Two weeks ago on the Baptism of the Lord, Father preached about how all of us through our own baptism are called to the three-fold ministry of Jesus Christ. In our own way, we are priests, prophets, and kings. The Priest offers sacrifices and prayers to God for others. And we can do that personally, offering our little sacrifices and prayers so that we and the whole world can grow in holiness. We go to the King for justice. And in our own lives, all of us can stand for justice; we can do little things to promote justice in our families and neighborhoods. And finally, the job of the Prophet is to speak what God has told him to say. Many times, the prophet doesn’t want to say what God tells him to say, and we certainly see that in the story of Jonah in the Old Testament today. But God makes His prophets speak; he makes them stand up for truth. He makes them stand up for truth even if they may encounter danger for doing so.
Today’s reading cut short all the interesting and fun details of the story of Jonah. The first thing that Jonah does when God tells him to go to Nineveh, is go in the opposite direction using the wrong means of transportation. You don’t need a boat to go east from Israel to Nineveh, but Jonah hops on a boat and goes west. After those three days inside the fish, Jonah does what God told him to do, to preach truth to the sinful city of Nineveh.
We are told that Nineveh is so large it takes three days to walk through it. By God’s great mercy, that sinful city begins to repent even before Jonah is halfway through. But if Nineveh had not changed its ways, then it would have been destroyed.
Jonah shows us that the job of the prophet is full of risk. If we are prophets, we are to speak truth to an audience that prefers the LIE. If we are prophets, we are to speak truth to people who have power, and they may use that power to punish us for bringing up a difficult subject.
This past week was the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court is supposed to be that place you go to get justice in the United States when you can’t get it anywhere else. On that day in 1973, however, the majority stood for a lie rather than for the truth. The majority found in the Constitution a right of privacy that permitted women to terminate the lives of the babies in their wombs. When asked where they found this right, they said it was “in the penumbras formed by the emanations of the 14th Amendment.” Penumbras and emanations are $25 words for shadows and flows. When you say you found something in the shadows formed by the flows of the Constitution, you’re implicitly admitting you found something that wasn’t really there.
Ever since, Christians have stood for truth as they stand for life on the anniversary of that court decision. The lie that supports abortion is so deeply embedded in our culture, that we don’t always realize how we’re being lied to. One lie that women are told is that somehow having babies and having a job are mutually exclusive. Stevie Nicks is an aging pop singer who recently said that because she had an abortion she was able to have her singing career. And of course, that’s just not true, as other pop singers like Carrie Underwood have shown. But that’s the kind of lie that women have been told, to get them through the deep pain they experience when they are party to an abortion. How many women have gone along with the suggestion to abort their child because they were told an unplanned baby would wreck their lives? Thanks be to God that we have wonderful ministries like PATH to serve those women and help them heal from the wreckage that abortion caused in their lives.
Another lie is told to black Americans. We are about to start Black History Month in a week, and the story of the American black experience of slavery and segregation is one that needs to be revisited, so that we never forget how far from God’s plan slavery and segregation truly are. Many prophets were called during the Civil Rights struggle to stand for truth against the lie of “separate but equal.”
My father was an academic from New Hampshire who had no personal knowledge of segregation. Nevertheless, he went on one of the freedom rides in 1961 to stand for truth. In his case, he actually sat for truth because he went to jail for eating with a black man at a public lunch counter. Just like Jonah, he faced an entrenched power structure that did not really want to get preached at by some out of town do-gooder. But just like Jonah, he stood for truth, and was prepared to pay the price.
Thanks to things like Black History Month, very few black Americans are unaware of our country’s history of slavery and segregation. But on this anniversary of the Roe decision, how many of them are aware that the real killer in their community is abortion? In the last reported year in the United States, there were over 850,000 abortions. Of those, over 260,000 were black children. Those 260,000 are not included in the CDC’s total number of deaths in 2017 among black Americans, which is 335,000. If they were, that number would nearly double. And, of course, those 260,000 abortions are not included in the CDC’s count of 552,000 live births in the African American demographic.
As a group, black Americans are 15% of our population, yet they are 30% of our abortions. Why are we allowing any abortions at all, but also why we not outraged that black children are dying at twice the rate of the overall population? Certainly, there are other important issues of justice facing black Americans today, but as prophets, we must be ready to speak the truth that black babies are also lives that matter.
We as the Church of Christ are called to be Prophets, speaking the truth of God to a nation that is less and less interested in listening to God. We are called to be prophets even if we have no personal experience relating to the message we have been given to proclaim. Jonah was from Israel, and his knowledge of Nineveh was as remote as my father’s knowledge of Jackson, Mississippi. I am sure I know somebody who’s had an abortion, but nobody has ever come up to me to announce it as Stevie Nicks did, so my knowledge of abortion is essentially theoretical. Perhaps that’s true for you too. But that does not lessen our responsibility to serve as prophets of God’s truth on the topic abortion or, indeed, any other human injustice.
The traditional March for Life in Washington this year has been canceled, because of Coronavirus and the great number of troops that are in DC. So we can’t go to Washington and stand for the truth there. But we can stand in our own homes and our communities.
By virtue of our baptism, we are priests, prophets, and kings. As kings and queens, we can promote justice. Justice is giving to God and man their due. Every human person is due the right to life. In promoting the right to life, we are fulfilling our kingly office.
As prophets, we can speak God’s truth in little ways, often without actually speaking out loud. We can get a pro-life bumper sticker or license plate and serve our prophetic office as we drive around town. Jonah preached to Nineveh, and I’m preaching today, but the Freedom Riders mostly walked and sat. So being a prophet doesn’t always mean talking.
And, as priests, we can pray for others. We can pray for all those who are tempted to end their baby’s life because the timing or circumstances are difficult. And we can pray thanks to God for all those married couples who step forward to adopt children of all ages. And we can pray that all men and women in positions of political power in our country will respond to the message as the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message, and as Mississippi finally responded to the Freedom Riders.
When God saw by their actions how the people of Nineveh turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them. We read that just a few minutes ago. As kings and queens, we must not participate in the deep injustice of abortion. As prophets, we must speak out God’s truth. And as priests, we must pray to God that all who promote abortion will turn from their evil way.