February 1, 2015
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
This year our Epiphany theme has been an invitation to see things differently, to hone and spread our spirits and let ourselves be carried into fresh insight. This is a time filled with new light.
Being with Bokamoso as they face into a new time after Solly’s untimely death has given me some fresh insight about their prophetic role in South Africa. And my own stepping aside from our Servant Leadership Team is beginning to open my eyes to new possibilities closer to home. Signs of light are all around, and today’s scripture lessons invite us to think about how we can help the light shine.
- • In the Hebrew Scripture Moses reminds the people that God will keep raising up prophetic voices from the community. We claim that promise as part of our vision of God’s realm, and I think we can see signs of it among us.
- • In the Epistle we are reminded that love trumps knowledge: “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” That’s an important reminder of what it takes to see things differently. This is an important reminder, because we can get pretty intellectual without much effort.
- • In the Gospel we have a clear example of how affirmation of Jesus’ powerful ministry helped spread the word. How does that kind of recognition and affirmation fit our call as Seekers Church.
This morning, we acknowledged in prayer that “(w)e are called to become the living Word, filled with divine power and light for the healing of the world. I can hear those worshippers listening to Jesus exclaiming,” What is this?! How can that be?”
SIGNS OF LIGHT ARE ALL AROUND
This season of being filled with light has been a busy one, a cold, busy time of new beginnings. In our liturgy for this season we’ve been considering what it might mean to be filled with light, to let the light of God’s love fill our sails, move us in unexpected directions, and help us see things differently. As Annie Dillard reminds us in the reflection paragraph, “the secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.” I’ve been looking at that from different perspectives, trying to discover some different things that might mean.
The light shining through the vase of glass marbles on the altar table reminds me of how our light is refracted by others and flows out into the world through them. I know the light in this glass vase comes from three LED bulbs deep inside the vase, buried under the glass marbles. But I can’t see the source – only the light that is refracted and transmitted by others.
I think of “signs of light” as another way of looking at prophetic voices, which brings me to the Hebrew Scripture for this week. Here, as the Israelites are approaching the Promised Land and Moses is nearing the end of his ministry, he reassures the people that they will still have prophets among them:
“Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.”
What a relief – to know that they won’t have to rely on their memories of Moses to guide them once they cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. God will provide contemporary prophets!
And that reminds me of why we named ourselves the Seekers Church.
“In 1976, when we were thinking through what it meant for us to be a separate and distinct part of the Church of the Saviour, Robert Greenleaf was writing his book, Servant Leadership. In that book, he wrote about the connections between prophecy and servant leadership:
I now embrace the theory of prophecy which holds that prophetic voices of great clarity, and with a quality of insight equal to that of any age, are speaking cogently all of the time. Men and women of a stature equal to the greatest of the past are with us now, addressing the problems of the day, and pointing to a better way … to live fully and serenely in these times. The variable that marks some periods as barren and some as rich in prophetic vision is in the interest, the level of seeking, the responsiveness of the hearers. The variable is not in the presence or absence or the relative quality and force of the prophetic voices. Prophets grow in stature as people respond to their message. If their early attempts are ignored or spurned, their talent may wither away. It is seekers, then, who make prophets, and the initiative of any one of us in searching for and responding to the voice of contemporary prophets may mark the turning point in their growth and service.
– Robert K. Greenleaf. Servant Leadership (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), page 8
“This passage spoke deeply to the founding members of Seekers Church. They decided we should take our name from it, because we are a people who are intentionally on the way and committed to bringing forth prophetic leadership from contemporary sources.”
Guide to Seekers Church, page 2.
The question this raises is “How?” How do we “seek out” prophetic voices and help their light shine more brightly throughout the community and out into the world? When we began, the first answer to that was “Christian servanthood.” In the call of Seekers Church we affirm that,
“Our call is to be a “Seekers community” which comes together in weekly worship rooted in the Biblical faith, with shared leadership; and disperses with a common commitment to understand and implement Christian servanthood in the structures in which we live our lives.
“For us, Christian servanthood is based on empowering others within the normal structures of our daily lives (work; family and primary relationships; and citizenship) as well as through special structures for service and witness. We desire and welcome participation in Seekers of women and men of every race and sexual orientation. In Seekers Church we will equip and support each other in all of these areas and seek a balance among them.”
Guide to Seekers Church, pg. 1.
I believe this calling forth of contemporary prophets takes more love than knowledge. It takes a mix of affirmation, amplification and action that is shaped by the Spirit to fit each potential prophet. Here are a couple of examples.
Two weeks ago, on the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day, Larry Rawlings offered the Word. Larry has a deep commitment to bring the light of Dr. King’s experience into the community fabric of Seekers. He’s one of the group of Seekers working to help us embrace more fully the dream of being a beloved community, as we deepen our commitment to living out the sign on our front window: “Welcoming, Inclusive, Working for Peace and Justice.” As we continue to listen, affirm, amplify and act on the word Larry brings to us, we are following God’s call on us.
