. To listen with ears to hear, with hearts that are open. To seek to understand. To listen with a bold love, a love fueled by faith in the one who was love, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As one modern day prophet put it: “For no one and no one side is the sole repository of Truth. But each of us has a spark of it within. Perhaps, with compassion as our guide, that spark in each of us can become a glow, and then perhaps a light, and we will watch one another in awe as we become illuminated.” (FN)
(FN) Gene Knudsen Hoffman, “Speaking Truth to Power,” Friends Journal (1981), https://www.friendsjournal.org/1981085/