Who Is The Prophet The World Needs Today?

by BC

NOTE: This was a multi-generational service that utilized several images during the sermon.  Most of the images were illustrating how UUCL kids answered the question:  “Who is the prophet the world needs today?”  Many of the images cannot be posted as they include the children themselves.

Our reading today comes to us from the Gospel of Mark.

…very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Who is the prophet the world needs today? That’s quite a question for us to be asking here in this room on this day. Often this day is reserved for the celebration of Easter — the celebration of an ancient story about a man from Nazareth who preached a message of radical love and acceptance and a message of freedom and justice for the Israelites.

This message resounded throughout all of Israel — throughout all of the ancient world and now throughout all of the world today. It is something for us to gather here today and to remember the life of one man and the life of all his followers and the life of the community and the message that he created that spread throughout our world.

As Unitarian Universalists we come from the tradition of Jesus —though often walking into our churches today it may not even look like we come from the that tradition these days. Our symbols are different, our scriptures are broader and wider, our ideas of religion are far different than what they would have been if we were still a Christian religion.

It is something for us to gather because we need to remember our roots and we need to ask ourselves these difficult questions — who is the prophet we need today? By asking this of ourselves we are asking a question that requires answering. We are living in a time when the need of prophets and prophecy and movements of change are more important now then they may have been in the recent past.

I imagine each generation has moments where they need to ask this of themselves — and need to point out that yes even now in this moment we need a prophet — we need prophets — we need people who will move and transform the world for the better. We need them to open our eyes, to strengthen our hearts, to move us into places of greater resolves and greater hope than we could’ve imagined on our own.

Today on this Easter we indeed ask that question — who is the prophet we need in the world today and we do not ask that question alone — we do not ask that question in a vain hope — we do not ask that question in the spirit of repeating the ancient story we are telling today. We ask that question because it is imperative, as a people of faith, that we find the answer.

I cannot guarantee that we will find the answer in our lifetimes. But I know that asking it in the first is an important step. As Unitarian Universalists we look to Easter not as a day where a miracle took place. Not as a day where death was defeated, not as a day where the savior of all humanity was risen from the dead.

We look to this day because it tells us of the power of hope and human goodness even in the midst of tragedy. It tells us that how we live our lives and what we share with those around us does indeed have an impact on those around us. During the time of Jesus, he was one of many so-called Messiahs popping up left and right — but you cannot dispute that his particular life and teachings did indeed transform our world.

For every evil Christianity has visited upon the world, there is goodness, there is transformation, there is renewed hope. Not all religion is perfect — even our own. But as we look to this day and still take time to celebrate it and honor it, we need to remember that it is not just about walking away with the same message of inward and spiritual resurrection that Unitarian Universalist churches preach time and time again, but it is instead about looking to the harsh life of one of history’s greatest prophets and seeing what a life of courage, a life of imagination, a life of commitment to justice can do to one person.

This is a difficult day for Unitarian Universalists. Many of us come from traditions where the resurrection of Jesus was used as a weapon and for those of us that grew up in this faith, it is a baffling celebration. The hymns in our hymnal sound out-of-step, the message feels a little off, and amidst all of it there is a wondering of why we celebrate this day when we are no longer a distinctly Christian faith.

While I know many — if not all — Unitarians do not affirm the resurrection, there is the reality that a man named Jesus lived, breathed, preached, died — and his legacy has shaped the discourse of the Western world for centuries.

The true question of Easter, for religious liberals, is not to ascertain if Jesus died for us and rose from the dead — or any of the other resurrection deities for that matter (Baal, Asclepius, Osiris, Odin, Dionysus, to name a few) — but rather to ask why humanity requires a dying god in the first place.

The answer, I contend, is found in their sacrifice, their willingness to die. They remind us that there is a world worth suffering for, a world worth fighting for. And suddenly we find from these struggles there is abundant love and grace, an interconnectedness with all people in their continued quest for the redemption of themselves, their loved ones and the world. It is through this hope for wholeness that Easter is not just for one man’s sacrifice on a cross but for the struggles of all human beings, every single day.

And this is true with the names and faces we’ve seen here today. Desmond Tutu. Thich Nhat Hahn. Malala. Names that have yet to endure for centuries but still names that have inspired communities to transform their lives — and it has all been at the cost of putting their lives on the line and, yes, in many cases, nearly dying for what they believe.

