Proper 8A – Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
When I was a kid my mom often said to me, “Mike, I can read your tracks before you make them.”
Sometimes she could see things about my life I couldn’t see for myself. Other times she told me what I already knew but it made more sense when I heard it from her. Sometimes we had difficult but meaningful conversations and other times she told me truths I did not want to hear. Sometimes she caused me to reconsider and be more thoughtful about what I was doing. Other times I tried to cover my tracks. I became more stubborn or sneaky.
I didn’t always welcome her reading my tracks. Back then that often felt like interference, a warning, or even a threat. Today it feels like love, care, concern.
I have others in my life today who can read my tracks before I make them – my wife Cyndy, John, David, Marga, and some of you. I suspect you’ve had and maybe still have track readers in your life too.
Who has read your tracks? In what ways did she or he give you insight to yourself or open your eyes to what was happening? What truths were revealed? What conversations were begun? How did it change you or the direction of your life? What was asked of you?
Whoever that was, she or he was a prophet. Have you ever thought of that person as a prophet? That’s not how I thought about my mom back then. And she probably didn’t think of herself as a prophet. But sometimes we are. We read the tracks of our children or grandchildren, friends, or colleagues even before they’ve been made and offer truths, hope, wisdom.
When we think of a prophet most of us probably think of one of the Old Testament prophets; Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos. Some might think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, or Archbishop Desmond Tutu as modern prophets.
But I’ve also begun to see those track reading people in my life as prophets. My mom didn’t foresee my future, but she could see the consequences of my choices, actions, and the direction I was going, and she wanted something more for me, something different. She spoke with insight, not foresight. That’s what prophets do. They reflect deeply on what is happening in the present moment and call us back to our betters selves, our truer selves. Sometimes they speak to individuals and sometimes they speak to entire nations, to a people. That’s the biblical tradition of prophecy and it is, I think, what is happening in our country today.
A prophet isn’t one who predicts the future. A prophet is one who calls for and insists on change. It’s one who disturbs the complacency of the present moment, interrupts business as usual, and provokes change. “The prophet is a person who is not tolerant of wrongs done to others, who resents other people’s injuries.” (Heschel, The Prophets, volume 1, 205) The prophet interferes on behalf of the weak, the poor, the oppressed. (Ibid.) The prophet draws a line in the sand.
That’s what we hear from the great prophets of Israel.
- It’s Isaiah saying, “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) “Is not this the fast that I choose,” he asks, “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)
- It’s Amos saying, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
- It’s Jeremiah calling for justice and righteousness, and that no wrong or violence be done to the alien, the orphan, or the widow. (Jeremiah 22:3)
The great prophets of Israel resisted complacency as the enemy of true peace. King, Romero, and Tutu resisted complacency. I sometimes wonder if we have confused the two and settled for complacency over peace. Jeremiah puts it like this, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
I wonder if we have become so accustomed to the way things are that we can no longer see the needs of others, the injustices done to them, or their pain. I wonder if that’s why in the last several weeks so many of us are in shock over what is happening in our country today. We look on in disbelief and ask, “Why? How could this happen? I don’t understand. I can’t imagine.” Maybe it because complacency has blinded us.
What’s happening is not new. What’s new (I hope) is our beginning to awaken to what is happening. I think we are hearing and recognizing what’s happening as a prophetic moment in our lives and in the life of America. Events can also be prophetic.
Look at everything that is happening today – the pandemic, the economy, political dysfunction, the killing of George Floyd and all those before him, the Black Lives Matter protests, graffiti and violence, mistrust of the media and the government, calls for police reform.
Those are not just problems to be fixed. Each one is a voice in a prophetic chorus crying out for change and warning of the consequences if we don’t. Each one of those is reading our tracks before we make them. And it is painful. It’s painful to see and it’s painful to hear.
More often than not prophets awaken us from our complacency. They let us know what we do not want to know, show us what we do not want to see, tell us what we do not want to hear, and confront us with what we do not want to acknowledge.
Those places of our resistance, however, are also the places of our growth. They are gateways into the deep heart of our humanity. They are the places where we can begin to get our life back on track, as individuals and as a country.
The prophetic cry is not about condemnation, judgment, or punishment. It is a calling, an asking, an insisting that believes we can be more and do differently. It sees more for us than we see for ourselves. It believes more about us than we believe about ourselves. The prophet’s cry is about hope, healing, and more life.
Prophets “have a dream” for the people to whom they speak, not a prediction.
What would if be like for you to welcome the prophet’s dream in your life today and in the life of our country? What is that dream asking of you? What do you need to do, change, or give up in order to be a part of that dream? How can you help that dream come true for others?
Read the tracks. Hear the cry. And welcome the dream.