Do you remember the first rumblings about this Covid-19 virus you heard back in early 2020? What did it sound like to you when you started to hear warnings about a troublesome outbreak in a country far away? Depending on your profession, your news sources, your general level of awareness it probably took a while before the full reality set it. Even now mystery surrounds its origins and sadly there is no shortage of suspicion, blame, and contradictory information. Such is often the case with a prophetic voice. Dire warnings and croakings of doom are seldom heeded without hesitation and all too frequently caution is ignored until someone is directly impacted.
This has been true since the time of the prophet Amos, through to the time of John the Baptizer and, and continues to this very day. Why is it so hard to heed the prophet’s cry?
It reminds me a bit of earthquakes. I had been living in Los Angeles for a year before I encountered my first one. That day I was helping some friends fill up one of those big moving and storage pods. It had been a long day and near the end I hopped up on the pile to jam a few more things in the back corners. Then I felt my friends shaking the pod back and forth. Hey guys knock it off and help me. “It’s an earthquake, Todd.” Yeah, cute, stop making the earthquake and hand me another box. They were native Angelenos and knew exactly what was going on. A guy from Colorado like me had a hard time understanding what was happening. It didn’t compute to me that the actual ground was shaking. I still had my doubts until they started making calls to family saying, did you feel it? Yeah, we’re safe… I saw the news reports later in the day and I finally believed.
The next time I felt an earthquake I was sitting in bed reading when it felt like the dog had jumped up onto the mattress and shook me. But, I didn’t own a dog, and I lived alone so that wasn’t it. When I saw the light fixture swinging from the ceiling I put two and two together…ah earthquake! I know what that is, and I know what to do! As a decade passed I began to be less fearful and resistant when they happened, although it was always a hauntingly strange feeling when the ground, the steadiest thing in the world seemed to sway under my feet. Eventually, I knew I couldn’t prevent them but I could prepare for them. I found ways of becoming adaptable and ready to take on whatever the shaking might bring me.
Prophets have a way of shaking us up in uncomfortable ways, ways that we might want to brush off at first. Ways that we don’t want to accept immediately.
Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus being rejected in Nazareth, because “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown.” Br. James preached about the ways our frozen roles can lock people into certain categories with no room for change, surprise, or growth.
This week again we have a story about someone who can’t accept a prophet perhaps primarily because of the way he was locked in his own self-definition. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great was perhaps the exact sort of person you would expect to be the target of a prophet speaking truth to power. His father was one of Judea’s great ego-maniacs, the Judean hillsides are dotted with the remnants of his vast building campaign for dominance which impoverished the people he ruled. The Western Wall that stands at the Temple Mount today was his plan. And, in addition to the slaughter of the innocents at the time of Jesus birth, He had at least three of his owns sons killed so you might forgive Antipas, a surviving son, for being a little less than well-adjusted.
But, Herod Antipas seemed to have a thing for prophets. The passage today remarks at how “When he heard (John the Baptist), he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” And the gospel of Luke records how excited Herod was when Pilate sent Jesus over to him because he had wanted to see him do some sign. It’s possible that Herod just like having fun at the expense of overly zealous religious men but perhaps there was something about their talk, the way it challenged him, called out his behavior and gave him something nobler to aim for; to see what real power and glory are like.
But, for all his power and wealth, Herod is a trapped man, frozen in the role of a decadent, hedonistic ruler just trying to keep up appearances in front of his friends, his wife and her daughter, and the great Roman Empire.
We all have these sorts of things. Identities that have been foisted upon us by people around us as well as labels that we have assigned to ourselves as ways of understanding our place in the world. Even these can hold us back from the call of God to ongoing growth and conversion of life.
Imagine the courage it would have taken for Herod to choose differently in that moment and refuse to kill the Baptizer. To thaw out of that frozen role and heed the prophet’s call, to make the risky choice for the prize of the high calling of God. It’s hard to say if anything could have broken through to Herod short of an earthquaking experience.
Perhaps you’ve had one of those moments. A dramatic conversion, a seismic shift that changed you, realigned your perception, set you on a path you might not have chosen before. Maybe you discovered something about yourself that gave you new freedom to live with generosity and gratitude in the world.
Or maybe it’s been more subtle, little turning points along the way, small degrees of change that over time mark a major change of trajectory. Stepping stones of choices gradually opening new ways of love and embrace.
The work of the Holy Spirit, seismic and subtle, never seems to land us in a place of perfect stasis and equilibrium for long. Rather, it teaches us to be flexible, malleable to the ongoing creation of God such that when we are confronted with an invitation to adapt, we can respond with freedom rather than resistance.
Is there some new freedom that the Holy Spirit is inviting you into these days?
As we hold before us the cross of Christ, his passion and resurrection, we are faced with the nothing less than earth quaking forgiveness, redemption, and adoption as children. We have been “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, we are given every reason to praise the glory, the wonderful power of God on display. The glory which shines forth in our lives each time God’s power has chipped away another sharp edge, smoothed a rough patch and shaped us further into the full stature of Christ.
We are invited into the growing freedom of the children of God to lay down the things that divide and isolate us to take our place in the divine Life of the Triune God in endless self-giving. How free do you want to be?
Today we are in the midst of a re-creation moment. Our world continues to reverberate from this once in a generation pandemic and we are confronted with the opportunity to live differently, to not let a good catastrophe go to waste but to heed the things that the Spirit has prompted in us; outward forms of love and stewardship, and inward forms of healing and renewal. We can choose to try to hold on to old ways or we can take the risk and take hold of the promises of Christ
Beloved of God, let us praise the glorious grace that has adopted us as children, let us praise the glory that shapes and molds us anew, and let us praise the glory that draws us into the inheritance of God’s own people. Amen.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.