Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2019.
The episode we heard from the prophet Isaiah—”the call of the prophet to prophesy”—is part of the prayer I say silently just before I proclaim the Gospel passage of the day. The prayer is this: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, who didst purge the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a live coal: and of thy gracious mercy, vouchsafe so to purify me, that I may worthily proclaim thy holy Gospel.” Isaiah’s experience was a profound one: he heard two angels singing to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” We sing this truth as well at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer. Just as we are taken to the source and summit of reality in the Eucharist, where the door opens to heaven, Isaiah had a mountaintop experience. And as when we approach the Light of Christ we see our shadows, Isaiah saw his. And he confessed his sins: that he had unclean lips, and therefore had become lost. One of the seraphim brought a live coal to his mouth, and thereby absolved Isaiah of his sin. And being made clean, he was able to respond to God’s call to go into the world and prophesy. “Here am I! Send me,” he said. And we Christians have savored his words for nearly two thousand years: words spoken six hundred years before the Incarnation of Jesus yet describe Jesus is wondrous detail.
On this Trinity Sunday, the final of the traditional eight days of Pentecost (also called the Octave of Pentecost) it is fitting to reflect on what it means to prophecy. It is fitting because being prophetic is something that Saint Peter preached about on the Day of Pentecost, and it is captured in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Quoting from the prophet Joel, from whom we heard last Sunday on the Feast itself, Peter said these words: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Prophesying, then, is something that all will do—all who are caught up in the Spirit’s out-pouring. Prophesying is for everyone. It is not reserved for the few or the spiritually elite. Sons and daughters, young and old, menservants and maidservants—all shall prophesy. It is in fact a kind of command: “shall prophesy,” not “might prophesy.” I want us, then, to ask the immediate question: Are we prophesying in our parish?
This might sound like an odd question to ask, but it is not at all. Or at least, it should not be. The reason I say that is because Saint Paul taught the very same thing to the parish church in Corinith. In the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” So as it was for Saint Peter, it is for Saint Paul: prophesying is for everyone. “But,” you may have in your mind right now, “I thought prophecy has to do with predicting the future, like Isaiah did.” But that is not right. It is true that Isaiah’s words predicted a great deal, but that is not what made what he did an act of prophesying. What made his words prophesying was simply that he, Isaiah, spoke about how God was present in his life. God is present in our lives in unique ways—for Isaiah, to describe God’s presence meant to describe the words God was telling him. We do not all need to be speaking like Isaiah literally to be prophesying. But we do need to imitate Isaiah at the deeper level: to speak to others about how God is present in our lives—that is what it means to prophesy, and that is what Saint Paul was teaching the Corinthian parish to do.
And why is it important to prophesy? For Saint Paul, when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, we are taught and encouraged by their words. Why? Because when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, God becomes present in our lives in the hearing. And as wonderful and nourishing as that it, there is still more for Saint Paul. He taught them that a parish church whose members are comfortable talking about how God is present in their particular lives, such a parish stands the best chance of growing numerically. And he states it plainly: if outsiders or unbelievers enter our church, if they hear the congregation as a whole, as well as individuals, prophesying—speaking genuinely and authentically about how God is present in their lives—the outsiders will be attracted to the community. In Saint Paul’s words, “secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Because nothing in this world is more attractive than the presence of God, and He makes His presence known through the members of His Body—through us.
Brothers and sisters of the Parish of Tazewell Count, let us begin this season of Trinitytide with this petition to our loving and merciful God—that the Holy Ghost, Whose very nature is to guide us into all truth, will continue to teach us how to prophesy—that the Holy Ghost, Who always gives to those faithful to Christ the words to speak, continues to teach us how to speak about how God is present in our lives—how He was present in our distant past, how He was present in our life five years ago, how He was present in our life last week, and yesterday. For outsiders to visit us and come away from the experience by saying “God is really among you” is the highest compliment a parish church can receive. And I am sure I am not alone in saying that I want outsiders to say that about us.