Sunday, December 17, 2006

Opening Your Spiritual Gifts (Day 15)

Prophecy is the gift of those people who have the capacity to apply the Word of God to specific circumstances, calling people to a renewed relationship with God and to treat their neighbors with love.

On two of the four weekends of the Advent season just prior to Christmas, most Christians focus on the ministry of John the Baptizer. John was a prophet, sharing all the characteristics of those who had the gift of prophecy in the Old Testament.

How so? First: He was given a particular word from God. Second: His call happened at a specific time and place. Third: It came with a specific charge. (In John’s case, he was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.) [For more on the typical pattern associated with the calls of Old Testament prophets, see here.]

Sometimes, prophets don’t regard the gift of prophecy as a gift. Jonah, an Old Testament prophet, didn’t want to go to the foreign city of Nineveh because he hated the Ninevites and feared that if he told the people there that God planned to destroy their city, they would repent of their sin and God would forgive them. (That’s exactly what happened, to Jonah’s disgust.)

Often, as you can imagine, prophets aren’t wanted around. They speak truth that people and rulers would rather not hear. Jesus once lamented that Jerusalem, then the center of God-worship, had a history of killing off prophets. Prophets confront us with uncomfortable truths.

Because the words shared by prophets come straight from God, the prophets themselves are often unaware of their full meaning. John the Baptizer called Jesus “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” And yet, while he was imprisoned, awaiting execution, he sent messengers to Jesus, asking if Jesus was the Messiah or if the Messiah was yet to come. The prophet simply shares God’s message, a person under command from God, and lives with the uncertainties about its implications.

The prophet is only tangentially concerned with the future. She or he isn’t a seer, though a look into the future--as in the writings of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah--is often embedded in their prophecies. Prophets call people to repent--to turn back to God--for specific sins and injustices, telling people the consequences both of hard-heartedness and repentance.

Prophets are especially called to confront injustices, whether those perpetrated by rulers or nations. This is why they can often be unpopular. Forty years ago, a Baptist pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. had the gift of prophecy and delivered God’s message of opposition to racism and discrimination and advocacy of justice and harmony. King, like many prophets before him, was killed for sharing God’s message.

Often, because of their countercultural messages from God, prophets are even unwelcome in or don’t quite fit in with the Church. John the Baptizer didn’t fit in with the religion of the ancient Jews, God’s people. Today, Bono of the rock band U2, is one of those unchurched Christians who loves Christ, the Bible, and the Church and calls Christians to care about their neighbors, yet doesn’t feel quite at home in a specific denomination or congregation. (The Church, by the way, is at its worst when its values are too much like its surrounding culture.)

Prophets call the Church to enact God’s particular brand of justice. As Father Walter Burghardt points out, Biblical justice differs from legal and philosophical notions of justice. The Bible affirms their notions of human rights and treating others fairly, but Biblical justice is so much more. The God of the Bible says that justice is only served when we love God and we love our neighbor as though they were another self.

People with the gift of prophecy can often be irritating to the Church and to the world. But they call us to truly live out Jesus’ Great Commandment: to love God with every fiber of our beings and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Only a sadist would want the gift of prophecy, I suppose. But prophets are heroes for believers in Jesus.

Prophecy is the gift of those people who have the capacity to apply the Word of God to specific circumstances, calling people to a renewed relationship with God and to treat their neighbors with love.

Bible Passage to Ponder: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1-2)

[Cross-posted at]

[THANKS TO: Bruce Armstrong of Ordinary Everyday Christian for linking to this post.]

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