A Sermon by Rev. Yolande W. Ford, delivered Sunday July 14, 2013
Based on lsa.43:l-3a;Lkl2:48b-53;Heb.!2:l-4
God is raising up a host of prophets in this day and time to set His/Her people free. What is a prophet? One who speaks the truthful word of God at any time that God’s word needs to be said. Prophets are people like Elijah who defied a king and queen, like Jeremiah who shocked a nation with his boldness and like the rock and founder of our faith, Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet! He was and is the Son of God, the Son of man and our Saviour. But to quote Gordon Cosby in his book of sermons By grace Transformed. “Jesus ‘suffering fell upon him primarily because he was a prophet His enemies tried to entangle him in his prophetic talk. They brought him to trial because of his prophetic speech and action.” And they make him suffer for what he said and did. Jesus died on a cross for telling and acting on God’s unwelcome truth that permanent change from evil to good comes only at the cost of loving self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Eleven people in Jesus’ day truly believed him and followed him. But those eleven prophetic people changed the world. That’s the Christian gospel in nut shell.
The world depends upon God’s prophets to save it from destruction. It always has and it always will. Such prophets are indispensable catalysts for positive change. We live because they believed. But who are the prophets of today in 2013, who will save their parts of the world from evils like mass incarceration? Well, look around you friends, because we are they. We are the prophets whom God has called to help deliver this nation from the prison for profit system.
Most of us recoil at that thought. We say, “Who Us?” Yes us. We are called to be God’s prophets in 2013, some young, some not so young, some old in fact and arthritic, some jobless and some are stressed out at work, some homeless but hopeful, some just out of jail, and some on their way out their way out of this life—all together we are God’s prophets in 2013. We are the ones that ones that we have been waiting for to end the mass incarceration that now has imprisoned millions of people in the United States the vastly disproportionate majority of whom are African American and Hispanic.
We think that we here today only by our choice. But we are here actually at God’s invitation. Whether we are committed to its dissolution or simply curious about mass incarceration, we are here because, in one way or another, God has caused us to come. He brought us here. That’s how it is with prophets: God calls and we come. Moreover, there are no excuses for non-response that God accepts once His/Her call is heard. Ask Abraham who said, ‘I’m too old;” ask Jeremiah who said,” I’m too young;” ask Moses who complained “But I’m handicapped; “ask Mary who protested: “But I’m not even married.” No matter. To each of them God simply said, “You, beloved, are it.” And that’s what God has said to us who are here. Few, feeble and feckless, we are, “it.”
Now, the good news is that whomever God calls, She also equips for whatever is the task at hand. God does not send His servants out unprepared. The 70 disciples that Jesus sent out 2 by2 were heavily protected by his prayers. We too are similarly equipped to serve as Divinely dispatched deliverers from mass incarceration.
How so? First of all we are well equipped because we are leaning heavily on God’s biblical word. We are reading the Bible, trying truly hard to hear and believe Jesus when he says things like, “Fear not.” in the midst of fearsome events. Each of the synoptic gospels (the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke) record Jesus as saying emphatically, “Fear Not:” Don’t be afraid.
In Matt 10:31ff he says, “Don’t be afraid of lacking for anything when you follow me. God feeds and clothes even the sparrows and lilies. He will surly take care of you: Fear not.” He tells a man, (in Lk.8:48-50) “Don’t be afraid because your child is sick unto death; just trust and believe in me. Believe in who I am and in what I can do. Fear Not.” In Lk.l2:32 Jesus tells his disciples, and us, “Don’t be afraid little flock for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom: Fear Not.”
We prophets will cling closely to these words as we follow our call to help God abolish the mass incarceration system. Neither those who profit from the system, nor all of those who are dedicated to dismantling it, will welcome the Gospel that national deliverance from mass incarceration and permanent recidivism will come ONLY through loving self-sacrifice and the forgiveness of those who hurt us.
Some will say that we want to endanger public safety by turning criminals loose on the streets. Others will say that we are coddling profiteers when we work with them to turn their systems around. Only one thing is certain: nobody on either side of the issue is likely pin any metals on us for refusing to revile and condemn instead of loving, forgiving and encouraging. But that is the way of the cross of Christ – the way that frees prisoners, corporate jailers and communities and leads them to wholeness and redemption. And that is the way of God’s prophets.
