Preaching Epiphany

So Christmastide has ended, the Star has been followed, and Lent is bearing down on us in one month.

The richness of the season of Epiphany (from the Twelfth Day of Christmas through Transfiguration Sunday) — also the first days of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical year — can be easily lost in the wake of Advent/Christmas hype and in the sobering preparations for Lent. But there is good news still needed from preachers during Epiphany and beautiful stories to unpack in the pulpit: magi & miracles, water & witness, sacred moments & transformative insights!

For last-minute planners and creatively-exhausted preachers, a few sermon series to suggest in encouragement of your preaching during the Epiphany season. The following outlines assume that Epiphany itself (January 6th) has already been celebrated, but for those who will celebrate Epiphany on January 10th, these series can be adapted & adjusted as needed.

Revelation in Community (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s New Testament readings), calling us to understand & celebrate God through community

star4January 10 (Acts 8:14-17): The gifts of others in multiplying & confirming God’s presence among us. “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

January 17 (1 Corinthians 12:1-11): There is One Source from whom our diversities flow and One Spirit binding us together. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

January 24 (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a): In Christ, all belong to one body and one community, but more than that: all are necessary for the body and the community to reflect Christ. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'”

January 31 (1 Corinthians 13:1-13): In the context of community, 1 Corinthians 13 becomes less a cliched reading for weddings and more an examination of how we behave together as part of Christ. “Love does not insist on its own way.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Hebrews 2:14-18): A certain humility is necessary in & for community, remembering that Christ came not because we are perfect but because we are human. “He did not come to help angels but the descendants of Abraham.”

February 7 Transfiguration (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2): Those who belong to Christ are audacious & courageous in seeing Christ in one another. “All of us with unveiled faces (unlike Moses) see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror.”

A Child Shall Lead Them (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings), celebrating Jesus’ youthfulness & imaginationstar2

January 10 (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22): “You are my Son, the Beloved.” We forget sometimes that Jesus was someone’s — and Someone’s — son, a child who was loved and scolded and watched over and nurtured. Most often we think of Jesus as a teacher, as the Word Made Flesh, as our guide, as an authority … in short, as an adult. How might we follow the Child differently than we follow adults?

January 17 (John 2:1-11): Like most children — and many adults — Jesus needed the occasional reminder to take care of his responsibilities. Jesus’ retort to his mother Mary “What does it concern me?” sounds remarkably similar to an eyerolled “That’s not my problem,” when in fact there are very few problems that genuinely are not “ours” in this interconnected world. So with Jesus and with humility, we remember to pay attention to the wisdom of others.

January 24 (Luke 4:14-21): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The maturation of youth includes seasons of certainty and determination, characterized by the conviction that their lives must matter in the scheme of the world and by the boldness to make it so. Jesus lived with a similar decisiveness, unwilling to make compromises and unconvinced by the cynicism that some of us concede to in adulthood.

January 31 (Luke 4:21-30): “Doubtless you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown the things that we heard you did at Capernaum.'” While recognizing the limits on his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus simultaneously tested those limits by naming them aloud in the synagogue, to which the people responded not by saying “Please try to do what you can among us” but by driving Jesus to a cliff. Are we (and how are we) naming and testing the limits of ministry & faith?

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Luke 2:22-40): “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many, and to be a sign that will be opposed.” Childhood — like faith — is full of ups & downs, scrapes & bruises, doubts & thrills. Jesus does not guarantee us an easy life or journey of faith, though with Simeon we hope to glimpse the glory of God’s salvation.

February 7 Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36, 37-43a): “You faithless generation, how much longer must I bear with you?” So often we cannot see what Jesus sees: healing, release, return. So often we cannot see who Jesus is: wholly God, holy Wild, simply Brilliant. On Transfiguration Sunday, we don holy imagination and childlike faith to believe what we have not yet had the courage to believe.

The Wisdom of Praise (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Psalms), a challenge to sustain a spirit of delight in the glory of God from the first sighting of the star to the mountaintop transfiguration

star1January 10 (Psalm 29): Do not fear what is God’s, but give credit & praise because all is God’s. “The voice of the LORD strips the forest bare, and all in his temple say, ‘Glory!'”

