Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Easy Way of Being a Prophet

Last Sunday the Gospel lesson was the end of the story of John the Baptist- where he lost his head to the whims of the king. The Hebrew Bible lesson was from Amos who got into trouble for speaking the truth to power- the King. They fit right in with my sermon two weeks ago on Jan Hus and his martyr's death at the instigation of the Pope and the church powers in 1415.

THAT'S not an easy way to be a prophet. What is the easier, softer way?

The pastor then talked about a recent experience he had at national convention where he and 1,200 others did a march against gun violence while carrying signs that said, "Black Lives Matter." It was a very moving spiritual experience for him, as I am sure it would have been. We had done a simple march in Miami 20 years ago as part of a world mission conference. All we did was walk as a witness to our faith. That was amazing. This was standing up to power and pointing out one of the deep divides and cardinal sins of our culture that no one wants to talk about.

The pastor then commented

It's easy being a prophet when you are with 1200 other people.
Yep. A lot of truth in that. It is easy when we can get lost in the crowd. When all of you are chanting the same, protesting the same, but just face the reality and, well, things can get a little more difficult.

I discovered that back in the early 70s in the midst of the Vietnam War protests. I had gone down to Washington to participate in the May Day protests. I had been there a week earlier with the big protests. It was fun and an anti-war carnival. Many people came back a week later with the expressed purpose of shutting down Washington in acts of civil disobedience. We arrived on Saturday, May 1 and camped out in West Potomac Park near the Washington Monument. It was a picnic-rock fest with people hanging-out and listening to the music. There were about 35,000 people there.

I fell asleep that night, though fitfully, aware that civil disobedience could get one arrested.

I awoke on Sunday morning and looked out the tent flap. As I remember it now it was the sight of riot troops (we'd call them SWAT teams now) lining the streets around the park. It seemed like an endless number of them. The Nixon administration had cancelled the park permit. They were urging us to leave. Later in the morning the troops started to move across the camping area, tearing tents down, using tear gas to disperse the crowds.

I never saw that part. I gathered my stuff and, along with about 25,000 others, left D.C. heading back home.

Sometimes it isn't even easy being a prophet when there are 35,000 of you- and 10,000 of them with guns.

Or you are standing on a Memphis motel porch, there's one lone gunman across the street and your name is Martin Luther King, Jr.; or Robert Kennedy, surrounded by supporters as Sirhan Sirhan pulls the trigger; or Mahatma Gandhi about to enter a prayer meeting as a gunman came up to him and fired three times.

 It appears that it is never easy being a prophet when you have to stand up to the ways of the world that lead to death, destruction, hate, and fear.

I give thanks for those who are willing to take that prophetic stand of speaking out, of challenging those who would use their power to oppress those already under oppression; those who would conspire to take dignity and hope, health and support from others who are different; those who would use their religion and their patriotism to denigrate others and turn them into non-persons.

I know that I am a weak prophet. I want people to like me- and I certainly don't want to be tear-gassed or have my head beaten by a billy-club. But I also know that I have to find ways to stand up for what I believe to be right.

The easy way of being a prophet is to stay at home and not speak out. Because one is no longer a prophet. Maybe I need to find more people who are willing to do it with me.

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