The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer      14th February 2021
Prophetic Voice
Jan Rushton

Evensong Sunday next before Lent Year B 2021 Prophetic Voice

1 Kings 19.1-16; 2 Peter 1.16-21

 

We have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.  You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

 

Over the last two weeks we have heard a prophetic voice, a new prophetic voice - speak out in our Church!  As Elijah, as Jesus, speaking the prophetic word is intensely risky.  Costly to your emotional health and stability, hazardous to your life.  Jarel is not only black and gay, he is an academic, and expressed himself with such a tight use of language, that many - including the many who have called for his ‘life’, that is, his priestly vocation, to be taken from him - many did not comprehend what he was saying.  I myself was pretty annoyed that the wonderful inspiration that Captain Sir Tom Moore was for our whole country, was being purloined by politicians!  With indeed, a nationalistic edge! What a great country we are!  When in reality, we might indeed ask what a wealthy country likes ours is doing that it needs its health service funded by charity!  And while certain members of our current government, in association with venture capitalists, are reaping huge profits from Covid related contracts.  The Good Law Project - please do look it up, is challenging such awarding of lucrative deals, to the Prime Minister’s chums, without tendering or due process.  Indeed, such contracts are being handed out right now, today!

 

 

God has a passion for justice, for the well-being of every creature God has made.  The Bible tells us God is grieved, profoundly grieved, by the suffering we inflict upon one another.  And he calls forth his prophets to act on his behalf.  In the ninth century BCE, the northern tribes of the divided kingdom of Israel, are ruled by Ahab and his infamous Phoenician queen, Jezebel.  Her very name, together with that of Judas, has become synonymous with evil-doing and betrayal.  Ahab’s father, Omri, had built a new religious capital, Samaria, to replace worship at Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom.  Now, Jezebel leads her husband to build in Samaria, a new temple dedicated to her gods of Baal - and bringing to attend the temple an array of Baal priests. She went on to order the killing of Yahweh’s priests and prophets!  Faithfulness to the Law and Covenant with Yahweh, God of Israel, has faded from the land, and with it, righteousness and justice.

 

Into this scenario appears Yahweh’s prophet Elijah called to challenge Ahab! As punishment from Israel’s God, Elijah calls down a drought across the land!  How fair we might think such punishment of the ordinary people is another question!  Be this as it may, at the end of three years Elijah calls a truce!  He offers a trial of strength between his God Yahweh and the gods of Baal.  Before all the people on Mount Carmel, Elijah and Jezebel’s Baal priests and prophets each set up sacrifice to their god.  In this contest the true God will supernaturally ignite the fire to burn the offering!  Despite his sacrifice being soaked with water, as the Baal prophets fail, Elijah’s offering is the one consumed by heavenly fire!  Slowly, slowly, the clouds gather in the sky. Rain is coming!

 

Elijah has won the challenge, but now, now he orders the deaths of the defeated Baal priests.  When Ahab tells Jezebel what has happened Elijah must run for his life from her murderous wrath! Elijah, in increasing mental and emotional turmoil eventually hides in a cave.  First and perhaps most obviously - a point to remember - Elijah needs rest.  Always when we have rested things look different, we can begin to see movement happening.  Alone in the safety of his hiding place, Elijah hears the word of the Lord asking him what he is doing!  He responds with bitter complaint!  He has been utterly faithful to his calling - and look where it’s landed him!  But God calls Elijah to come forth, to experience God’s presence with him.

 

Where do we expect to meet with God? In overwhelming power?  In the might of the whirlwind so great it can break mountains?  In the fierce flame of burning fire?  No, not in great power, but in silence, is God’s presence to be experienced.  As Elijah responds to the stillness, as he learns to be still, he will hear God’s word for him, hear God’s promise to him, hear the renewed call to ministry, to work which he still yet has to accomplish for God.  Will find the strength he needs to go on.

 

Elijah lived in violent times, violence in which he himself was also caught up.

 

It is in many ways reassuring that after such blood letting Elijah is depressed, deeply depressed, suicidle even.  Indeed Elijah’s God has more, far more to reveal to his chosen people, and it will take time for them to understand.  The people of Israel are called to live with justice together, to live with a care for the poor - and also, the foreigner.  And when we read on to the end of the chapter, wholesale slaughter of any group of people will become questionable.

 

In the Epistle of Peter we are told another story of the glory of God revealed this time to Jesus’ disciples, God’s presence enveloping Jesus as he speaks with Moses and Elijah!  As Jesus climbs the mountain to pray, pray for courage and strength as he sets his face to Jerusalem, knowing this will likely lead to crucifixion.  Jesus’ prophetic challenge to the authorities, his challenging of worship which ignores the inequality and oppression of the ordinary people, his challenge will not pass unheeded.

 

For Peter this experience on the mountain top attests to who Jesus is: Prophet of God. Son of God. For Jesus himself it is surely, as in the Garden of Gethsemane, the answer to his prayers for assurance in the decision he has made: to speak truth to power - no matter what it may cost him, even his life.  Jesus will die for human sin.  It is also incumbent upon us to be building the Kingdom of God on earth - right now. To be speaking truth to power today - as Jarel is willing to do.

 

Willing, even as his critics have so ferociously demanded be taken from him, willing to put his plum curacy at a significant London church on the line.

 

Peter calls us to be attentive to the Light that is Christ, to shine that lamp in the dark place.  We need to pay close attention to all that happens around us, to the decisions of our government, and all that they imply for the poor.  To the decisions of our Church, especially in the light of the safeguarding of all members of our congregations, no matter race or sexuality.  And then we need to speak. In whatever way we are able.

 

So let us pray for Jarel tonight, on Racial Justice Sunday, in all his faithfulness and courage. Amen.

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