What did you guys do on Friday?
First thing I did was go to Ellwood Thompson’s, buy the newspaper, and have some whole-wheat bagels and organic coffee.
I read about the war and the latest attacks on the Indian Parliament and in Israel. I read about the Israeli invasion of the West Bank and Gaza. About the people around the world who actually believe the U.S. fabricated the latest Osama video to justify our war effort.
I sat there in that Carytown temple of dietary wholesomeness and purity, and I got very anxious about the rulers and the children of this earth.
For it seems that for the most part they are madmen – and there truly is no help in them.
I also read in the news that the Pope would dedicate his Friday to prayer and fasting.
Friday, because it was the last day of Ramadan – the Muslim Holy Month.
He chose it not because he is a Muslim, but because he’s a Christian. A Christian who believes that we must first pray. Not only for ourselves, but for others. And not only for Christians, but for the whole world. Even for those who explicitly and proudly deny that Jesus died on the cross for you and me.
What did you do on Friday?
While the Pope ate nothing but the bread of prayer – I ate bagels and drank coffee, and thought.
I thought of John the Baptist, the Pharisees, and Herod. I thought of Jesus, the Sadducees and Pontius Pilate.
And I don’t know what was in that coffee over there at Ellwood’s, but as I looked at the news of the day, I began to see in the dispatches of the times the appearance of something like two prophets – one like a prophet of truth; the other like a prophet of lies.
I thought about the Pope, and the kind of man he appears to be. A man who cries at the sufferings of the world, who prays for the victims of oppression, and who calls his followers to pray for those who hate them.
I thought about Osama Bin Laden, and the kind of man he appears to be. A man who laughs at the suffering he has wrought, charging his victims with unrighteousness, and spitting on their memories.
I saw before me, on the one hand, a triple-crowned Pope, a Princely Figure, garbed in soft robes, residing in an ancient and opulent palace in the Eternal City. A Bishop of Rome whose doctrine of the Church drives me nuts; a prelate whose ideas about women’s ministry, family planning, and church authority are maddening to me as a “Protestant.”
And yet also a holy and Christian man whose lifelong personal witness to the Gospel of Christ is unquestionable. A totally dedicated religious person, who has sacrificed marriage, children, and any property of his own. A priest, who while anointed to be a kind of King, would go to prison, hold his would-be assassin’s hand, and forgive him face to face for having pierced his body with nails of lead.
A high priest who stands boldly against the wind of Western opinion, angering the left as well as the right, who accuses us of rampant greed and materialism, and who declares that war is just about always wrong – and is the last resort even when just.
A man who calls on his followers to forgo meals, and to live for a day on a diet of prayers. Prayers for peace; for justice for the poor; for deliverance from anger and hatred.
I saw this controversial but still holy Pope on the one hand. And on the other hand, I saw another controversial man born to princely wealth. Who never renounced it, but rather used it to become a religious warrior. A man of action, who proudly clads himself in rugged garb, and preaches dedication to sweaty, bloody, and vigorous struggle.
How ironic though that this mountain man, this Osama, who preaches a strict puritanical doctrine of Good versus Evil – is yet caught on video tape not as a humble figure of prayer and fasting, but as another kind of theocrat — who glibly thanks God for the deaths of thousands.
Unlike John the Baptist who wore rugged clothing, preached purity, and lived on a diet of bugs and honey – John Paul the Second wears comfortable robes, fasts only on occasion, and lives in a giant palace. But like John the Baptist, he points to the King of Love, and declares himself unworthy to stand before God as he is, no matter that he is “important.”
Like John the Baptist, Osama bin Laden wears rugged clothing, lives in the wilderness, and stands against the winds of the age. But unlike John the Baptist – a true prophet – Osama Bin Laden is incapable of telling the truth. He is incapable of seeing the light of peace. He is incapable of being God’s messenger – for he is a violent man, a murderer, and a liar.
Perhaps it is not hard to see that Osama bin Laden is a false prophet.
And while the Papacy is a stumbling block for me theologically – it is easy for me to see that this pope is a prayerful Christian who lives his conscience and who prays for forgiveness and peace.
Maybe these two voices are not hard to tell apart.
But most voices crying out in the wilderness of this life are not as obvious. Are they?
What about all the other voices who stand before you every day telling you what you want, where you want to be, and who you wish you were?
As John the Baptist tells us from his prison cell in the Gospel today, it can be difficult to discern between “who is the one who is to come” or whether “we should we wait for another.”
Clearly for many poor Muslims around the world – they have decided Osama Bin Laden is the one for them. No matter that most Muslims do not. Many in the Muslim world have waived Osama’s picture around, as if he were the great Mahdi, come to redeem them in their struggle.
I know how confused people can be about what the truth is. Even the former president debated the truth, asking the classic question, “what is is?”
As I was preparing this sermon on Friday, after my coffee and bagels. I got a call.
It was from my friend who is going to prison.
He sounded bad.
He still hasn’t been processed for prison, even though he was sentenced months ago.
He’s been out on his own recognizance, struggling to get by in a world that has abandoned him for his errors.
He called to say that his dad’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse. He said he’d be going to jail in two weeks, but his dad’s cancer would likely take him in a few months. He called to say that his dad would probably die while he was in prison.
He called to say he needed my help. But he said, given all that was going on, he was doubting even more than ever that God could exist.
And my light went on. And, I knew, of course, that I had a call to witness to him of God’s love.
My call was to show him, that not only does God exist, but he is coming into our lives for good, if only we can lower the gates around our hearts and let him in.
I knew this was my mission because this is the true prophetic message. It is the one that John the Baptist repeated. It is the one that says, “the Lord is not only Real, the Lord is coming.” Make way, open the door, let down the guard, seek peace, seek forgiveness, and LET HIM IN YOUR HEART.
How do I tell the difference between the real prophets and the false prophets – between the god of lies and the God of Life?
I look at the fruit. I examine the evidence.
Where is the healing? Where is the joy? Where do the blind see, and the lame walk? Where do the untouchables of this world find themselves not only touched but embraced by a holy God?
In the world that Jesus built.
In the Kingdom of God.
Those who are committed to the god of lies, or the lie of no God, will not change the world for the better. They will not bring peace, or harmony, or joy. [And these people are in the church as well as out, don’t be mistaken.]
The way to judge which prophets are for real is to listen to what they say, and when you do, pray to God, “does this message speak of the Kingdom of God?”
You see the prophets of God have one message, and it is the message that we must allow the Holy Spirit to write on our hearts. That one message is this: there is a king, and it is God. There is a kingdom and it is God’s. It will come, and it is coming soon. It will be real, and it will be here. When the kingdom comes, the creation will be completed. There will be no more death, nor suffering, nor bondage. God will reign, the poor will be rich, the hungry filled, and all that is wrong will be right.
This is the message of hope that the prophets bring.
Any message that does not jibe with the kingdom of God that Jesus came to fulfill in him for us is a lie.
For the Lord made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them, and he keeps his promise forever.
The Lord gives justice to the oppressed and food to those who hunger.
The Lord sets the prisoners free, and opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; and loves the righteous.
The Lord cares for the stranger, and he sustains the orphan and widow, while frustrating the way of the wicked.
This is what the Kingdom of God is all about. It’s the place where the Lord of peace and faithfulness reigns forever.
And it is coming soon.