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Prophet Or Profit?

Sermons on the Gospel Readings
Series II, Cycle C
I shall never forget the night that Mae June came to church. Mae June was a workingwoman who, in our little community, was often seen in the late hours of the night in some of the darker places of our little town.

The rumor circulating over breakfast every morning at the city cafe, was that Mae June had a male companion. Mae June had a boyfriend. They were seen quite often, not only at night, but in the daytime and on the streets of the little city. Then came the night that Mae June came to the church where I served as pastor. She and her male companion came and sat down near the front. The church had what was known as a prayer rail with cushions all across the front of the sanctuary. When we offered the invitation at the conclusion of the service, Mae June came and knelt at the prayer rail and prayed. When she finished her prayer she turned and began talking to the congregation. She asked the congregation if they would pray for her friend. We prayed with Mae June.

I was interested in seeing how the church would respond at the end of the service. It was a good crowd for a Sunday night. If I remember correctly, I think the mayor, the district judge, and a county commissioner were there along with a lot of mothers and fathers. Out of all of those people no one -- no one -- shunned Mae June. They talked with her. They prayed with her. They accepted her. It was like the church was acting like a church.

Jesus went to church one time and they tried to kill him. His home church in his hometown accepted him at first. He became popular in other areas, but when he came to his hometown church, they accepted him quickly. He is Joe Carpenter's son. Isn't that Mary's son over there? Everything was fine until Jesus said something that made them all mad. It made them so mad that they literally tried to kill him. In his hometown! What could he have said that could have been so provoking? It might have been that Jesus was a prophet.

In the New Testament, a prophet is not someone who forecasts hundreds of thousands of years in the future, but someone who looks at today and says, "This is the way things are." Then the prophet says, "Unless things change this is the way things are going to be." The prophet goes beyond that. The prophet not only says this is the way things are, a prophet will say if you do change; these are the way things could be. A prophet! If you change. There are some in Jesus' day who did not want to change. They were out for profit, the status quo. The status quo! You remember, Ronald Reagan said, "It's the mess we are in." The status quo. The ones who were living their lives for profit were content with the way things were and they did not want this prophet upsetting the applecart so they tried to kill him.

I think the real reason they tried to kill Jesus was that he said, "Today the scripture is fulfilled in your ears." I am it! Me! The Lord has appointed me, sent me, anointed me; and they couldn't stand that Jesus was one who was willing to stand in the gap between the way things are and the way things can be. Jesus was willing to stand in the Great Divide and to be the bridge over which people could travel from the way things are and the way things could be. How was he able to do that? How are we?

First of all, Jesus just felt a definite calling from God. It is very simple and plain in the scripture. The Bible says that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had been on a forty-day spiritual retreat struggling with the temptation of his life and how to go about his ministry. He was spiritually disciplined and ready to carry out his ministry, equipped to do what God would have him to do. He was ready to fulfill his calling. If we are to fulfill our calling to do what God would have us to do and to stand in the gap between the way things are and the way things can be, then we must be as spiritually disciplined as Jesus. We do this by doing the things that Jesus did: going on spiritual retreats, prayer, solitude, in communion with the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, immersed, absorbed in the Word.

It is not by accident that he went into the synagogue and began in a worship service and read from God's Word. He did it quite often. It was not accidental that he chose this passage of scripture, the great reading from the Old Testament prophet about a time similar to the one in which Jesus found himself. Jesus was careful to show them by scripture that the tension that existed between them was not between the people of Nazareth and Jesus, himself. The tension that existed was between the people of Nazareth and their very own Bible. Their very own Bible told them that they were called of God to be missionaries to the entire world, and that they were to embody servanthood. You know we are never so angry as when we are shown by the Bible that we are wrong.

How do you argue with the Bible? You cannot argue with the Bible. You either have to accept the Bible and live by the Bible or reject the Bible, deny the Bible, and respond in anger and violence and that is what they did. Knowing they were wrong, condemned by their own scriptures, they responded in violence and literally attempted to kill Jesus.

It was Jesus immersing himself in scriptures that allowed him to be able to project a vision of hope. A vision! Jesus came and said, "God has sent me. He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor." There will be a time when the poor hear the gospel, when the prisoners are released, when the captives are set free, when they who are spiritually and physically blind, are able to see and God's grace and God is proclaimed. This was the great vision that he posited before them and called them to hear what their lives could be. Jesus was no Pollyanna. He was not filled with naiveté. He was not just idealistically dreaming. Jesus knew in a harsh and ruthless way the way things were. He could look around himself. He knew that they were in an occupied territory. He knew that there were poor people, homeless people, and sick people everywhere. He knew that taxes were sky high. He could see the Roman soldiers and he could see that the very worst of the lot were the poor people. They were on the bottom rung of the ladder. They were the ones who were paying the price and Jesus said the most wonderful thing, "The poor people will be able to hear the gospel and will be able to respond." Jesus knew the way things were and so do we when we open our eyes.

