Excerpts from a presentation to Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 15, 2014; Walker Creek Ranch, Petaluma, California
Good morning. I’ve drawn the title of my talk from Peter’s speech on the feast of Pentecost. Some of you know that, in the Hebrew calendar, the feast of Pentecost takes place fifty days after Passover. Some of you also know that Jesus was executed on the Passover weekend.
On the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came. It came like the sound of rushing wind, and filled the house where the disciples were gathered. It came as tongues of fire, resting on each head. The disciples began to prophesy. And the Apostle Peter went on to quote the Hebrew prophet Joel, who said, “In the last days, I will pour my spirit out upon all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your old ones will dream dreams. Your young ones will see visions. Even on my servants, men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days. And they will prophesy.” Those days are here.
So let’s talk about youth, the earnestness of youth. Some of you know John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. They call him a teen-whisperer; he can really talk to teens. The Fault in Our Stars is about people who are living and dying with cancer – kids, young people, teenagers. And John comments that adults underestimate the emotional depth of adolescents. He says, “I love the intensity teenagers bring. Not just to first love, but also to the first time you’re grappling with grief.” Those years are the first time you’re taking on why people suffer and whether there’s meaning in life, and whether meaning is constructed or derived. Teenagers feel that the things we conclude about these questions are going to matter. And they’ve got it right. They matter for adults, too, but we don’t acknowledge on a daily basis how much they matter.
So, I am looking for some age-appropriate earnestness. And one message is: stay fresh, stay at the beginning. As Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the realm of God.”
George Fox was twenty-three years old when he heard a voice say, “There is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” In 1652, on the day of Pentecost, George Fox preached a Spirit-filled message that ignited the Quaker movement. He was twenty-eight years old. Three members of the first group of Quaker ministers, sometimes called the Valiant Sixty, were teenagers. Edward Burrough was eighteen years old. James Parnell and George Whitehead were sixteen.
Prophecy is an inspired message, a revelation of the divine will and purpose. The root of the word “prophet” – navi in Hebrew – implies one through whom the divine message flows, springs forth, or bubbles up into speech. Prophetic utterances depicted in the Bible had an intense emotional delivery. Yes, prophesy was earnest. It challenged the oppressors for their self-serving privilege in the domination system. It upbraided the oppressed for their acquiescence to the boot placed on their neck. And it offered hope for a future transformed by God’s unconditional love.
William Tabor’s The Prophetic Stream, a very wonderful Pendle Hill Pamphlet, names three tasks of the prophet. First is to be a seer – a person who is given the ability to see beneath and beyond the surface of things, a person who reinterprets the tradition, making it relevant to today. Second, one who shows the way to live. Shows us how to walk with God into a better future. Third, one who helps the community come into an awareness of how God’s spirit is moving, particularly through prayer and intercession.
Now, when you’ve got everything going for you, and you’re at the top of the privilege chain, maintaining the status quo maintains the domination system. All of us are embedded in that system at this moment. And we’re so embedded that we are numb to it. Every now and then, something flashes. The role of the prophet is to strike us out of that numbness.
So the prophetic motion can start with that numbness and be broken by grief and lamentation. When we see that what is happening now is not what God intended – we see such pain, such oppression. And we are broken by grief and lamentation, which can lead to despair, but at least we’re not numb, we’re feeling. We’ve come to that place of feeling. And then by a miracle of grace, we see the emergence of amazement. Hope. We move into building alternative communities to support one another, as well as to challenge empire.
In Jesus’s own way, he threatened the social order. By his table fellowship, by healing on the Sabbath, by hanging out with women, by cleansing the temple, throwing out the money-changers. In the Quaker movement, too, we took up the cross of prophesy, showed Quaker convincement by wearing plain dress, plain speech, no hat honor. We disrupted services of the Church of England. We were arrested. When no other charges would stick, Quakers were easily thrown in jail for not swearing oaths. We have been involved in prison reform, innovations in education, conscientious objection. We resisted war taxes, refused military service, and would not fight for the kingdoms of this world. We opposed slavery, campaigned for women’s rights, and in recent times, we’ve engaged in the prophetic work of ecojustice.
So what is the prophetic work for our day? I look around, and I see a surge of hunger for a deeper spiritual understanding and a more powerful witness in the world, because we live on the brink. We live on the edge of the possibility of human extinction, along with all the other extinctions that we are responsible for as a species. And here we are as a people, so embedded in the materialism and the militarism and the racism of our culture that it’s hard to let go.
Yet there’s a hunger. And it does matter. How can we be authentic? How do we open our hearts to that Pentecost that is available to us now? Those tongues of fire are licking down on us right at this moment. We see the yearning in the prophesying of our young people, in the prophesying of all of us who can return to that place of earnestness, which is always available to us. We can let go of the structures and the woundedness that have kept us back. We can realize that that is just loss, and we can grieve for it. And we’re grieving for the whole loss of the world. Yet out of those embers comes the power of the spirit to transform our lives.
The prophets did not take on one particular issue or another. There are so many issues, and they are so connected. We can’t say this is more important than another, a hierarchy of oppressions. It’s all oppression. Get down beneath it all. Speak to that place where it is all connected. And see that when we pull on a string of empire, wherever we can find traction, see that the mystical experience of the divine presence and unconditional love flows out of us into active witness. And the active witness drives us deeper into that place of deep contemplation. Put those two together; they’re not different. We can find that power and that strength and that love and that vision for this peaceable world that God has totally given us. It’s here now. And I thank you and praise you. I praise all of us for our faithfulness. ~~~
Jonathan Vogel-Borne grew up in Pacific Yearly Meeting and later served, 1991-2013, as the lead staff person for New England Yearly Meeting.
A complete transcript of the presentation above can be found at: https://westernfriend.org/media/your-sons-and-your-daughters-will-prophesy.
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