Sermon from July 7, 2019

Prophesy the Glorious Vision
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
July 7, 2019
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 66; Isaiah 66:10-14; Luke 10:1-11

The Hebrew prophets spoke on behalf of God’s universal laws.  They insisted that the nation follow the sacred way of love and justice and peace so that the people and land would survive and thrive.

Prophets arise only when they are needed, only when the rich and powerful and the nation’s institutions have become corrupt and abusive and the people have been led astray.  As a result, much of what prophets have to say is negative, naming the leaders’ wrongs against God and the people, and as a result of that, prophets are often attacked and sometimes killed.

But what drives prophets is not so much their legitimate outrage as a positive vision of how things could be—their understanding of how things will be when people follow the wisdom that spiritual tradition teaches.  Prophets passionately love their people.  They love them so much they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the beautiful vision of the world living by the laws of shalom and abundant life for all.  Prophets can see the path and how little stands in the way of creating that realm of God on earth.  All that is needed is the will to make it happen.  Prophets know that people can change everything in an instant when they have the conviction.

One morning in 1984 an African-American grandfather in rural Tennessee went to the door to let the cat out and found himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun of a young, wild-looking white man.  An escaped convict had chosen the secluded home of Nathan and Louise Degrafinried to steal some food and money.

Louise heard Nathan gasp and came out to see what was wrong.  She walked right up to the convict and said, “Young man, I am a Christian lady.  I don’t believe in no violence.  Put that gun down and come in this kitchen and sit down.  I don’t allow no violence here.”

The convict stood blinking for a moment and then did exactly what Louise said.  She made him breakfast, she sent Nathan to get him dry clothes, she talked and prayed with him.  The young man confided in her and cried with her.  Then they heard the police cars arrive.

Louise told the young man to leave his gun and let her do the talking.  They walked out on the porch and she told the police, “Y’all put those guns away.  I don’t allow no violence here.  This young man is sorry and ready to go back.”  Nathan gently escorted the convict to the police cars.

Louise stayed in touch with that young man for the remainder of his prison time, and he treated her like his grandmother for the rest of her life.

Meanwhile that same day another escaped convict had approached a house nearby where the owner grabbed a rifle.  The convict shot and killed him.

Louise was a prophet.  She had a vision of how things should be.  She understood how love and compassion and the Golden Rule can transform a situation, and she was willing to set fear aside and put her life on the line for the sake of that vision.  There was no guarantee it would work, she could have been killed, but her conviction and her ability to communicate her vision in simple and powerful terms had a disarming power.

May Sarton wrote, “We convert, if we do at all, by being something irresistible, not by demanding something impossible.” (from The House by the Sea)  That young convict had a conversion experience.

Gus Speth’s book, America the Possible, tells us how acting together we can be a prophetic force for the conversion that human civilization desperately needs right now.  We can do so “by being something irresistible,” like Louise Degrafinried.

The beautiful vision that Gus shares in his book is rooted in the Hebrew prophets and teachings of Jesus and all spiritual traditions.  It calls for “a spiritual awakening—a transformation of the human heart,” or a more intellectual transformation “to see the world anew…deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Gus says, “The possibility of a sustainable and just future will require major cultural change and a reorientation of what society values and prizes most highly.”

Bear with me a minute as I list some aspects of this vision.  Generally, people would prize non-materialistic qualities of life most highly, including connections to a loving community and a healthy environment.

To make that transition our society would undergo a rapid evolution to a new level of consciousness that sees humanity as part of nature and wholly dependent on nature’s well-being, and that sees that the natural world has intrinsic value apart from its usefulness to people, and that honors nature’s rights and needs.  This new level of consciousness would be capable of a long-term perspective of the well-being of future generations instead of just short-term greed for gain.  It would break out of our illusory cocoon of hyper-individualism and embrace the truth of our oneness and need for global solidarity.

Nonviolence would be endorsed as essential to the survival of civilization, along with acceptance of difference and celebration of diversity.  We would turn from materialism and consumerism to be “a culture that grants priority to family and personal relationships, learning, experiencing nature, service, spirituality and living within Earth’s limits.” The new culture would insist on economic equity and the respect and equal standing of all people, especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed.

The book America the Possible lays out specific changes to economic, energy and social systems that could implement this new culture and consciousness.  It has behind it decades of research and careful thought by many people and organizations.  The roadmap and technologies and policies to get us there are well laid out.

What Gus and many others say has been missing is a clear prophetic voice like Louise Degrafinried, but that is changing.  We have the voice of Greta Thunberg, we have the voice of the youth of the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, we have the powerful new voices of young women of different ethnicities in Congress, and last week we heard the voices of two of our elders here, Herbert Goertz and Bill Williams, speaking passionately and prophetically.  Many people in this congregation marched with Christa Wurm in the parade yesterday to free the refugee children.

The Future Directions Vision of this congregation says, “We intend to be a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”

Gus and many others recognize we need a united prophetic voice that spans the peace, social justice and environmental communities and articulates the beautiful values they share—like the love of neighbor, the Golden Rule and compassion for the vulnerable and oppressed.  Gus writes, we need to develop “the capacity to speak in a language that aims straight at the…heart, resonates with both core moral values and common aspirations, and projects a positive and compelling vision” of the world that those values would create.

In other words, we need what Jesus has given us, and what the Hebrew prophets and Christian saints have given us, and what the poets who wrote today’s hymns have given us, and the musicians who have enriched the meaning and power of those words.  We need Joey and Danette and our children and all of us who have articulated what the Golden Rule looks like in very specific terms.  We need the twenty people who are sitting in the circle after worship these five weeks talking about climate change.

We need to keep coming together as a congregation and community, prophesying the glorious vision in word and action and every way we can until human civilization has been transformed into the realm of God’s love on earth.  We need to go out into the world and live our values and be willing to put our lives on the line like Jesus and like Louise prophesying to the shotgun pointing at her heart, “I don’t allow no violence here.”

Let us pray together in silence, listening for the voice of prophecy rising in us…

 

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