January 17 (Psalm 36:5-10): We are known and held secure within God’s love. “With you is the fountain of life.”

January 24 (Psalm 19): The heavens understand what we cannot fully grasp, yet still we seek it: the knowledge & fear of the LORD. “More to be desired are they than gold and sweeter than honey.”

January 31 (Psalm 71:1-6): God is our confidence and our calling. “Be to me a rock of refuge…for on you I have leaned since birth.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Psalm 84): The lost and the weary are found in God’s presence; those who trust in God find delight and renewal. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

February 7 Transfiguration (Psalm 99): Rejoice and be in awe to confess the strength and magnitude of God. “Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!”

Practicing Discipleship (on the Narrative Lectionary); the Narrative Lectionary has its own energy as the stories continue to follow Jesus’ ministry, yet a theme of discipleship lessons can be additionally traced during Epiphany

star3January 10 (Mark 2:1-22): LAW & LOVE. “Why does he eat with sinners? And why do his disciples not fast like the disciples of John and of the Pharisees?” In discipleship, we are challenged to hold together law & love, discipline & grace, tradition & creativity, and to keep our understandings of faith in constant conversation with the needs of the world.

January 17 (Mark 4:1-34): DISCERNMENT. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” Through many parables, Jesus reminds us to live with discerning hearts: for there are seeds that we will have opportunities to plant and seeds that we will have opportunities to harvest; likewise there is wisdom that we may discover and wisdom that will never be revealed to us.

January 24 (Mark 5:21-43): FAITH. “Do not fear, only believe.” Two stories of healing go to unusual length to portray the humanity, the despair and the sorrow, of the woman with hemorrhages and the leader of the synagogue (the former unnamed, the latter named Jairus). Jesus’ words to Jairus in 36b suggest that the opposite of faith is not disbelief but fear.

January 31 (Mark 6:1-29): AUTHORITY. “He called the twelve and sent them out, giving them authority over unclean spirits.” The question of who has the authority to influence whom threads together the dramas of Mark 6 and is a relevant question for our own discipleship. A girl’s dance persuades Herod, the commissioning by Jesus empowers the twelve, and the disbelief of his hometown stymies Jesus’ ability to perform miracles.

February 7 Transfiguration (Mark 8:27-9:8): FOLLOWING. “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” The fierceness of Jesus’ words in Mark 8 reminds us that following Christ is not a simple work, not a quick path to glory, not a set of easy answers. Even those who walked with Jesus and knew him best were continually surprised and made frequent missteps in their discipleship.

Blessings for the preaching and the living of these days. May the Epiphany season be full of rich insights and beautiful sightings of the Holy!

Monday Muse: Lenten Preaching Beyond Doom-and-Gloom

Still wondering what you’ll preach when Lent begins next week?

039Here are eight sermon series ideas for your inspiration and use, all of which aim to shed the traditionally dreary sackcloth of Lent in order to don a vibrant — and occasionally exuberant — spirit of discipleship. Many of these preaching suggestions reflect my personal & professional perspective that Christianity isn’t too serious for playfulness, that God isn’t too perfect for hard questions, and that our faith journeys are never too complete for reexamination.

While you’re browsing for Lenten resources, check out my Good Friday dramatic reading for two voices (Mary the sister of Martha & Lazarus and Judas the disciple & betrayer of Jesus), and an Ash Wednesday original liturgy.

#1

LET’S PLAY!
Revised Common Lectionary Psalms

To get your feet wet with a sermon series idea that is waaaayy outside of the traditional doom-and-gloom Lenten theme, consider the possibility of this intergenerational sermon series that helps the young and the old alike (re)imagine faith through the lens of common childhood games:

