"Get Up, Go and Say"
Nick Larson

Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri

The Worship of God · February 1, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
 
Litany
Adapted from Mark 1:21:28
 
Some people pass on their knowledge like computers, spitting out data
and information in reports, sounding just like a database.
Religious people often sound like that.
They do now, and they did in Jesus’ day, too.
That’s why, when Jesus spoke in fresh ways, as one with spiritual authority,
he stood out from the crowd.
It’s one thing to memorize the answers,
like the multiplication tables or the alphabet.
But God isn’t a formula. God isn’t a piece of information.
God is power, and presence, and mystery,
and you have to look it in the face for yourself.
That’s what Jesus did. No wonder everyone noticed.
There wasn’t enough room in town for Jesus and spirits of oppression both.
“Get out of here!” he often told them. And they did.
 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen. Amen.
 
Pastoral Prayer
Tim Carson
 
As we enter into a time of prayer, I know that each one of you is carrying a special kind of concern or burden. It might be health. It might be a relationship. It might be a form of brokenness, or you know someone, who is struggling right now. In a few moments of silence, as we enter into this time of prayer, let’s lift all of them up, because prayer is simply lifting our heart to God’s heart and joining together.
 
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
 
O Lord of the universe, from age to age, you have come to us through your spoken Word, through your ways written in the heart of nature, through your power that pulses through creation, and you have dwelt with us in mercy and truth. You have warmed these hearts, and we thank you, and we are grateful.
 
In times of confusion, we ask that you settle our impatience and our anxiety. When we feel weak, we ask that you give us strength. When our minds are troubled and moving in a thousand different directions, we ask that you give us that stillness – the peace that passes understanding.
 
We pray for those, who are hurting, who are struggling in mind, in body, and in spirit. We pray for those in conflict, wherever it is, for those, who are torn asunder, in our homes, or across the world, we ask that agents of peace and truth be present.
 
Now, let the Spirit of Christ dwell with us, to enflame us with your Spirit that we might be your people in this time and place. O God, use this clay that you have animated with your breath that we might be what you designed us to be.
 
We offer all these things with humble hearts to you, and pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray, saying…
 
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. They will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
 
The Scripture
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
 
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 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. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
 
This is the Word of the Lord for us today.
Thanks be to God.
 
The Message
Get Up, Go and Say
Nick Larson
 
Where have all the prophets gone? Where is this century’s Martin Luther King Jr.? Where are the great prophets and preachers of old that challenged the establishment and called people to faithfulness?
 
Why does it seem that we must we reach back 40 years to find the voice crying in the wilderness that changed the world? I’m not talking about well-known mega church pastors, many of whom certainly do good works. The ministries of the Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, or Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Church, and even someone like Brian McLaren and the Emergence Christianity Movement that are making significant waves in American public life, reshaping ministries and church life for thousands of people.
 
I’m talking about prophets, who labor outside the glare of cameras and who do not count success in worship attendance. “There ain’t no prophet in the written record, who is the pastor of a mega church,” said Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, at a recent denominational meeting. Prophets aren’t usually that popular.
 
In fact, they are usually killed, ignored, silenced, and put out by all those, who don’t want to repent and face their issues.
 
Perhaps, we cannot find the prophets among us, because we have forgotten what prophetic ministry is about. Moses’ announcement to the Israelites that God will raise up for them a prophet, like Moses himself, is an opportunity for us to think about prophetic ministry.
 
Let’s unpack this question together. Just what makes a prophet?
 
What is the nature of prophetic ministry? Scripture tells us that it is dangerous and lonely, but pure and true. Remember the reluctance of Jonah to prophesy to his enemies?
 
Who can be a prophet? Anyone whom God calls…someone that God raises up from among God’s people. Remember the young temple boy named Samuel, who was awoken during the night?
 
How will people know a particular person is a prophet from God? Scripture says that we will know, because their words will become ‘true’ (according to verse 22).
 
Ok… but what does ‘coming true’ mean? Is a prophetic ministry about predicting the future, or is it more, and what is that ‘more’? Moses seems to be saying that ‘truth’ is saying what comes from God, speaking about the brokenness that God reveals to you. But remember; prophets are going to be ones who aren’t always listened too. It isn’t so much about saying what is going to happen, but pointing out what direction we are headed together and what will become of us if we continue. It’s about more than ‘predicting.’ It is about shining the light into dark corners.
 
