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Discipleship, Part Three: Telling Truth   The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

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

preservingpaulimurray.com ).

 

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.

Amen.


~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg, Vicar

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