We’ve just heard the last three verses of the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s the
end of what scholars call Jesus’ “Missionary Discourse.” Our mission is to join and follow Jesus
on his journey. On page 855 of our Prayer Book, there’s a question about our missionary
journey: “What is the mission of the church?” The answer: “To restore all people to unity with
God and each other in Christ.” Our Catechism goes on to describe how we are to pursue that
mission: “Pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love…through
the ministry of all (our) members” (ibid.). We’ll talk about All Saints’ mission and ministry in
our next Catechism class.
Let me make this point now: We’re all ministers of the Gospel, we’re all disciples,
whether we’re lay or ordained persons. Two weeks ago my first sermon on discipleship was
about growing up. My second sermon on discipleship last week was about not being afraid. But
for all ministers, for all disciples, there’s more to our journey with Jesus.
Today we’ve heard the word “prophet” or “prophesy” 14 times. It’s in our Gospel, in
today’s Collect, and, many more times than anywhere else, it’s in our reading from the prophecy
of Jeremiah. What does being a prophet have to do with the mission of the church, let alone
Jesus’ mission? Why does Jesus say “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward?” What might that reward be?
In addition to “growing up” and “not being afraid,” I want to suggest that being a disciple
- and being a prophet - also has to do with…truth. A true prophet tells truth that the prophet
believes God wants people to hear. Real prophets are rewarded with some real truth from God.
God’s truth, as Jesus says, will set us free (John 8:32).
I believe some of the truth God has given us - and Christians everywhere who are hearing
these lessons today - is found in our story about the prophet Jeremiah. Pastor and Bible scholar
Eugene Peterson describes him in this way: “Jeremiah is the prophet of choice for many, when
we find ourselves having to live through difficult times and want some trustworthy help in
knowing what to think, how to pray, how to carry on.”
Peterson continues: “(Jeremiah’s) life spanned one of the most troubled periods of
Hebrew history (including exile in Babylon). Everything that could go wrong did, and Jeremiah
was in the middle of it all - suffering and striving, writing and believing….He experienced it all
agonizingly, and he wrote it all out magnificently….(Jeremiah),” says Peterson, “is a true, honest
and God-revealing companion for the toughest of times.”
In the wee bit of the Jeremiah story given us today, the setting is a showdown in the
temple. Hananiah, rooted in the solid theological tradition of his people, is a bit of a company
man. He delivers his unfortunate prophecy, a message of false hope, one that people would
really prefer to hear. The exile is coming to an end, Hananiah says. Peace is on the way.
Jeremiah, however, has been saying something else, for some time now.
Today we hear Jeremiah begin to share his sense of God’s truth with these words: “Listen
now to this word that I speak…” (28:7). He says that when a prophet of peace proclaims God’s
real truth, it will indeed come to pass. Until then, Jeremiah says, warning his people (and us):
Beware of comforting words from crowd-pleasers. In the verses following today’s lesson,
Jeremiah speaks a bit more of God’s truth to Hananiah: “You made (our) people trust in a lie”
(28:15). Soon afterward, Hananiah dies.
I want to say a few words about two modern truth-telling prophets. The first is a woman
whose feast or “saint’s” day the Episcopal Church celebrates on July 1st. The Rev. Dr. Anna
Pauline Murray, known as “Pauli,” was the first African American woman ordained an Episcopal
priest. Working with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray did an enormous
amount of research and writing about the unfair, illegal, and unjust civil rights practices of her
day. Her life’s work as an attorney and a priest, her legacy, is now stronger and more relevant
than ever. In fact, the United States Mint selected Pauli Murray to be one of the people whose
image will be featured on the new quarters coming out in 2024 (for more, see
Here’s another truth-telling prophet I want to tell you about. It’s someone I met when I
was a seminarian, nearly forty years ago. During summer break I was serving as a student
chaplain in a New York City hospital. Altogether there were ten of us: four from my seminary,
the rest from other denominational seminaries. In addition to our visiting patients each day,
while mentored by supervisors, all of us met once a week, for what was, essentially, a group
therapy session. Our supervisors had a name for this time: “Roustabout” - a word coming from
the verb “rouse,” meaning to awaken roughly.
During one of those “roustabout” sessions I was roughly awakened by a prophet. John,
one of eight children, was a Roman Catholic seminarian. He was not afraid to speak his truth.
In this session, John spoke his truth to me, in love. He’d also had the benefit of some
psychotherapy, before I even thought to begin my own therapeutic work.
At this roustabout, I was ready to speak. “I’ve noticed how we four Episcopalians seem to
be hanging out together quite a bit, kind of in a clique, and I wonder if anyone else has noticed
that.” Like the false prophet Hananiah, I was a bit of a company man. After some silence, John
replied. “No, Tom, I haven’t noticed that. What I have noticed is how you tend to discriminate
against those of us who are not Episcopalian. I also experience you as arrogant and judgmental
towards the rest of us…especially toward me.” I totally lost it. John’s truth-telling made me
weep. But that day, I also began to grow up, to fear less, on my lifelong journey with Jesus into
the rewards of truth-telling.
Although I’m now in my mid-seventies, I know I still have more growing up to do. There
are some things I don’t yet or won’t ever know. There are still things that cause me to fall into
fear. That’s why I need, why we need, God’s help. So…let us pray. God, give us the courage and
the wisdom to keep growing up, to keep fearing less, to keep seeking and telling the truth, as
we need and as you want us to know it. Help us, as your disciples, believe: our truth-telling
reward is here, on earth, as it is in heaven.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Vicar