Another example comes from the Bokamoso visit. Last week we heard from Bokamoso as they brought the Word during worship. I was sitting close by and caught some of those side glances that punctuate the performance of any well-practiced ensemble, the nods and tiny smiles when things are going well, the arched eyebrows and quick glances when something unexpected emerges. I thought they were wonderful.
I was particularly moved by two of their new numbers that spoke to class and gender issues back home. When the guys did their “I get kicked back” number, followed by the women’s “I step around” I heard a prophetic statement, raising up in a fresh way the challenges of cultural and gender barriers in a community with long-standing traditions.
Later that day, as I was meeting with Thapelo, the drama coordinator for Bokamoso during the career workshop, I affirmed those two songs. He acknowledged that they were new this year. He was clearly pleased that they had stood out. Later that evening I suggested that he might be ready to create a third piece, one for the entire group to present together, something like “I step aside: we walk together, hand in hand.” Four days later, at the end of the second day of the career workshop, Thapelo reminded me of our earlier conversation and said he’s thinking about how that third number might go.
It may not sound like much, but I think that when a company of powerful young African performers begin to offer a catchy dance number about stepping past deep prejudices of class and gender bias, it is prophetic.
TODAY’S LESSONS ARE ABOUT HELPING THE LIGHT SHINE
Listening is another important part of calling forth the prophetic voices among us. In the essay from which we drew our name, Robert Greenleaf shares an important anecdote about the power of listening:
“One of our very able leaders recently was made the head of a large, important, and difficult-to-administer public institution. After a short time he realized that he was not happy with the way things were going. His approach to the problem was a bit unusual. For three months he stopped reading newspapers and listening to news broadcasts; and for this period he relied wholly upon those he met in the course of his work to tell him what was going on. In three months his administrative problems were resolved. No miracles were wrought; but out of a sustained intentness of listening that was produced by this unusual decision, this able man learned and received the insights needed to set the right course. And he strengthened his team by so doing.”
Robert K. Greenleaf. Servant Leadership (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), pg16.
As I’ve thought about this kind of listening, it seems to have a lot of the qualities we hope for in spiritual companionship. It’s a validation of the speaker, an acknowledgement that she or he has been heard and understood. This seems to me to be very much like active listening or appreciative inquiry. It’s a way of clarifying and validating an emerging dream. And, as Robert Greenleaf reminded me just before his example on listening, “Not much happens without a dream.” That seems to complement the reminder Greenleaf has been offering us for 40 years, “Prophets grow in stature as people respond to their message.”
Good listening not only clarifies goals and methods, it heals relationships. And, it helps affirm and amplify the prophetic voices of those in the community. Listening that can affirm the dream, amplify the vision and spur others to action is an essential piece of seeking out the prophetic word. Good listening is a blessing. It takes practice, and we have places to do that.
TAKING IT HOME
So where might we go from here? How might we empower others within the normal structures of our daily lives to call forth the prophetic voices among us so that they might speak with increased clarity and effectiveness? What might I do to help you become that living Word we prayed about as we began our worship?
What would it mean for you to see the dream, affirm the dreamer, and act in a way that helps turn up the power to take the Good News of God’s reconciling love out into the world?
As I live into a somewhat different role here at Seekers, I’m aware that something is changing … within me. I’m not sure what all it includes, but in the past month I’ve begun to feel that I’m spending less energy on worry, and have more energy for some of those fun projects like the Creations page of our web site. By the way, check out the new Books by Seekers page. I had a good time giving it a makeover.
I think I’ve mentioned my over-stretched worry bag more than once from this pulpit, and my desire to “let go and let God” rather than assuming responsibility for everything anyone does around here that upsets anyone else. That’s classic “worry bag” stuff.
Maybe what I’ve been discovering for myself over the past month, as I’ve worked on these reflections, is that it’s time to recycle my worry bag. It’s big enough to hold a lot of stuff, and it seems to be tough enough to handle some pretty rancid, toxic worries.
Maybe I can try repurposing it as a “Listening bag,” a place where I can invite your story, let you know that you’ve been heard, think about how your story flows out of and feeds into our shared vision, and maybe even help affirm and amplify what you have to share. If I can learn to listen like that it might just help move both of us into action! Stay tuned, and keep praying.
In a moment we will break bread together. Serving communion to one another can be a reminder that we’re all in this together. As you look around the community, you might ask yourself whose truth needs a little affirmation … or amplification … or action.
We may not all see ourselves as prophets for this new age, but we can each keep listening, and help share the light that fills our sails.
This reminds me of what might be a new verse to an old song:
“This little light of thine, I’m gonna help it shine…”