In our text this morning, Moses knows that he won’t be the prophet to lead the people into the promise land, and here this morning is his announcement that he’s stepping aside, and yet he uses it to teach us about the soul, the purpose, of a prophet.
 
As we have moved together through this sermon series, we’ve learned that we have received the light beyond light, the essence of God undergirding all of creation. We’ve been invited to get up and answer the call God places before each of us. We’ve been shown that even if we run in the complete opposite direction that God can use us to bring about mercy even to those we hope wouldn’t receive it, which is to say that now when we examine the next step, we know we must speak.
 
Now, before you start saying that you are not a preacher, you have to remember that prophets ministered through a lot more than pulpits. The prophet Moses conveyed God’s wisdom and love through more than proclamation and sermons. He organized the nomadic community in the wilderness; he established God’s law and judged disputes. He even fed the people and pastored them through their insecurities and concerns.
 
Moses, the archetypal prophet, is even the one whom Matthew models Jesus’ narrative after is someone where deeds are as prophetic as words.
 
This is our opportunity to not look back and wonder where the next Martin Luther King Jr. might come from…but where we might wonder together where is the next Wyatt Walker going to come from?
 
“Who is Wyatt Walker?” I imagine you are now asking yourself. Well, Wyatt Walker was a Baptist minister, who worked in the shadows of the civil rights movement. I really learned his story from Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, where he is a featured chapter.
 
Wyatt Walker was the one, who helped turn the tide of the civil rights movement starting from the deepest, darkest place in the south, Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham was the most racially-divided city in the country and the movement was seeking to challenge it. While King served as the vocal prophet of the movement, it was actually Wyatt’s plan, in Birmingham, that produced this picture and brought attention to what was happening.
 
(Click HERE to view the photograph that Nick is sharing in his sermon)
 
This picture was taken on May 3, 1963, by Bill Hudson, a photographer with the Associated Press. Hudson was in Birmingham where civil rights protestors were executing Walker’s plan called Project C. The staging ground was Kelly Ingram Park, a few short blocks from downtown Birmingham.
 
Project C had three acts; each designed to be bigger and more provocative than the last. It began with a series of sit-ins at local businesses to draw media attention to the problem of segregation in Birmingham. The second stage was a boycott of downtown businesses, to put financial pressure on the white-business community to reconsider their practices towards their black customers. And Act 3 was a series of mass marches to back up the boycott and fill up the jails – because once they ran out of cells, they could no longer make the civil rights problem go away simply by arresting the protestors.
 
Project C was a high-stakes operation. Against it was the work of Eugene “Bull” Connor, the city’s public safety commissioner (a well-known segregationist known for his brutal and blatant tactics), but he had to fight back. As King put it, Connor had to be induced to ‘tip his hand’ – thereby revealing his ugly side to the world. But there was no guarantee that he would do that, in fact, King and Walker had just come from running a long nine-month campaign in Albany, Georgia, where they failed because the Albany police chief, Pritchett, had refused to take the bait.
 
At the start of Project C, momentum was hard to come by, because many blacks in Birmingham were worried – justifiably – that if they were seen with King, their white bosses would fire them. In April, one of King’s aides spoke before 700 people at a church service and could only persuade nine of them to march with him.
 
The breakthrough came on Palm Sunday. Walker had 22 protestors ready to go, and the march was to be lead by King’s brother, but the march was slow to get together that morning. They were supposed to march at something like 2:30 but they really didn’t march until about 4:00. In that time, people being aware of the demonstrations, collected out on the streets. By the time they got ready to march, there were a thousand people up and down the three-block area, lining up along the sides as spectators, watching the 22 protestors march.
 
But the next day, Walker opened the newspaper to read the media’s account of what had happened, and to his surprise, he discovered that the reporters had gotten it all wrong. The papers said that 1,100 demonstrators had marched in Birmingham, which is when Walker kicked up his ‘trickster’ ingenuity a notch. Calling King, he got King and others to delay their marches till large crowds were gathered on the side to make it look like they were marching a thousand folks, when the core was maybe 12, 13, or 18 protestors.
 
