I worship in an old downtown church. Walking up the front steps and through the giant wooden doors into the vestibule I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this place — a beauty that assails all my senses. Everything points to something majestic and mysterious; the light filtering through the magnificent stained glass; the heights of the walls cool to the touch, even in the heat of summer; the way the whispered voices and sounds of music dance around the massive space. I am drawn to an awareness of the grandeur of God and my own smallness and insignificance. One step inside and I am compelled to worship.
But Sunday, we didn’t worship in the sanctuary. Like most of the rest of the country, St. Paul was engulfed in the humidity and high temperatures of summer. Too many days with temps above 95 degrees and a sanctuary that is without air conditioning, meant we would gather together in our fellowship hall; a place of refuge from the heat, but without the aesthetic beauty of the sanctuary. On another level, however, Sunday was beautiful. The smaller space meant we huddled together and that in itself invited a closer sense of connectedness and camaraderie. It was the perfect setting for what our pastor shared and a timely topic for me particularly as I prepared to leave for travels to the south and time with family.
Dave began by inviting the children down front where he shared the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Not exactly the typical children’s sermon, but what a great beginning to talking about the value of children’s intuition and insight and the responsibility of speaking up in our own communities. As an aside, I love the children’s time in our church, because it is a family affair and Dave has a way of creatively including the whole congregation. These times are always experiential and encourage children and adults to critically engage. It’s quite beautiful
After passing the peace, Dave dove into his sermon, a discussion of the first few verses of Mark 6, where Jesus visits his hometown, in which as the gospel writer notes, They (Jesus’s friends and family) were repulsed by him and fell into sin. Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” Dave pointed out how in places where we are known, especially at an early age, are places where speaking the truth – being a prophet – is often very difficult.
As he described the challenges for us as we return to the spaces of our childhood; how family and friends tell stories of when we were young and foolish, not stories about the successes and strengths of our adult lives, I could see the heads nodding around the room. I thought of my upcoming trip to Florida and visiting with my son and daughter and the stories I tell again and again of when they were children. These are important stories to share, particularly to grandchildren; stories connect the generations. However, the stories shouldn’t stop with childhood, we need to encourage the stories of adulthood and allow the prophetic voices to speak forth.
I also thought about my own journey with family and hometown space and how little they know of my prophetic voice. Just this morning I received a note from a young man from one of my spring classes. He wrote to thank me for some of the things that he had learned and experienced over the course of the semester. As I read his note, I was struck by the opportunities I have to challenge, teach, and to guide, to be a prophetic voice in students’ lives. Like Jesus, those that have known me over a lifetime (and know all of my many flaws) often don’t welcome or embrace that voice.
As I left worship on Sunday, I walked away with many questions to ponder. Why is it that we don’t honor the prophets in our midst? How do I dishonor the voices of my children, family and friends? Are there ways to empower rather than diminish those voices? I also walked away making three commitments: 1) I will endeavor to hear and respect the voices of those close to me: to hear their truths and wisdom; 2) I will endeavor to see my children as the wonderful young adults they are, rather than the children they were; and 3) in my broader community, I renewed my commitment to live faithfully and use my voice to speak prophetically where I can, accepting that sometimes some will be repelled by my words and sometimes I will be rejected. And, I walked away with a deeper hunger for the prophet in all of us to be heard.