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2018 May 27th - A PENTECOST OF PROPHECY

In the season of Pentecost, anything can happen!

How appropriate then, that on its very eve, a Royal wedding, deep within the bastion of the Church of England’s Royal Windsor Chapel, should have its grand calm order disrupted by a fervent African American Evangelical preacher with a prophetic message of the power of love. And so we witnessed the irresistible force of Bishop Murray’s ecstatic proclamation meet the immovable object of British reserve and stiff upper lip. In this confrontation, the sparks flew. As far as I could see, the only ones truly relaxed amid the pyrotechnics were the bride, her mother, and David Beckham.

In the season of Pentecost, expect the unexpected, especially given that this coincides with a season ripe for an intrusion of prophetic witness. It seems that God raises up spiritually gifted prophets, both likely and the unlikely candidates, at the times when a suffering, sleeping world most needs them.

So what’s the problem NOW, that requires a special calling out of mostly reluctant women and men, to not just stand up for truth but to do so under the influence of a fervent spirit of anger and righteous indignation?

To use one word to describe the peculiar darkness that confronts us in these troubled times seems a gross oversimplification. When that word is overused, as it is in these turbulent times, we also run the risk of, in the words of Madeline Albright, "draining potency from what should be a powerful term”. To further try and define that term by just one other word seems futile; but like Albright, I will take the risk, because it helps get to the heart (or should I say ‘heartlessness’) of the issue.

The word for the darkness of our times is "Fascism”. It is usually understood as a far right wing, violent authoritarianism, as exemplified by Mussolini and Hitler, but Stalin has shown that it can be of the "left” as well. It can start within a democratic system, but as soon as the power takes over it predictably silences all opposition by force. It promotes a rabid nationalism, and feeds on discontent.

Albright’s research comes up with a one-word descriptor of the nature of fascism. That word is "bullying”- not just the schoolyard variety of aggression towards the weak, but a blatant, violent disregard for the rule of law and the politics of compassion.

If you think I am exaggerating by calling this age an era of fascism that requires the calling of special prophetic witness, let me run a few names past you: Vladimir Putin, Benyamin Netanyahu, Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, Bashar Al Assad, Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump. All bullies. All play fast and loose with the law, ignoring it when it does not suit their agenda, and changing it when they can’t. I am sure that you could add to the infamous list. In such times we count ourselves lucky to live in Australia. We are not, however, asleep to the bullying, fascist tendencies creeping into the powerful places of our nation.

We are used to thinking of Pentecost as an exuberant, vibrant occasion when a gathering of disciples became fired up to preach the gospel boldly, and to lead a deeply compassionate life in the midst of a community where the weak and vulnerable were welcomed and fed. And so it was. But we also understand from St Paul’s reflections that this Holy Spirit came bearing other spiritual gifts for the church community, special abilities that enabled them to make a significant difference where they were. : "To one is given through the spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another, the utterance of knowledge…to another faith…to another healing…to another the working of miracles…to another prophecy.” (Romans 12: 8-10)

Of course, some gifts seem more desirable and attractive than others. Speaking in tongues has become very popular in our day; and who would not want to be known as specially wise or knowledgeable. But PROPHECY-who wants that? It is clear from the passages we read earlier that most who are called to this special task understand, by a multiplication of metaphors, that they have drawn the short straw, been thrown the hospital pass, given the poison chalice. Moses protested that he could no speak, Jeremiah, that he was too young, Isaiah- too sinful. Jonah fled in the opposite direction to where he was sent, then had to jump ship. And so it goes on. American Pastor and author Brian Zahnd expresses the dilemma thus,” These days I find Quietism and Pietism tempting. To embrace these seductive sirens instead of holding on to a robust, Christ-informed political theology would make my life easier. It would be an escape, a drug. But the Spirit compels me to walk a harder road. I hope you understand…..Calling out the King, implicating the Emperor, sending up Caesar has strong biblical warrant- it is what the apostles and prophets always did. Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and Caesar are all called to task by Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul and so on.”

And so two features of the ministry of prophecy are:

1. Most prophets are reluctant, a few even have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the place where they are required to speak truth to power. Nobody seems to actually want the job.

2. The ability to witness effectively to the bullies and despots is God-given. The breath they inspire is the breath of God. (I wonder if we ever realise what we are doing when we sing "Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love all that you love and do what you would do”?)

So far I have made two claims- one, that we are in an age of fascism; two, that the scripture testifies to the raising up of reluctant prophets with Pentecostal gifts, to speak truth to power.

An objection to the assertion that we are in an age of fascism could be that the bullies have been, and are always with us.

To this I would say; think about the leaders I named earlier, and the direction in which they are now trending- things like, for example, the shooting down of MH17, the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers in the Philippines, the bombing of Yemen, poison gas attacks in Syria, and genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Think about the manipulation of social media to swing elections. Closer to home, ask yourself, when in the history of modern Australia have we as a nation been less deserving of the accolade of honest broker, of egalitarianism, of multicultural tolerance, of compassion for the weak and vulnerable that we are at present?

And, IS God still raising up prophets with Pentecostal power, or is this phenomenon a thing of the past? I would suggest that when we try to identify the spirit-inspired prophets of our day, we look, not for long hair, wild eyes and white beards. Further, that we do not confine your scrutiny to the Christian church, or any religion for that matter. And don’t look just for prophets who are singular individuals. Think of where the Pentecostal energy is moving in whole communities as well.

And so I look towards the school students of Florida; going toe to toe with the bullies of the NRA and the cowards of Congress. (and remember, bullies and cowards are usually two sides of the same coin).

Look to Father Rod Bower of the Gosford Anglican Church, whose evening congregation was intimidated last Sunday by four so-called "Christians” with a bullhorn and fake swords, because this prophetic congregation stands with asylum seekers, and because they had "Eid Mubarak” on their notice board.

Look at Catholic sister Patricia Fox, thrown out of the Philippines by Duterte for the "disorderly conduct” of drawing attention to human rights violations against political prisoners.

Look at social movements like GetUp! that will be doing all in its power to try and influence a change of party in the Federal seat of Dickson. I for one will sleep more easily if and when we succeed.

Look at a young woman, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who stood up to the Islamic extremists who would silence and subjugate her and her sisters; and look at the whole #metoo movement of women and their supporters who refuse to stay silent in the face of bullying discrimination and sexual abuse.

Look to where the spirit of compassion, the spirit of just resistance, the spirit of righteous anger is moving, and know that this season of Pentecost is the era of prophecy. And in case, like most prophets, we would rather not be around when the wind of the spirit blows our way, when the fire falls, and the sparks begin to fly;

Hear the word of God to Ezekiel: "Stand up on you feet….You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.”

Hear the word of God to Jeremiah: "Do not say ‘I am only a child’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you”, says the Lord.

And hear the Word of God to Isaiah: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us”?

And may the power of love go with us.

AMEN



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