And sure enough, the papers were reporting 1,400. Apparently, Walker figured out that the newspapers couldn’t distinguish between the black demonstrators and the black spectators. All they saw were black people.
 
Connor, the commissioner, had been successful keeping the protests from having dramatic impact, but now it seemed like the protests were gaining speed at every turn. It’s like the old race between the turtle and the hare where due to the turtle putting family members at strategic places along the race, it always seemed like the protestors were a step ahead of him. And Walker got what he wanted all along. He got his pressure cooker.
 
King and Walker were able to ramp up the pressure by brining a new group into the mix, schoolchildren. They started to leverage the youth numbers, and leveraged the schools. They started holding parties in the park and in the Baptist Church, and after instructing them in the ways of nonviolence, the students joined them in marching. And Connor took the bait; one afternoon on what has become known as ‘D Day’ by showing up with fire hoses, and the K9 unit. At first, he began breaking up the protestors by sending them sprawling with the fire trucks, but by now the protestor numbers had grown to the point that they were spilling out of every corner of the park. Conner had no more fire trucks, so he sent in the dogs. He sent in his K9 unit to help stop the protestors, and as the youth got closer, a German shepherd lunged at a boy, who leaned in, arms limp, as if to say, “Take me, here I am,” And sure enough, on Saturday, this picture ran on the front page of every newspaper around the country.
 
And Walker had managed to raise the level of attention to their movement. He orchestrated a prophetic image.
 
Where have all the prophets gone? Perhaps they are working behind the scenes, serving, leading, leaning in, laboring for change.
 
Perhaps it’s us that needs to look in the mirror and stop looking around for a grand voice to appear out of the wilderness and, instead, recognize the light of God in every one, hear God calling us to serve them, and then head off in that direction singing the protest songs of freedom, seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the back corners of the world.
 
Perhaps, we need to be asking ourselves whose voices are silent in our conversations? Who are we not listening to? Who is leading a march of freedom that we have let go silent, because we are too busy looking at all the flashy news coverage and glitzes of large-scale ministries and problem solvers?
 
Who in our midst do we need to clear a seat for at God’s table? Who needs the light of God shown upon them? Who doesn’t have a voice in our community that is being trampled right in front of us? Who is it for you?
 
We shouldn’t be shocked by this… by the idea that prophets have been right under out noises the whole time, and yet we’ve learned to tune them out. In the traditional fable of the tortoise and the hare, told to every western schoolchild, we know the tortoise beats the hare through sheer persistence and effort. Slow and steady wins the race.
 
We should be shocked into opening our ears up for those, who call for goodness and mercy, who practice forgiveness and reconciliation on a daily basis.
 
We are this photograph. We are the ones able to give voice to the voiceless; to give strength to the weak. And if you’ve heard me preach before, you’ve heard the rest.
 
But remember this; King, two-years later, at the next great civil rights showdown in Selma, Alabama, dealt with a photographer from Life magazine put down his camera in order to come to the aid of children being roughed up by police officers. And afterward, King reprimanded him: “The world doesn’t know this happened, because you didn’t photograph it. I’m not being cold blooded about it, but it is so much more important for you to take a picture of us getting beaten up than for you to be another person joining in the fray.” King needed the picture. He needed that light to be shown into the darkness.
 
We are the ones holding the camera. We are the prophets who are called to speak about where God’s movement of wholeness is transforming the fragmented world. By virtue of you sitting here with us this morning, know that you are someone with a voice, and you are called to stand up and speak God’s truth of love and mercy into whatever corner of the world you feel called. You are the one who can shine the light into the darkest night.
 
So where have all the prophets gone? You’re looking at them. Then the questions becomes are you willing to join into the chorus of creation where even the rocks cry out?
 
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 
The Benediction
Nick Larson
 
Go forth, this week, with compassion and justice in your heart. Give voice to the silent, strength to the weak. See one another; love one another; care for one another. Because it is all that easy, and it is all that hard. Go forth with the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the compassion of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.

 

Last Published: February 2, 2015 11:54 PM