The Way of the Prophet

In 1923, The Prophet, written by the Lebanese writer and artist, Kahlil Gibran, was published. It is a collection of spiritual, poetic essays about life. I have recited the essay on Marriage at many weddings. The essay on Children is profound in its advice to parents, and I quote:

 Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

His essay on Love sounds like Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church:

When love beckons to you, follow,

Though Love’s ways are hard and steep.

And When Love’s wings enfold you, yield,

Though the sword hidden among Love’s pinions may wound you.

And When Love speaks to you, believe,

Though Love’s voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. . . .


But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of

love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears . . .


But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.


Even as Gibran called his collection of essays, The Prophet, this is a misnomer, because it is really more of a pastoral collection than a prophetic one.

The scripture for today from Luke is more honest about what constitutes a prophet.

While there is truth in Gibran’s writings, as well as comfort and wisdom, his words do not offend us, do not disturb us, do not confront us with a truth that forces us to see life in a drastically different way than we have been living.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"

Religious scholar Diana Butler Bass writes of Christianity’s tension between the pastoral and the prophetic when it comes to upholding the institutional status quo:

(The reading is a little longer than the usual sermon quotes, but worth the hearing)

“Religious faiths struggle between the pastoral and the prophetic, comfort and agitation. In a very real way, institutions are inherently pastoral—they seek to maintain those things that give comfort by baptizing shared values and virtues of a community. They reinforce the way things are (or were) through appeals to divine or supernatural order. They are always slow to change. Institutions resist prophets. Prophets question. They push for things to be different. They push people to behave better toward one another. They want change.

The history of Christianity can be told as a story of the tension between order and prophecy. Jesus came as a prophet, one who challenged and transformed Judaism. A charismatic community grew up around his teachings and eventually formed into the church. The church organized, and then became an institution. The institution provided guidance and meaning for many millions. And then it became guarded, protective of the power and wealth it garnered, the influence it wielded, and [the] salvation it alone provided.

Many of the people in the church did not seem to notice, but some did. What the church taught seemed at odds with their experience of life or God. . . . They questioned the way things were done. They experimented with new ideas and spiritual practices. . . . They bent the rules and often broke them. The established church typically ignored them, sometimes tolerated them, often branded them heretics, tried to control them, and occasionally killed them. When enough people joined the ranks of the discontented, the institutional church had to pay attention. In the process, and sometimes unintentionally, the church opened itself up for genuine change and renewal. . . .

Organized religion fears such outbursts; but spiritual outbursts almost always precede real reform. Might spiritual discontent be today’s prophetic edge, needling institutions to listen, to change, to be more responsive and relevant?”

Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 88–89, 91. 


For Lent, the Worship and Music Team at Prospect chose “Cleaning House, Finding Hope” for a theme.

This seems to me a fitting description of what a Prophet does, or what a Prophet is trying to do.

Jesus was in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah. Remember how the gospels portray Jesus coming to worship in his home town of Nazareth and sitting with the elders “and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

(Luke 4:17ff)

Jesus went on in Luke’s story to say that no prophet is accepted in that prophet’s hometown, and to offer some harsh and challenging words. The people (his own childhood neighbors) were enraged and sought to hurl him off a cliff, but he passed through them and went on his way, on the way of the prophet.

On 30 January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden of Birla House in New Delhi, India, on his way to address a multi-faith prayer meeting. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, approached Gandhi and fired three bullets into his chest from a pistol at close range, killing the man who had led a prophetic path of non-violence in a land where colonialism and communal violence had ruled for centuries.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"

In April of 1968, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to MemphisTennessee, in support of a strike by that city’s sanitation workers. In the opinion of many of his followers and biographers, King seemed to sense his end was near. As King prophetically told a crowd at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis on April 3, the night before he died, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day, while standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where he and his associates were staying, King was killed by a sniper’s bullet. 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"

Bishop Oscar Romero, through his actions and words, demanded a peace that could only be found by ensuring people had access to basic needs and their rights upheld. He raised awareness globally about the people in El Salvador who had been killed or "disappeared".

On 24 March 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights.

That evening, Romero celebrated Mass at a small chapel at Hospital de la Divina Providencia, a church-run hospital specializing in oncology and care for the terminally ill. Romero finished his sermon, stepped away from the lectern, and took a few steps to stand at the center of the altar.

As Romero finished speaking, a red automobile came to a stop on the street in front of the chapel. A gunman emerged from the vehicle, stepped to the door of the chapel, and fired one, possibly two, shots. Romero was struck in the heart, and the vehicle sped off. He died at the Chapel of Hospital de la Divina Providencia in San Salvador.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"

A prophet’s job is to clean house, or at least to call upon others to clean house. But we are attached to things and to the past and we are addicted to one thing or other that is not God, a standard definition of idolatry. As individuals we can be addicted anything; to money or drugs or sex or alcohol or praise or security or gambling. In the church we are addicted to the idea of success. A successful church is one that is growing, has families, has money, has lots of programs and mission projects, where everyone is happy and no one complains.

I served a church once that invited a prophet to come and give us some advice. After sharing the advice with church leaders, they decided to keep things going the way they were. They did not kill the prophet, but they did not take the prophet’s advice either.

The author, Marie Kondo, writes about cleaning house and says to keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Nice advice, but even that does not get to the core of what a prophet like Jesus is saying to us across the centuries.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"


In our tradition, and I would argue that all major religions hold this to be true, a prophet points to the Holy, the Lover of our Souls, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of Life, and says: Go this way! Or maybe they say, like Jesus: Follow me! Either way, the result is the same. Whether we walk in the way we are pointed by the prophet, or follow the prophet, we find ourselves on the Way of the Prophet.

In seminary I was taught that a sermon should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We are both. We are afflicted with anxieties, fear, complacency, loneliness, worry, stress, aging, and pain. To that part of us, Jesus says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

We are the comfortable, as well. We have enough to eat, a place to sleep, financial security, a social safety net, a church building without a mortgage, work to do, and people to support us. To that part of us, Jesus says: proclaim the good news to the poor. Proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, set the oppressed free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The Way of the Prophet, The Way of Jesus is not easy, but it is a way of life, and a way of love. It can be messy and cleaning house may not always look neat and tidy, but it will be a full of hope. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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