Lent 1, Psalm 25. Hopscotch (25:7 “Skip my sins” and 25:4 “Teach me Your paths”)
Lent 2, Psalm 22. Hide-and-Seek (22:24b “God doesn’t hide from our grossness”)
Lent 3, Psalm 19. Telephone (19:1-4 “The heavens whisper to creation, which whispers to us”)
Lent 4, Psalm 107. Blob Tag (107:3 “God runs around gathering people”)
Lent 5, Psalm 51. Follow the Leader (51:10 “We focus on imitating You”)
Lent 6, Psalm 118. Red Rover (118:19 “Can God get through?”)
Easter, Psalm 118. Keep Away (118:18 “God doesn’t let Death grab us”)

#2

TACKLING RELIGIOUS CLICHÉS
Narrative Lectionary

The parables of the Narrative Lectionary are full of religious clichés: familiar if overused adages that we use as palatable soundbites of faith. I lump clichés like these in the same category as horrible phrases like “God needed another angel,” because — scriptural or not — the phrases frequently substitute for theology and thoughtfulness. For Lent this year, consider unpacking and reexamining these clichés, for example: Do we use “many are called but few are chosen” to justify exclusion? Do we use the phrase “the least of these” without questioning the appropriateness of identifying others as “less than”? Do we experience “the last shall be first”  in actual life, and do we really want to experience it in faith? Give permission for folks to revalue these clichés in fresh ways…or perhaps even to discard them.

Lent 1. Forgive Us Our Debts (Matthew 18:15-35)
Lent 2. The Last Shall Be First (Matthew 20:1-16)
Lent 3. Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen (Matthew 22:1-14)
Lent 4. Keep Awake (Matthew 25:1-13)
Lent 5. The Least of These (Matthew 25:1-46)
Lent 6/Passion. Turn the Tables (Matthew 21:1-13)
Easter. Do Not Be Afraid (Matthew 28:1-10)

#3

BESIDE(S) JESUS
Revised Common Lectionary, Gospels

054Sure, Lent is all about Jesus going to the cross and how we’re supposed to follow Jesus … but let’s be honest: we’re not Jesus, and we usually stop short of going all the way to the cross. Besides Jesus, who else in these Gospel readings can we look to for discipleship lessons during Lent — folks we should imitate, folks we should try not to imitate? Who are the characters beside Jesus in these Gospels stories?

Lent 1. John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-15)
Lent 2. Peter (Mark 8:31-38)
Lent 3. Temple Vendors (John 2:13-22)
Lent 4. Nicodemus (John 3:14-21)
Lent 5. Andrew and Philip (John 12:20-33)
Lent 6/Palms. The Crowds (Mark 11:1-11)
Easter. Mary, Mary and Salome (Mark 16:1-8)

#4

THE HOLY COVENANT IN OBJECT LESSONS
Revised Common Lectionary, Old Testament

What does it look like to be in covenant with God? What does it feel like, what does it taste like, what does it sound like? To longtime Christians, these Old Testament stories may be familiar … but to all of us, the stories and the idea of covenant may linger with us beyond Sunday morning if we have something to hold onto, something to see, something to hear and even taste. Don’t just talk about God’s covenant this Lent; give your congregants physical objects to hold onto that covenant.

Lent 1. Hair Bows for rainbows (Genesis 9:8-17) – that’s right, you know you want to see the pews full of folks in colorful hair bows
Lent 2. Dirt for land promised to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16) – and be prepared to help with the vacuuming after worship
Lent 3. Stones for the tablets (Exodus 20:1-12) – smooth stones from the craft store or loose gravel from a nearby stream
Lent 4. Rubber Snakes for vipers (Numbers 21:4-9) – perhaps forewarn people so that your sermon isn’t punctuated by screaming
Lent 5. Stress Balls for our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34) – take extras to church committee meetings, ha!
Lent 6/Passion: Earplugs for hearing God (Isaiah 50:4-9a) – go ahead, give folks permission to wear the earplugs while you preach
Easter: Snacks for the mountain feast (Isaiah 25:6-9) – bring candy from the Easter egg hunt into worship

#5

THE JOYFUL KINDOM
Revised Common Lectionary, Gospels

Does Lent have to be so deadly serious? 🙂 Does Christian discipleship have to look like sackcloth and ashes and spiritual shame? What if Lent could be a season for very deep joy — because what’s better than following Christ! Imagine if we heard wildly good news throughout Lent:

