Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on how speaking out of turn just might be God speaking to everyone. How does this happen? How does it involve you? Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Jeremiah 1:4-19. For Audio, “Read More” below. #GreatCatholicPreaching #Catholic #BenU1887
For Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 2/3/2013 The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Jeremiah 1:4-19.
In the rural community I served in North Carolina, there was a custom in protestant churches to have more bank accounts than sands on the seashore. Each Sunday school class would have its own account. The youth group, the men’s group, the women’s group, the altar guild, you name it and the group would have a bank account. This would make for some interesting conversations when it came time to finance a project.
Because there were so many bank accounts, the general fund always had just enough money to pay the immediate bills and no more. If you wanted to get anything done, you needed to meet all the treasurers of these different funds out back by the old oak tree to beg and plead with them to cut loose of the money.
Nearby to the church I was serving, was a Church that was growing very quickly. They wanted to build a shelter for picnics to increase their ability to have family events. So, of course, they got together in a board meeting and started to look at the bottom line of the general fund and they all began to sing the hymn, “Ode to Old Mother Hubbard, Our Cupboard is Bare.” After about thirty minutes of listening to all the treasurers of the different funds tell how woeful the financial outlook was, a voice came from the back.
The voice was from a man name Howard. Howard didn’t know it, but on that day, the Lord was going to call him to be a prophet. Howard owned a construction company. He knew what was involved in financing projects. Howard knew that the church was growing. He also knew that the people of God would benefit through more fellowship if they had this shelter for picnics. So, as the esteemed members of the Administrative Board were throwing cold water on the proposal, a word from the Lord came to Howard who said, “Y’all ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of wet hens sittin’ on your nest eggs. Y’all know that if we were to pull out all of the check books that we would be able to pay for this thing in full right now. Now, if w’re going to do somethin’ for the Lord, then let’s do it right. Stop bein’ so stingy with God’s money, y’all. Stop it right now!”
Howard was a prophet that day. A prophet is a person or a community that speaks the word of the Lord no matter what the consequences might be. In any culture, let alone the culture of rural North Carolina, there is a high social price to be paid if you don’t go along. So, for Howard to say what he did took trust in the Lord that the message was important enough to risk his place in the community. But the Word of the Lord came to Howard in this small case, and he called the community to repent of its desire to control God’s money and use it faithfully. like any good prophet, he spoke what the Lord had put in his heart because he could not keep it in.
The other day, I got up went over to the telephone at work, looked at it, called out to my wife and talked with her about life. I didn’t pick up the receiver on the telephone, I just looked at it. I have to tell you, my wife agreed with everything I said. Well, she didn’t say anything as I looked at the telephone, so I’ll just take that as agreement.
Now, isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? We all know that for me to actually talk to my wife, I needed to pick up the telephone, dial her mobile number and then talk with her and listen to what she said to me. But that didn’t happen. If this is so ridiculous, why is it that we accept that people know what the will of God is for their lives if they do not pray to God? So, how can we be a serious witness, a prophetic member of our church, in our community, if we don’t put a high priority on prayer as a body?
In Korea in 2001, there was a Church growing faster than anywhere else. It was not unusual for that church to have about 10,000 people meet on Sunday mornings. When they were asked what their secret was to growth, they had one answer: prayer. It was not unusual in Seoul to be caught in a traffic jam at 5:00 a.m. back then. Where were these people going? They were going to morning prayer at their church.
Every morning, the people gathered to pray before they went to work. They told people that their church was growing because they prayed together every day. Prayer is the foundation of a relationship with God. A prophetic church is able to proclaim God’s word only when it has a relationship with God.
Here in the calling of the prophet Jeremiah for today it says,
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
Can you hear the intimate relationship that God has with Jeremiah? Jeremiah isn’t just sitting there without a relationship with God and bam! He is asked to go preach a word. He has a rooted relationship with God. His knowledge of good and evil is rooted in his relationship with God. It is part of who he is. One of the ways we have an intimate relationship with God together is through a constant prayer life together. Praying together is how we know what to do in our Church communities. So we need to pray together often.
But did you hear that other part of this passage? It said, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” The passage says that the Lord will send Jeremiah as a prophet. When a prophet is sent he must do what the Lord tells him to do. This is an important part of being a prophetic community. A prophetic community must do what the Lord tells it to do.
When I was arranging for one of the Churches I served to get a sign out front, someone told us that we ought not to bother with getting a permit for the sign, but we should just put it up and the City would be forced to accept it because their administration was so sloppy that it would be years before they even noticed—this is a sad but true fact. The fear was that the City would not approve a variance to allow such a large sign. But, in the committee meeting to work out all of the details, we decided that a community of faith doesn’t go around breaking laws that are implemented for our safety when there is no moral problem. By following the law, people knew we were there even more because the sign brings that attention. The sign serves as a prophetic witness to the lawful nature of the Church.
It was important for us to follow the law because that is what the Lord tells us to do. We are to follow the laws when the law doesn’t violate the word of the Lord. When the law doesn’t follow the Lord, we are to object peaceably, but prophetically. We must do what the Lord tells us to do. Jeremiah will go out to King Ahaz and to Queen Jezebel and say what the Lord tells him to say and do what the Lord tells him to do. We can do that, too.
An article in a magazine a few years ago featured “what the younger generation is looking for in a church.” among things like, “a place where they can find a grand parent like figure” and “stability”, there was this: young people are looking for a church that will be the church and not try to change itself to “get people in.”
These two examples are all to say that to be a prophetic people means that we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. If I say that you need to have a more intimate relationship with Christ, then I need to do those things that bring me closer to him. If I say that this applies to the Church and we agree, then we should have more prayer groups and be in one. So, that begs the question why we don’t have more prayer groups in every Church and why we don’t belong to one? These are strategies that don’t require us Christians to go out and install a million dollar pyro-technics light show in our churches. These principles just call us to practice our faith more faithfully. We can do that.
Finally, a prophetic faith community must have a burning desire to serve Jesus Christ no matter what. A prophetic faith community must have a burning desire to be dynamic no matter who the priest is. A prophetic faith community must have a burning desire to proclaim the word of God to all people. A prophetic faith community must have a burning desire to go out into the community and serve God.
Here we must take the example of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was sent to proclaim to Israel that it would be defeated by an invader because God wanted it to happen. Jeremiah was called to proclaim to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel that they were worshiping false gods and that God was going to destroy their kingdom. Needless to say, Jeremiah wasn’t invited to dinner very much.
But Jeremiah felt as though he had to take a stand, just like Howard felt he needed to tell those people to stop controlling God’s money. But why would someone do a thing like that? Well, listen to what Jeremiah says later in this book,
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary holding it in, and I cannot.”
Being a prophetic church means that we once again have a passion for what we do for the Lord. He is first and we are passionate about it.
The secret to growing a church is to not focus on growing a church, but to be church growing in trust of God through prayer. The secret to being a vibrant and growing parish is to put God and his message for the world first. It is to be a prophetic parish. Being a prophetic parish means that we have an intimate relationship with God as a congregation–not just as individuals–, we live that relationship in all that we do and we are passionate about it just like the prophet Jeremiah.
So, be passionate about your faith! Pray with others more often. Go to daily Mass and receive the Eucharist. Reaffirm the Word of the Lord with others and proclaim that Word to the world through how you participate in ministry in your parish. Let’s be a prophetic people. Amen? Amen.
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