A prophet from your own people
“The Lord will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people. ... You shall heed such a prophet.” Thus God warns and promises in our reading from Deuteronomy.
Today we gather together to celebrate the baptism of an adult who is new to this community. As a graduate engineering student at Stevens Institute of Technology, as a young man from China who has been on a journey toward converting to Christianity, and as someone with a passion for evangelism and a call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no more appropriate passage for today.
In our era of wanting to be colorblind and treat everyone the same, we lose sight of the power of the Gospel being proclaimed in our own language, by people who have the cultural background and personal experience to be able to explain God’s word in a way that connects with people who have many differences.
The Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, the early Christians in the major cosmopolitan city of Corinth in ancient Greece, wrote that some are given to be apostles, prophets, and teachers, while others are given the gifts of healing, helping, and guidance, indicating that each of us is given distinct gifts and callings. In addition to those spiritual gifts bestowed upon us, each of us comes from a unique personal and cultural background and we can reach or not reach people depending on who we are as individual human beings.
Those of you who are familiar with the controversy surrounding the #AllLivesMatter movement are familiar with the tension between naming particular communities who are disproportionately affected by violence (#BlackLivesMatter) versus trying to include everyone and make the argument that everyone is the same.
This ignoring of difference, and the history it brings, is one of the reasons why churches that say “all are welcome” – the church equivalent to “all lives matter” don’t make significant progress in welcoming people, other than those who automatically assume they would be welcome and included anyway.
In order to be a place that truly welcomes and embraces diversity and are aware of the power dynamics our differences bring, we need to be able to name those things that make our experiences and perspectives unique.
The prophet Moses, who spoke for God in Deuteronomy, embodied this idea that each of us is given a unique history, calling, and identity. Moses was born to a Jewish family, put in a basket in a river to escape the Egyptian pharaoh’s slaughter of Jewish babies. Then he was rescued from the river by an Egyptian princess and was raised in the royal household of Egypt - showing how the Holy Spirit works, right under our noses to bring about God’s reign. Because of that auspicious and difficult to imagine upbringing, Moses learned statecraft and governance and was given the tools to lead a nation out of slavery.
And Shane, we who have known you as Shuo and Shawn, see that you also were given a unique history, calling and identity. As a Chinese man, as an engineer, and with your own story of watching your parents journey to Christianity, you will be able to reach and share the good news of God’s mercy with people with whom the rest of us in this room would be unable to reach.
And each of you, because of your unique histories, and callings and identities,
Having served in the Navy
Being an entrepreneur
Having been told a women of color wasn’t supposed to go to college, and doing it anyway
Being the mother of an African American teenager
will be able to share God’s love with people with whom none of the rest of us would ever be able to reach. That is why God has given us differences, because together – when all of us are fully included and invited in the hard work of ministry – those differences have the power to make us a stronger and more vibrant community.
This isn’t to say that all of us are prophets – because that ignores the different gifts we all bring. It is to say that all of us are given unique callings. Whether you express that by quietly sending Cradle Roll packets to parents whose babies are baptized, by teaching in Sunday School or Confirmation class, by mentoring youth, or singing in a community choir, or by advocating for immigrants and affordable housing. Each of us is given a unique and precious way of responding to God’s call to ministry.
These differences provide us with the opportunity to witness to that which unites us – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to break into our world and bring new life. (BREATHE) In the baptismal rite we will celebrate with Shane in a few minutes, one of the prayers reminds us that, “God sends us out into the world, to make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Making disciples, proclaiming God’s love, redemption, and grace – in a way that connects with and is understandable by the people we are targeting, is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. It is exactly the reason God calls us, gathering us from the far corners of the human experience to fulfill God’s promise in Deuteronomy; to lift up prophets from among our own people, so that everyone, from every culture, race, and identity can hear the Good News of God’s compassion proclaimed in their own way.