We have a tendency, I think to regard the saints, heroes and heroines in the faith, as people who've got things sorted.
They are the ones who've managed to keep all of the Commandments – even that pesky one about loving your neighbour.
People whose lives are so overwhelmingly full of the joy of the Lord that they float through their days in a kind of glorious golden haze, secure in faith and hope and chock full of love at all times.
Finished products, secure and serene – so focussed on the promises of heaven that earthly struggles pretty much pass them by unnoticed.
If that's your impression, you might just need to think again.
Saints are real people, forthright, outraged, not afraid to take God to task
Saints are people like Teresa of Avila, who exploded one day
“If this is the way you treat your friends, Lord – I'm not surprised you have so few of them”
Her words most definitely struck a chord with me as I looked at today's gospel
Jesus says of his cousin
“Among those born of woman there is none greater than John the Baptist” but despite this affirmation, things don't exactly turn out well for him...(any more, of course, than they do for Jesus)...The story of his death is one of the most gruesome and disturbing in the New Testament. No easy ride for him.
“If that's how you treat your friends...”
Actually, when you're called to be a prophet easy rides are almost unheard of.
Small wonder, then, that most of the great Old Testament prophets resisted their vocation with all that was in them.
“Me? speak truth to power? God, you have to be joking!”
Think of Jonah, bolting for Tarshish when told to take God's message to Nineveh
Or Jeremiah, insisting “How can I speak. I'm only a child...” or Moses, pleading that his stammer disqualified him
“I'm neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I'm a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees”
That sounds wonderfully bucolic and peaceful – but God is adamant
Background doesn't matter....John the Baptist's father was a priest in the Temple, dedicated to the rites and observances of Jewish tradition...nor was Amos's father a recognised spokesman for God......but God called both their sons and placed HIS words of radical challenge on their lips.
You see, God persists in calling unlikely people
Ordinary souls with no particular gifting, fearful souls who would much sooner stay at home, sceptical souls who aren't really sure that God is still active, truculent souls who fight him every step of the way.
People like you and me
God calls them.
God calls us
He calls, because there remains so much in our world that needs to be challenged, needs to be changed...
But don't panic if you don't see yourself as an orator, - for often prophetic action speaks louder than all the words in the world.
Yesterday morning, some of you came to help us raise money for the 5K feast, a month long fund-raising drive for Marah and the Stroud & District Foodbank.
Those who came may have thought they were simply buying a cake or supporting a raffle – but actually they were part of an act of prophetic challenge.
I have to admit, I do have some reservations about the foodbank – because only those with an official referral can be fed, because there are limits to the help that one individual or family can receive. If we set this prudent strategy against the reckless generosity of God – it seems to me that the food bank organisers are setting their sights a little too low. But for all that, they ARE doing something...their words and their actions proclaim them emphatically a sign of God's kingdom.
Motivated by their faith, they are affirming with every food parcel they give out that the hungry in our society matter to God...that it is not acceptable that men, women and children should be going to bed with empty stomachs while just down the road their neighbours spend money on diet foods and exercise classes.
Their presence is a reminder that something is badly broken in society – and, as Christians, we have a responsibility to challenge that brokenness by our actions and by our words.
Does that bother you?
Perhaps I'm sounding too political?
But faith and politics absolutely belong together, until the power structures of our society and all societies are fully reflective of Kingdom values.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he took as his mission statement those words of the prophet Isaiah
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor”
If you are poor and hungry, then good news will surely involve being fed...
If you are frightened of persecution, good news will involve finding a place of safety...
If you are helpless, dis-empowered, good news will arm you with the tools that you need to claim your own future.
Good news changes things
I know that many feel the church should stay out of politics – and perhaps it may be inappropriate to engage in PARTY politics...
But our God has never been content to sit, robed in majesty, untouched by the plight of his children
Our God chose to become incarnate – to join in the mess and muddle and heartbreak of human life, so that that same mess, muddle and heartbreak might be transformed and redeemed.
Our God CARES – and charges us to live as signs of that care.
“Preach the gospel...Use words if you must” said St Francis...
Today too many will be deaf to the gospel unless we show them what it really means for them.
The clamour of their own struggle, their own pain, deafens them to our cry of “good news” - unless they can see, experience and recognise it as good news for themselves.
So......we are called to live as prophets, signs of the Kingdom, to the elderly, selling their homes to fund social care, to the mum crying in the Co-op because there's not enough cash in her purse to buy the food her family needs, to the children sent to school without breakfast, the rough sleeper, the battered wife.
We are called to show that there IS a better way, to live as prophets...sometimes to speak but ALWAYS to act to bring about transformation and root out injustice
This is the agenda presented in the letter of James
“ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
But to act will probably not win you many friends
To act AND to speak will undoubtedly win you enemies
The Brazilian Archbishop, Dom Helder Camara said
“When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry,they call me a Communist...”
and you can be sure that “Communist” was not intended as a compliment.
No, it's definitely not easy being a prophet...downright dangerous at times.
But safety can be over-rated.
Remember the Collect for today, with its invitation to shake the kaleidoscope and see the world in a different way...
Our current preoccupations with personal security, prosperity, popularity, become second-order concerns when set against those good things which pass our understanding...God's promises that exceed all we can desire
There IS a better way
There IS more on offer than we can imagine in our wildest dreams
So we CAN dare the risk of faith, we can speak and act as citizens of this world who know that our true home is the Kingdom of God...
Let's pray that Collect once again, as we thank God for all those who speak his Truth in our world and ask for courage and faith to do the same
Merciful God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love toward you that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.