Your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams, even my slaves, men and women. The bottom line impact of Pentecost is that everyone becomes a prophet. Very early on in my ministry I was exposed to a way to understand the word prophesy that contrasts markedly with common misperceptions. Much more than predicting the future, the task of prophets is to evoke and nurture an alternative way of looking at the world that comes from God’s Spirit. The radical new thing about Pentecost is that every human being and every category of people has the capacity to see something ahead of time that others cannot see yet. The mandate of Pentecost is to speak and act on that something as we are able, no matter what others think.
I like to imagine this as catching a glimpse of heaven on earth. What prophets see is heaven in their midst. Cosmology helps us here. Since Galileo we no longer believe that heaven is “up there.” Planet earth spins around the sun in one of millions of constellations in an ever-expanding universe. The sky isn’t “up there;” it’s “all around us.” What Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven being in your midst makes more sense today than it did when he said it. Heaven surrounds us. But it requires special eyes to recognize it. Prophets have those eyes. And since Pentecost, all God’s people are prophets.
When I speak of heaven, I am not speaking of something religious. Heaven is the goodness that is coming. When Galileo saw it, people thought it threatened religion. But it actually enriched and transformed religion. But more than religion it transforms our whole life and world. We know that the heavens are all around us. The sun and the sky are no longer “up there.” The Sun is out there, and the sky is the same as the air we breathe, and the invisible space between you and me.
When John saw the vision of heaven that we read in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, he was seeing what was going on in heaven behind the scenes of what was going on in the Roman Empire. We need to develop our eyesight to perceive heaven in our midst. It’s not always as dramatic as John’s vision. Sometimes it’s watching a sunset and having a sense that you just tasted a bit of heaven. At other times it is witnessing an unexpected act of compassion or serendipity, or an unexpected victory in a struggle for justice or creative effort for justice; or a simple human encounter like this story.
Once a little boy wanted to meet God. He knew it was long trip to where God lived. He packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and started his journey. When he’d gone about 3 blocks, he met an old woman sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her a Twinkie. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. Her smile was so pretty that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered a root beer. Once again she smiled at him. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, without ever saying a word… As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman and gave her a hug. She gave him her biggest smile yet. When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, "What did you do today that made you so happy?" He replied, "I had lunch with God." Before his mother could respond, he added, "You know what? She's got the most beautiful smile I've ever seen!" Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by her look of peace. "Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?" She replied, "I ate Twinkies in the park with God." Before her son replied, she added, "You know, he's much younger than I expected." (Chicken Soup for the Soul)
So we can all have prophetic moments. Like that old woman and young boy, sometimes others think you have gone a little crazy. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Even Jesus’ family thought he needed to be protected from himself. Jesus had spoken against the religious institution of his day. Throughout the Bible and church history, prophets have spoken against the religious institutions of their day. Institutions often need to catch up with the Spirit; they are behind the times.
Last week the Pew Center reported that an ever shrinking population of Americans self-identify as Christian. There have been many responses to the report. One writer asked, what if those leaving the Church are the collective voice of Jesus to us, the Church, today? Others point to the authentic new life emerging in many religious groups that doesn’t get included in the report. “Church” is taking all kinds of new shapes, and research studies can’t always keep up. Either way, the scene of the early church pouring out of the room where it was gathered onto the streets of Jerusalem on that first Pentecost, should be a clue to what always needs to happen in the church. Whenever women and men stop prophesying, dreaming and seeing visions, the Spirit needs to drive the church out of its stuck places and onto the streets.
But we don’t always have the courage to pour out into the streets. When others don’t see what we see with our prophetic eyes as we exercise our prophetic vision we often feel rejected. In the eighth beatitude, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Prophets are persecuted because they are ahead of their time. And the persecution doesn’t just come in the form of stoning or excommunicating. It comes in more subtle ways. People simply don’t understand you and call you a little crazy; or simply don’t know what you’re talking about and why. Or they patronize you by saying that your idea is interesting but not that important; or telling you that it may become important someday, but, why waste your time, money and energy investing in it today, when nothing will come of it?
So we grow afraid of our prophetic vision. Sometimes we’re so afraid of being persecuted that we let go of our insight or dream. We get timid and scared; we refuse to live out our vocation. We’re afraid to share our idea because people might laugh at us. But we would be wise to follow an African proverb that says, “Run towards the roar”. You see, on the ancient savannahs life pours forth in the form of teeming, feeding herds. Nearby, lions wait in anticipation of the hunt. They send the oldest and weakest member of the pride away from the hunting pack. Having lost most of its teeth, its roar is far greater than its ability to bite. The old one goes off and settles in the grass across from where the hungry lions wait. As the herds enter the area between the hunting pack and the old lion, it begins to roar mightily. Upon hearing the fearful roar most of the herd turn and flee from the source of the fear. They run wildly in the opposite direction. Of course, they run right to where the strongest lions of the group wait in the tall grass for dinner to arrive. “Run towards the roar,” the old people used to tell the young ones. When faced with great danger run toward the roaring, for there you will find some safety and a way through.” (Michael Meade, The World Behind the World, p 3-4)
The Spirit conquers fear this side of Pentecost. What do you see through the eyes of the Spirit? The rest of us need you to show that to us. We can’t see it except through your eyes. And you need help to see what we see. So are you willing to be the prophet God calls you to be? If you’re willing to be a prophet, stand up. If you’re willing to tell us what you see, stand up. If you’re willing to not call me crazy when I tell you what I see, stand up. Stand up; because the Spirit is here, and the Spirit is moving.