Summary: United by the Spirit as the Body of Christ, the manifestation of our God-given gifts is a prophetic ministry in the world.
I prayed for Haiti last night. In fact, I’ve prayed for Haiti several nights this week, and lots of time during the days too. As I sat doing work on Wednesday evening, my mom sent me a text message. It said, “I’m watching CNN…Unbelievable. So sad.” And so I turned on CNN and I watched a listened as the reporters tried in vain to convey to their viewers a picture of the devastation and chaos that hovers over that country right now. Then, at one point during the newscast, they started showing pictures of all the rescue teams that are preparing and making their way to Haiti. On the ground now in Haiti are teams from China, Taiwan, from Miami and Los Angeles. There are teams there from Brazil and England. From all over the world, countries are sending search and rescue teams, health teams, heavy moving equipment; any and all resources that might be useful in the midst of the devastation that little island country is currently experiencing. As of Thursday morning, just a mere 36 hours or so after the earthquake, the Red Cross had collected nearly $3 million for Haiti through people sending text messages that said simply, “Haiti.”
As I prayed for Haiti, and the people there, as I asked God’s comfort with the injured and grieving; I also found God planting within me a seed of hope and even joy. God opened my eyes and my mind, and I realized; THIS is the body of Christ at work! THIS is sharing of the Spirit; neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free! THIS is the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good! Where else would we find Chinese and Americans joining together in common work; we are all but enemies these days. Under what other circumstances would a team from Taiwan and a team from England be found working together with a shared purpose? Indeed, even when it may not be fully realized, it is the Spirit of God that unites us with vision and purpose to serve the causes of God’s kingdom; in this case that cause is helping the people of Haiti.
Last night I prayed for Haiti, and for the first time in my memory, I saw the Body of Christ REALLY at work, across national borders and cultural differences. Last night, I prayed for Haiti and I realized how God’s Kingdom is served when we bring our spiritual gifts together for the common good. Last night I prayed for us; I prayed that we might build on the example that has been set for us this week; that we might lay aside our self-centered desires and open our eyes to the needs of others in our midst. Last night I prayed that we might all put our spiritual gifts to work for the common good. I prayed that we might all be prophets.
Prophets. Now, I’m sure that at the mention of that word, I have some of you squirming in your seats with visions of tarot cards, palm readers, or a cloudy crystal ball. We might even think of the likes of David Koresh. But there is more to prophecy than foretelling the future. When I was a child, sometime in late elementary school, several of my friends began talking about Ouija boards. I was fascinated by this idea that perhaps the future could be foretold by a pointer that magically moves over a board. Finally, one of my good friends was given a Ouija board, and she brought it over to my house one night for us to experiment with. I don’t think I have to tell you that the Ouija pointer didn’t move by itself. We didn’t know anymore about the future when we were done playing than when we had begun, and you sure can bet that we tried!
With strange things like Ouija boards, crystal balls, and “possessed” messengers claiming to have a declaration from God about the future, it is no wonder that we approach the idea of prophets and prophecy with a bit of skepticism. But it is precisely because of these modern misconstruals of prophecy that I want us to spend some time with this spiritual gift today, and how it connects with the other gifts of the Spirit. Certainly, we can take time to consider the unique attributes of each and every gift that Paul mentions here in his letter to the Corinthians, and we will be doing that in our upcoming Wednesday evening Bible studies. But what I would really like to do now is think about several of the spiritual gifts in light of just one of those gifts – prophecy.
As some of you may be aware, “prophecy” is the only spiritual gift that is mentioned in all four of the New Testament passages that deal with the spiritual gifts. I believe that fact in and of itself is revealing of the importance of Christian prophecy in the world. Wikipedia defines a prophet as “a person who has been contacted by, or has encountered, the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other humans.” Certainly, these might be traits of a prophet, but I think this too narrowly defines prophet. And it is because of such narrow definitions that we so very easily roll our eyes and think “weird” when news reports bring us stories like those of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. It’s enough to make you wonder if we would recognize a true prophet in our midst if God were to put before us in this day another Moses, or Abraham, or Isaiah. Yet, if we look at these prophets, and others of the Bible, I think we would discover that prophecy is more than just foretelling the future, or encountering the supernatural and then bringing a message to the world. In my observation, the gift of prophecy is about bringing God’s message into the world, pointing people to God’s preferred future, and then urging them in that direction. Think about the message of God’s love that is being carried into Haiti in these days, as people all over put aside their own lives to help this nation. The work of these people is, in some sense, prophetic. Christian scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it this way, “the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke [an alternative] to the dominant culture around us.”