A sermon delivered by Kathy Pickett, associate pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on August 21, 2011, in the ordination service for Kate Hanch.
Isaiah 52: 7-10
I asked Kate Hanch why she chose this prophetic text for her ordination sermon, “It makes me happy! It is a joyful text, and it is not the typical ordination text.” Kate has also been very happy about her opportunity to wash the feet of three friends as part of the service. While she was preparing the water with oils, being very intentional about how much oil was enough, I heard her say, “I think I have a thing about feet.”
In Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination he says,
"the voice of prophecy speaks the truth, speaks critically about local and global systems of injustice, it is relevant, intelligible, encouraging, and it speaks for justice, mercy, reconciliation and the liberation of oppressed people. The prophetic voice has a kingdom of God mentality, it is scripture motivated, promotes non-violent action, and is a voice for those who have none. The prophetic voice provides hope for the hopeless and always sings God’s praises for all God has done and is yet to do."
Throughout the prophetic book of Isaiah the prophet is providing a critical voice, challenges the systemic corruption and powers that be, while also providing a voice of hope to the exiled people of Israel. Isaiah is not describing a God who is sitting on a lofty thrown in the sky, instead, God is a God who is out and about, and feet moving on the ground. God is on an earthly mission to announce peace and to bring the good news of salvation and deliverance to the suffering people of God.
We live in a world that continues to be devastated, broken hearted, and oppressed by systemic injustice. The world continues to be in great need of the prophetic message of hope and those who will use their feet and voice to deliver the prophetic song of good news.
Abraham Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th century, understood the kind of suffering and pain Isaiah and the people of God experienced.
In 1938, he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland. Six weeks before the German invasion of Poland, he was able to leave Warsaw and go to London. However, his sister Esther was killed in a German bombing. His mother was murdered by the Nazis, and two other sisters, died in Nazi concentration camps. He never returned. He once wrote, "If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated." While this was a reality sixty plus years ago, it continues to be a reality for many still today.
Heschel says, “The prophets always sang one octave too high. They were empowered by a vision of how things could be, a future in which the people and their leaders would live out their calling to be the people of God as a channel of blessing to the world. And the prophets had the courage to call into question any preoccupation with the status quo on any level that interfered with God’s future. As a result, they were often in trouble with those who stood to lose the most if the status quo were changed and God’s future became a reality.”
Shane Claiborne, a young twenty first century prophetic voice and a prominent activist for nonviolence and service to the poor is convinced that the world is desperately in need of prophetic imagination.
“In the country, world and global neighborhood in which we live: the average North American consumes the same amount as more the than 400 Africans, we have enough weapons in the U.S. alone to create more than 100,000 Hiroshima’s, 25,000 people die a day from poverty,16,000 of those are children. Suffice to say, much of the death and suffering of our world is fundamentally caused by a lack of imagination.”
Claiborne goes on to say, “In Jesus we see an invitation to join a movement that preaches the Gospel with our lives as well as with our mouths.”
Not everyone is called to be a prophet, and honestly, most would probably say no, but we can participate in prophetic ministry. In fact, scripture and the Christian commitment to follow Christ mandates our ethical and moral response.
Jesus was pretty clear about what that might look like;
feed the hungry,
provide a drink to the thirsty,
welcome the stranger in,
provide clothing for the naked, care for the sick,
visit the imprisoned,
humble one’s self as a servant,
wash the feet of others.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Together for Hope (TFH), is a long-term commitment to working with people in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties in order to affect change and break the cycle of economic disparity. Their creative approach to prophetic ministry and rebuilding community is what I believe Claiborne means by using imagination:
“One of Helena Arkansas’ Together for Hope ministries, Delta Jewells, is a Christian Economic Development initiative. The co-op consists of 10 young women, ages 10-18, and five adult mentors who work toward providing quality hand-made jewelry. The Delta Jewells make beautiful earring sets, bracelets, and necklaces from first-grade stones and beads. Each piece of jewelry is designed and hand-made by one of the girls. Fifty percent of each piece pays the girls, 50 percent pays for material costs. The co-op gives 10 percent of all sales to its community to encourage and help others in need.’
As the people of God we are called to join God’s earthly movement, to use our voices, our feet, our imaginations, prophetically; to offer a voice and the foot work needed to bring about an alternative culture and future hope, to imagine and participate in ministry that promotes the upside down kingdom or as bright theologian Reverend Kate Hanch says, “the world right side up”, to prophetically sing of a God who reigns, God with us, celebrating and praising the “messenger of peace and good news, so that all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God!”
A happy, joyful text indeed!