Will many people be eager to hear that? Not likely. Very few people were in Jesus’ day and not many will be in ours. But if we take seriously our call to be God’s instruments to free both the incarcerated and their profiteering jailers from exploitation by Satan, who is the real mass incarcerator, this is precisely the word that we will be speaking and acting on in non-violent ways, for that is what God’s prophets do.
“The word of God is penetrating and confronting,” says Gordon Cosby and each of us is to be a non-violent weapon, speaking and acting for God in exactly this, penetrating threatening, warning, and thus saving way.” This is radical talk because the Bible is a radical document and because Jesus Christ was and is a radical non-violent revolutionary. Hear him again (Lk.l2:49-53) saying,” Do you think I have come to give peace on earth on earth? No I tell you but rather division….”
The Lord was talking about the divisive fire of his prophetic word that he would soon act on in person for all to see through his suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus modeled the role of God’s prophet for us. The question is, who is called prophesy and act for God as he did today against the forces of mass incarceration? The answer is that we are. We are called to this because we are Christians. We are followers of Jesus Christ, God’s Ultimate Prophet, who said in no uncertain terms that, “Everyone to whom much is given of him/her much shall be required (Lk.l2:14b). We are called and fully equipped by his word, by his love, and by God’s abundant grace!!
There is a second way that we are equipped for this freedom mission to which we are called. We prophets are presently equipped by God with the gift of repentance, if we will accept and embrace it. It is not by accident that at this precise time of great need the Holy Spirit has led us in addition to the Bible to study Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow. Through it and other materials God is showing us the face of our enemy, permanent recidivism, and how it operates through mass incarceration. We are learning, through the Spirits’ leading as well about the pillars of support that keep permanent recidivism in place. And just as important we are identifying our own complicity with the mass incarceration and recidivism system. The more we see how we unwittingly feed into it, the more we are compelled to fall on our knees and out, “God have mercy on us for we too are sinners! Forgive us and help us to change this thing!” Repentance is the valuable gift that God gives us to equip us against self-righteousness when we confront the supporters of mass incarceration.
Third, along with the word that is Jesus Christ and the gift of repentance God is equipping us with the gift of humility, if we are humbly willing to receive it. That is, through the Bible and The New Jim Crow, through prayer about the bully of mass incarceration and permanent recidivism, and by facing up to our needs for repentance and forgiveness, we are brought face to face with our own weakness. We know that there is no possible way that we can effectively engage, much less overcome an enemy like mass incarceration on our own no matter with whom we ally to fight it. But the Good News is that when we are finally convinced that we can’t do anything, God can do everything!!!! Whenever people are reduced to full awareness of their helpless impotence, God has room to step in and act in power! Well friends, we are at that point of awareness right now and that is where God wants us to be.
You see, the great Gospel irony is that when we are at our weakest, we Christians are strongest in the Lord. We may not be much but our very self – acknowledged weakness and utter dependence on God is all that God needs to use us as prophets in mighty ways! This means that, numerically weak, (After all, look around you), actually we are downright invincible!! Unworthy, yet forgiven and called to action, we are unstoppable because we are clothed with the mantles of all of Gods’ prophets who came before us. Humbled by our own complicity, rejoicing in our weakness, we are God’s called prophets in 2013!!
All that we have is our faith. But that is the fourth and most powerful, piece of equipment that we have from God. Jesus has promised that even mustard seed faith can open prison doors and set prisoners and jailers free. We believe him. We believe that God wants this mission to be accomplished. And we rejoice that God has called upon us to help Her/Him to accomplish it.!!
So—here we are. Surrounded and supported by a great cloud of God’s other prophetic witnesses, emboldened by the presence with us of the Lord Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are the prophets whom God has called and commissioned for service in this, our day! God has spoken. We have answered, “Send us.”- Let the church say, “Amen” and “AMEN!!”
Thank you Rev. Ford
Make A Difference . . . . . . . . . . . For Life!!!!!