Where are the Prophets?
You know, language is really important, but it’s so easy to be misunderstood.
I was in a restaurant once when I overheard a rather loud bunch of people talking about ‘religion’ and what people were or weren’t allowed to eat.
Someone mentioned Christians and was told, ‘well, they’ll eat anything.’ Then someone piped up, ‘they especially like lamb, don’t they, I went to a service once and the vicar kept going on about lamb.’
There are a lot of misunderstandings about Christianity:
For example, just who or what is the Holy Spirit? At least we’ve moved away from talking about the Holy Ghost; that really didn’t help.
But the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Bible. In Genesis we hear; ‘In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
The word for Spirit here is the Hebrew word Ruach. Ruach means wind, and when it’s associated with a person it means breath.
Jesus used the word ‘Paracleate’ to describe the Holy Spirit, which means helper, guide, counsellor, enabler. And he says that when he leaves his disciples he will send another ‘Paraclete’, in other words another helper and enabler just like himself. So the Holy Spirit is someone just like Jesus but in Spirit form.
And here we are at Pentecost and we have the believers gathered together and being interrupted by the sound of a violent wind.
They see what appears to be flames which settle over them...and then they start speaking in foreign languages. Now we’re told that these were Galileans, and in those days that was something of a derogatory description. Galileans had a thick accent, which meant that it was difficult for them to pronounce some Hebrew words. Think of the term ‘country bumpkin’. I think that comes close.
So here are these country bumpkins speaking fluently in many different languages. No wonder the crowd thought that they had been out binge drinking.
Paul later goes on to describe what he calls ‘the gifts of the Spirit’, and he mentions speaking in tongues, strange language, but the language that he refers to is not a language of the world but a so-called ‘heavenly language’.
Now at this point, many Christians have glazed looks on their faces. That’s all a bit weird isn’t it? How can that possibly be relevant to me?
Perhaps it would help if I told you how I first prayed in tongues. A few years ago a good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. He was 34 and had a wife and three young daughters under the age of 5. The cancer seemed to go into remission, but then it came back and the next thing I knew was that he told me that it was terminal.
I had a few strong words to say to God about it. Why Pete? He was a really nice guy. What about his wife and kids? I just didn’t understand why this was happening. And I prayed. God knows how I prayed.
But you know, if you pray about something that’s really on your heart, that you’re really passionate about, then words run out very quickly. Just how many ways can you say; ‘dear God please heal my friend Pete and make him well?’
It was very frustrating. And so, one day I was attempting to pray... and out came these words, and sentences that I didn’t recognise. It wasn’t as though something had taken over control of me. I knew what I was doing; I just didn’t understand the words I was saying.
Now if you know me, you’ll know that I’ve been a scientist for most of my life and I tend to have a logical approach to everything. I have what I would call a ‘healthy scepticism’ of things I don’t understand. And so I reasoned through what I had just done.
What was the worst case scenario? Well, at worst I was spouting gibberish. That was a possibility, though somehow I didn’t believe that that was the case. But I reasoned that even if it was gibberish then God understood my passion and my intention, and I really couldn’t accept that he would say, ‘sorry I didn’t understand a word of that, could you repeat it in English?’
And I felt so much better that I had somehow emoted my concerns in this way. Paul describes this as the least of the gifts, because it’s personal, between you and God, and doesn’t help anyone who hears it unless they are able to decipher exactly what you’re saying. That’s possible, but rare.
What Paul describes as that greatest of the gifts of the Spirit, one that you should ‘eagerly desire’ is the gift of prophecy. Now here is the second misunderstood word. Prophecy does not mean foretelling the future, not necessarily. A prophet is a spokesman (spokesperson) for God.
In the Old Testament a prophet was someone who heard from God how things really were, and presented that to ‘those in power’. It was a very precarious job, because it often meant going to the king and telling him exactly what God thought of his plans and where he should be heading in the future.
If the prophet got it wrong, he or she would be killed. If they got it right, they didn’t win any friends and may be killed anyway.
But, at Pentecost, Peter uses an Old Testament Scripture to tell everyone how things are going to be different, now that the Holy Spirit is here. He says:
‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’
Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Now everyone is a prophet, and God knows we need prophets today
We need people to stand up and say that a different world is possible. Do you get the feeling that our society is like a huge juggernaut set on the wrong path. People know that it’s headed in the wrong direction but feel unable, or unwilling to do anything about it.
For example, the gap between the rich and the poor is getting ever greater. Some people are earning enormous amounts of money, while food banks are being set up, up and down the country, in order to help people who can’t afford to feed themselves. That isn’t right.
And we’re wedded to the consumerist society, a society where you only have worth if you have the current must-have Apple product or the latest designer clothes. That isn’t right.
And we’re damaging our planet at a frightening rate, but the only solution on offer seems to be to recycle our waste and use long lasting light bulbs. That isn’t right.
And you know, when I think about it, it’s my generation that’s to blame. What kind of a legacy are we handing on to the next generation? That is why we need prophets.
‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy’
Another world is possible; one centred on love and on justice, a world where we refocus on Jesus Christ and accept the life changing Holy Spirit into our lives.