Sunday, March 17, 2019
Second Sunday of Lent

"Prophetic Voices"

The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 & Luke 13:31-35

A 16-year-old Swedish student named Greta Thunberg has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. Since last August, Greta has sat outside the Swedish parliament every Friday calling attention to the impact of climate change on the environment.

Just last Friday, March 15, 2019 organizers calling for a “global climate strike” believe more than 1 million students skipped school to protest government inaction on climate change. From Asia to Africa, from North America to South America, from Europe to the island nations of the world, students took to the streets to demand change. Estimates are that over 2,000 protests took place in 125 countries. The students expressed hope for a green economy within 11 years, a timeframe the United Nations believes is necessary to forestall catastrophic climate change.

It was a little over a year ago on March 24, 2018 that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida organized the March for Our Lives. The Parkland students refused to accept [the] passivity of adults and demanded direct action to combat [gun violence] in schools in the same way that the students who marched on Friday refused to accept the inaction of adults on addressing the concerns of climate change.

March for Our Lives was founded by Adam Alhanti, Dylan Baierlein, John Barnitt, Alfonso Calderon, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Matt Deitsch, Ryan Deitsch, Sam Deitsch, Brendan Duff, Emma González, Chris Grady, David Hogg, Lauren Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Kirsten McConnell, Charlie Mirsky, Diego Pfieffer, Delaney Tarr, Bradley Thornton, Kevin Trejos, Sofie Whitney, Daniel Williams and Alex Wind. They are hardly household names and while they would probably be inclined to see themselves speaking out as students they are, like Greta Thunberg, modern-day Jeremiahs.

The students who marched on Friday have said that their goal is to move towards 100% renewable energy. The students who marched last year have said their goal is not one more death from gun violence in schools.

There are those who will dismiss the hope of our young people today for a world in which there is clean water for all and where agricultural practices enrich and renew the land rather than deplete it. There are others who will dismiss the hope of our young people for a time when no one need ever be afraid of gun violence.

But far from wishful thinking, I believe their vision of the world gives us all hope. To give voice to their concerns may seem foolhardy. They are taking a risk in challenging those who are in positions of power.

In the seventh century, there was a prophet of Judah named Jeremiah. While he was still young, he was appointed prophet in the thirteenth year of Josiah (627-628 BCE). Jeremiah spoke out against false prophets and those who misled the people. He was hated and feared by many.

It is said that Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet. We remember his protest early on. Jeremiah said: “The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you . . . ’ Then I said, “Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:4-7).

I wonder if Greta Thunberg ever found herself thinking, “I do not know how speak, for I am only a girl.” And I wonder if the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ever found themselves thinking the same: “I am only a girl. I am only a boy.”

Yet like Jeremiah, they found themselves speaking their truth to power not only in Jerusalem but in cities across the world. They may not think of themselves as prophets but we know the job of prophets is “to tell hard truths we do not want to hear” (Christian Century February 27, 2019, page 18).

“The prophet will not receive applause and acclaim, prestigious platforms on which to speak, or gilded invitations into the halls of power. The prophet will be denied and ignored and maligned” (Op. cit.).

The powers that be will deny, ignore and malign the Gretas of the world. The world will reject them because the truths they speak are too hard for us to accept. We know they are right but we reject them because to agree with them is to condemn ourselves (Op. cit.).

In our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, getting Herod’s attention is not what one would have hoped for Jesus. After all Herod’s legacy of cruelty is one we know well – from the killing of the innocent children following the birth of Jesus to the execution of John the Baptist.

When Jesus hears from the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him, he does not cower or react in fear. He speaks out. He makes it forcefully clear: “I must be on my way” (Jeremiah13:33).

It is clear that Herod wants to be rid of Jesus. But Jesus is neither intimidated or deterred in his ministry. He continues his work. He will heal the sick. He will bring his ministry to its consummation and he will die in Jerusalem (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 147). To say that it was a time of crisis for Jesus would be an understatement. He lived and worked aware of his impending death.

We live in our own time of crisis. Prophetic voices are needed and so we welcome the voices of those who call for ways to address climate change and every day gun violence. The Rev. Eric D. Barreto, a Baptist minister and associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary points out: “Prophets don’t predict what is next. They look at the world as it is and, through their God-suffused imagination, see it transformed. What if violence and death were not the order of the day? What if compassion, not selfishness, reigned in our midst? What if we could all see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us?” (Op. cit.).

“Prophecy comes to life in our midst – as we lift our hands to serve our neighbor and move our feet to go to the most desolate places and discover that God and God’s servants are very much alive, very much present. We find that such places are not so desolate after all” (Op. cit.). I am inclined to believe that God is choosing and calling Greta and Emma, David and Cameron and other young people to declare a new vision for the world.

I agree with Eric Barreto when he writes: “We so desperately need prophetic voices today. [But] are we willing to heed them? Are we willing to count the costs of a world turned upside down?” (Op. cit.).

The Nehiyawak are the most populous and widely settled First Nations people of Canada. According to census data recorded in 2016, over 356,000 people identify themselves as Nehiyawak and at least 96,000 continue to speak the language.

In English, the Nehiyawak are known as Cree. Among the wisdom sayings of their kūpuna, Their elders is one that I received on Friday in an email from a friend as the “global climate strike” by students was getting underway.

Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been polluted Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then, will you discover that money cannot be eaten.

We would do well to heed the prophetic voices of the past – to our kūpuna – and we would do well to heed the prophetic voices of the present – to our youth – now!

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