Articulating the Word

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 — Week of Proper 23, Year One

Philip, Deacon and Evangelist

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 988)

Psalms 5, 6 (morning) // 10, 11 (evening)

Jeremiah 36:27 – 37:2

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Matthew 10:16-23

How do we articulate God’s Word in our time? How do we give our testimony? What is the prophet’s message?

The evening psalm 10 closes this way:

God will hear the desire of the humble; *

you will strengthen their heart and your ears shall hear,

To give justice to the orphan and oppressed, *

so that mere mortals may strike terror no more.

That word finds resonance in me. It seems that for too long the interests of the wealthy and powerful have held sway in our nation. Maybe you’ve seen the graphs and statistics. For almost thirty years income and wealth has been flat or decreasing for most Americans even as workers’ productivity has increased dramatically. Wealth and power has become concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Thanks to the reckless greed of financial manipulators, we now live with sustained unemployment in the worst economic downturn since the Depression, yet U.S. corporations have record levels of cash reserves. And PACS and Super-PACS allow even more money to influence the political process.

An inarticulate longing takes physical expression as a group moves to occupy the spaces of power. They sit in the public square and chant and invite the suits of Wall Street to sit down and talk with them. They try to give voice to the 99 percent in a country where the top one percent own 40% of the nation’s wealth, 51% of the nation’s stock, 5% of the nation’s debt, and takes home 24% of the nation’s income, dramatically increasing their share of that annual income during this decade. Protesters speak, but their message has not gelled.

All of today’s readings in the Daily Office seem to reflect on the complexities of speaking God’s Word prophetically.

Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch must dictate another scroll after the arrogant King Jehoiakim has burned the prophecy and threatened arrest. But the word of the prophet cannot be erased so easily by mere human power. Jeremiah continues to dictate to Baruch. The words are restored, and “many similar words were added to them.” (Jer. 36:32) While the prophets live under duress, they live under God’s eye and voice. And though the prophets may suffer, though the fulfillment may be delayed, God’s Word will surely come to fruition.

Paul calls an inarticulate witness to prophetic articulation. “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy…. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.” I think of the “Occupy Wall Street” group and the various “Occupy” movements. A passion for justice and hope has energized them. They speak in many notes through various instruments. I find myself praying for “some revelation or knowledge or teaching” that will give the power of interpretation to their passion for justice.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks realistic words of encouragement to his little flock. He sends them “like sheep into the midst of wolves.” The halls of power will resist their message of radical love. Yet Jesus promises that the Spirit will make them articulate. “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.”

I yearn for the prophet’s message for our day, for the Spirit-filled testimony that speaks God’s word. I do believe that God hears “the desire of the humble.” I pray that God “will strengthen their heart and your ears shall hear.” Let there be given “justice to the orphan and oppressed, so that mere mortals may strike terror no more.” Ours is a day when we need the clarity of Jeremiah, the spirit of Paul, and the presence of Jesus to articulate the Word that will speak truth to power and bring justice and hope for the humble.

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