A woman in Nicaragua gets eleven cents for sewing together a pair of blue jeans that are sold by an American company for $14.95. That company made 566 million dollars in profits on those jeans in one year. One out of every five Ugandan children will not live to age five because they do not have simple, primary health care. That is not just in Nicaragua. This is not just in Uganda. There are hurts to heal in our cities. There are poor people here. There are homeless people here. There are addicted people here. There are lonely people here. There are oppressed and captive people here. There are hurts that need to be healed! And you ask, "What can I do? Is there anything I can do? Can I be one who stands in the gap between the way things are and the way things can be? Can I be a bridge over which other people can travel in that journey from the way things are and the way things can be?"

We can expect controversy. Not everyone is going to understand. They did not understand in Nazareth. They knew and loved Jesus, but did not understand him. Change is a difficult thing and very often elicits hostility. But we can be that kind of individual who embodies the promise as did Jesus. First of all, simply find something that we like to do and do it. Find something we do well and do it for the glory of God. One single person, one individual, one congregation, one group of people can make a difference.

One average-sized church in Brooklyn, New York, decided that it would fight a popular clothing company and, in doing so, ended the sweatshops in El Salvador. It was just an average-sized church that stood up and said we are against the exploitation of children. The Faith Network of Children decided that it would conduct a campaign and close the sweat shop in El Camino, California, where 72 people from Thailand, behind barbed wire, were being paid $1.60 an hour and working eighteen hours a day. Somebody stood up and said, "Wait a minute! We are against the exploitation of women."

In 1977, both Jews and Christians marched in a silent march during Holy Week. Christians and Jews marched silently during Holy Week in an effort to protest against the most luxurious hotels of California, and particularly Los Angeles, because they were paying slave labor wages to the people who were making their guests feel luxurious. Some of them had been working there over twenty years and still had no benefits or any health care. Because they got some peoples' attention, fourteen of the most luxurious hotels in Los Angeles banded together and signed a commitment that they would pay their employees a livable wage and try to provide for them benefits that would be an example for hotels all over the world to follow. This happened because Christians and Jews marched silently during Holy Week.

James Wallace said that he is now seeing those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice coming together in an effort to see what they have in common and somehow stem the tide of 1.5 million abortions performed in the United States every year by concentrating on positive things: combating teen pregnancy, giving other alternatives for women, and reforming adoption laws. People can make a difference!

People make a difference at First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, every day of the week. This church is involved in over twenty ministries in downtown Chattanooga. People build houses for Habitat for Humanity. People teach English as a second language. People fight racism through the Westside Development Project. People fight drug addiction and alcohol addiction through Teen Challenge and it goes on and on. People can, and do, make a difference right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Will you make a difference? It only takes one! It only takes one person to start. One person can influence a church to make a difference!

Bill was 37 years old. He awoke one morning, drunk as usual. His doctor had told him, "Bill, you are either going to go crazy or you are going to die of alcoholism." In his despair, he cried out in a prayer and said, "Oh, God, if you are there, let me know it!" And God did! Bill never took another drink. Bill then wrote twelve steps by which others could combat their disease and, as a result, over two million people now live productive, happy lives combating their disease of alcoholism. One person!

In 1835, Elijah saw a man lynched. It changed his life. He cut back on his career as a Presbyterian pastor and as a schoolteacher. He went back to his earlier training as a newspaper editor and began to write anti-slavery tracts. He delivered speeches and aroused hostility. People persecuted him, beat him, and finally burned him out of his home. He was injured in combating the fire, and after only two years, he was killed. Elijah P. Lovejoy, a life cut short. A young attorney in Elijah's home state of Illinois read Elijah P. Lovejoy's materials and was deeply influenced, and 26 years later, that young attorney signed the Emancipation Proclamation. One person! One! Will you be one?

Where are you in the text today? Are you up reading the scriptures like Jesus? Or, are you just bystanders listening? Are you one of those who are protesting -- "We don't want change" -- or are you one of the others saying, "I want to be one of his disciples. I want what he has. I am willing to do whatever it takes. I want to be like him"? They were all there and we are all here. Where are you today? Will you be one to stand in the gap?

By accident, a fellow wandered into a Quaker meeting. No one was saying anything. It was quiet. Everyone was sitting there listening. Silence. He sat a while. He did not know what was happening. Finally, he gathered up the courage and he nudged the guy sitting near him and said, "Pardon me. When does the service begin?" And the man responded, "When we leave."
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