But are they the prophets the world needs today? In asking this question we went to the biggest authority in this congregation — our kids. We asked them, who do you think the world needs? And the answers were, of course, mind blowing. There is a wisdom to be found in the minds of our kids.

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And sometimes the answers tell us that not all prophets are what we expect. They can have the ears of a cat or missing teeth.

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They can be representations of ourselves. Because we are equipped to change the world as much as any other person.

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And from ourselves they can move into brilliant splashes of color, unpredictable in their form, calling on us to interpret what and who they are.

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They can have us amidst mythical creatures in times yet to come or show a more solemn and somber side of what we as a people are facing in our world.

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Prophets can look like ordinary folks or 1920s crime detectives. They can be people judged only by the content of their character and not just grand leaders that sweep the world.

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But even so, we can be confused by this. Who is the prophet the world needs today? What does a prophet need to address? Perhaps it is a place or it the way we address conflict in our lives. Do the prophets of today focus on one place like Jesus did for the Israelites, do they teach us how to love one another and be peaceful, like Gandhi did?

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Do they point to social ills we know little about? Such as child slavery and the lack of fair trade in agriculture? Do they highlight how people are oppressed when we, especially here, don’t have to think about people outside of our shores often?

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Or do they call us to greater awareness of our place on this good earth? Are we missing our connection with the natural world? Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, do they hearken us back to an original relation with the Universe? Like Henry David Thoreau, do they call us back to the woods?

What is it that the world needs today? Who is it that can bring it? For we know that the world needs a lot. We are facing climate change, uncertain politics, terrorism, warfare, the call of the oppressed here in our own country.

We need the words and deeds of prophetic men and women, one of our sources of faith, more than ever. We need their insight, we need their passion, we need the hope their voices can bring.

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Do we have it within us to believe that there are those amongst us that will transform our world? Our kids certainly think so. They may not know who the prophet the world needs is, but they certainly know what such a prophet is faced with. They can see the good work ahead for having a more kind and just world that is sustainable and loving. If Easter is anything, it is a reminder to believe that human beings have the power to do good — even in the darkest of moments.

But who, then, is the prophet we need? Who will shape our lives, who will inspire us, who does it fall to to carry the message of Easter — that message of transformation and redemption — into the world again and again? Think about that. Who is the prophet the world needs?

[At this point in the service a camera was turned on that was projected on the overhead screen. The camera showed everyone sitting in the congregation. The choir sang a verse from “You Are the Light of the World.”]

Does the answer surprise you? Take a long hard look at the faces on the screen. Each and every one of us carries within us a light that can change the world — even if it is just one life, perhaps our own. The miracle is in picking ourselves up and having the courage to do the work and to do it in such a way that people will look back when we are long gone and say, remember when.

The miracle is in believing we have it within ourselves to be like all of those prophets we Unitarian Universalists lift up and celebrate year after year — Jesus of Nazareth, Buddha, Muhammed, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Olympia Brown, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu —

The names go on and on. They were regular people like you, make no mistake about that. They had doubts and fears, they had worries and tribulations, they wondered if the work was worth doing. The difference is that they carried those doubts and fears with them — instead of being weighed down.

We live in a world in great need of prophetic voices and actions. If it is anything that the life of Jesus of Nazareth can teach us is just how much one person can influence the world Just how much one message of truth and love can sweep us up and beckon us to greater understanding.

But, so, too, if it is anything that the followers of Jesus can teach us today — it is that we are not charged with following the prophets blindly or allowing others to tell us what the prophets truly meant — twisting their message and their lives — but we human beings have prophets because within all of us is a prophetic message waiting to surface. Waiting for courage. Waiting for the stone to be rolled away.

You no doubt have heard of Martin Luther’s famous proclamation about the “priesthood of all believers.” All are anointed to interpret the word of God and to participate in the sacraments and mysteries of faith. That is all well and good. But, Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams once said, it is not the priesthood of all believers that Unitarians affirm — it is the prophethood of all believers. Within each and every one of us is a book of scripture, a movement of change, the balm of Gilead for a hurting world, and the hope of the ages.

Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Malala, you, me, all of us — ever single one of us. You are the light of the world. Do not allow it to be dampened. Do not allow the courage of your heart to be buried. Take hold, have faith, be the Easter miracle — for you are in the company of the great prophets of ages past.

Blessed Be. Amen.