Succentor - Revd Rachel Young
Jeremiah 23.23-29; Heb 11.29-12.2; Luke 12.49-56
A few weeks ago my husband, Nigel, and I were on holiday in Scotland. It was beautiful and we had a very good holiday
But you know what people say, as soon as I told them where we’d been?
Either – how were the midges?
Or – how was the weather!
Well, every morning we’d look on the weather app to see what the weather prophets forecast for the day, so we’d know what to plan to do and what to wear.
And very often, the weather we got was not what was forecast..!
Actually, we found that if we went outside, looked at the sky, felt the temperature and humidity around us, we could fairly accurately tell what it was going to do in the next few hours.
And would take a bet that most of us brought up in the UK are able to do this – by using our experience, our skills and our intuition.
Prophets or prophecy is a theme in all three of our readings today. In our first reading from the Old Testament, Jeremiah, himself a major prophet to the kings of Judah, is quoting the words of God to the people. God is contrasting prophets who prophecy lies or the deceit of their own heart, with those who have the word of God. The words of the prophets who prophesied lies had the characteristic of a dream. But the words of the prophets who prophesied God’s words were like fire, “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” God said the false prophets were planning to make his people “forget his name by their dreams that they tell once another.”
In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer is half way through a long passage describing faith. At the beginning of the chapter, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then the faith of Israel’s ancestors is described (“by faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land”), including the faith of the prophets – “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises” and so on.
However, although all these “were commended for their faith”, God had provided something better so that they would be made perfect – namely, Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfector of our faith.”
Luke has Jesus speaking prophetically in our Gospel reading. Jesus is with his disciples and a crowd, and earlier in the chapter he tells parables to the crowd and gives explanations to his disciples – the parables of the rich man with his crops to store, and the parable of the master returning in the middle of the night. So, Jesus is teaching about priorities – were they putting him first? And the passage we heard is like its culmination, as though Jesus is passionately fired up. Didn’t they know what was happening all around them? Couldn’t they see who he was?
His illustration about predicting the weather brought it home to them in a concrete way. They could all do that – they all knew what cloud rising in the west meant, or the south wind blowing. But did they know how to interpret the present time? You can almost hear his exasperation!
Do we know how to interpret the present time?
Our present time?
The signs of our times are many –
Violent knife crime; unsettled and polemic politics; fake news; climate change; extremism….to name the most obvious few. After two major violent events in our area of London a couple of weeks ago, someone said to me, “The world’s going mad” – and it sometimes feels like that: uncertain, volatile, unpredictable.
Who are the prophets of our own age? – those who warn us and tell us what things will be like if we don’t change what we’re doing? Some of our world leaders may speak prophetically. And some of our church leaders speak prophetically – sometimes we may wish they did it more often…
But sometimes those who are the clearest prophets are those who are the most unexpected – the young; those not in any position of leadership; those who are bold enough to speak out from a position of weakness and say it as it really is.
How can we tell false prophets from true prophets? Well, I suggest we need to have confidence in our experience, skills and intuition. Fake news can be rooted out if we know what to look for behind the headlines. False prophets tell us about dreams, not reality. They tell us about “the deceit of their own heart”.
Last week I picked up a book called “Field with a view – science and faith in a time of climate change”, written by an author called Katherine M. Preston. As a trained ecologist and a priest she brings a theological viewpoint to the subject; and as an American she has a particular view of the current leadership of her country on this…
She names others whom she believes have spoken prophetic warnings and writes, “It’s not easy being a prophet. No one wants to be told they must radically change the way they live, even when it is increasingly clear that the prophets are right.”
And she adds, “There is an intense need for strong moral leadership here.”
I think this is true for every one of the signs of our times.
There is a need for strong moral leadership, for example, to:
act to prevent violent knife crime;
to give stability to the running of our nation;
to fight extremism in all its guises.
And what can we, individually, do, as people who follow Jesus Christ? We can remember that he called us to follow him –
to see life as clearly as he did, and to act;
to use our experience, skills and intuition
to read the signs of our times.
And we can pray –
for that moral leadership,
for those who cry out prophetically,
for those who may listen and change their ways;
We need to pray for help in navigating these changing times. We can pray, too, for help in deciding ourselves how to respond. Is there anything I can do personally, any way in which I can act to change what I do –
having been outside,
sniffed the air
and noticed the south west wind brewing…?