Lent 1, Mark 1:9-15. Repent! Turn around because there are new paths, hooray!
Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38. Follow! Following Jesus means you don’t have to follow the rat race, sweet!
Lent 3, John 2:13-22. Reconstruct! God’s systems will not look like the world’s systems, whoot!
Lent 4, John 3:14-21. Love! You can never wander beyond or be lost from God’s love, yay!
Lent 5, John 12:20-33. Glorify! Our worth is found in God, amazing!
Lent 6/Palms, Mark 11:1-11. Shout! Join the parade without hesitation, hallelujah!
Easter, Mark 16:1-8. Run! Be overcome and energized by new life, astonishing!

#6

SKIP PRAYING, START BEHAVING
Isaiah 58:1-12, from Ash Wednesday texts

Lent, beautiful and important as it is, can lend itself to spiritual navel-gazing at the expense of beyond-church-walls faith-living. The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday (on the Revised Common Lectionary) calls for a change of heart and a change of life — not just another round of liturgical rituals. Follow Isaiah 58:1-12 for your sermon series, but don’t just preach: get your congregation into action. Write advocacy letters. Join local community efforts. Raise awareness of local organizations and leaders. Hold weekly drives. Give congregants a weekly assignment for activism on Isaiah 58’s themes:

Lent 1. Loose injustice.
Lent 2. Untie and break yokes.
Lent 3. Free the oppressed and imprisoned.
Lent 4. Share bread.
Lent 5. House the homeless.
Lent 6. Clothe the naked.
Easter. Reconcile your families.

#7

SKIP PRAYING, START BEHAVING
Narrative Lectionary

Let’s take another look at those parables scheduled for the Narrative Lectionary during Lent. Sure, they’re full of lovely religious clichés, but do you notice how not lovely the parables themselves are? Those easy adages come to us in the context of some complicated stories. What if you named the problems in the parables each Sunday for your sermon series? What if you identified the systemic concerns in the readings … and in our world? What if your sermons also observed how each of us personally might examine our participation and complicity in those systems? Perhaps Lent can call us to some behaving!

Lent 1. Slavery and Indebtedness / Consequential Forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-35) – Systemic: Ever notice that Jesus doesn’t question the existence or ethics of slavery? What are the modern conditions that perpetuate slavery and servitude, e.g. modern debtors prison? Personal: Notice that forgiving and being forgiven in the parable require action, not just sentiment.

Lent 2. Fair Wages and Immigration / Unsettling Forgiveness (Matthew 20:1-16)Systemic: What are ways in which immigrants are treated as an “issue” rather than as “people” by our media outlets, our political systems, and ourselves? Personal: When and why do we feel threatened by “fairness” that gives others access to privileges we take for granted, e.g. why is gay marriage perceived as a threat to straight marriage, or why is the protest of police violence against Black and brown persons perceived to be a threat to white folks? Are we willing to be unsettled in order to make room for all people in God’s grace?

Lent 3. Imperialism / Uncentering Humility (Matthew 22:1-14)Systemic: Quite like empires, the king in the parable sees himself as the center of the world, beyond fault and able to control the lives and schedules of everyone within his realm. He is apparently willing to sacrifice his slaves for the sake of his message, is easily angered that people won’t drop everything to appease his need for wedding guests, and is unrestrained in forcing his subjects into obedience. Personal: What if we were to live as though we are not at the center of the world … perhaps even not at the center of God’s world? 

Lent 4. Sexism and Shaming / Neighbor Accountability (Matthew 25:1-13)Systemic: It’s not hard to find examples of sexism in our modern world, but pay close attention these days to the frequency of shaming, especially when someone says “I don’t have enough” or “I’ve been injured.” Too often that person is assumed to be at fault for their own lack or for the injury; the five bridesmaids whose lanterns burn out, for example, are blamed for not having enough … why aren’t the five bridesmaids with more than enough scolded for not sharing? Personal: Do we take responsibility to care for our neighbors who don’t have enough or have been injured, or do we say “We’re prepared — why weren’t you?” What if, when able, we always came prepared to share?

Lent 5. Poverty and Homelessness / Active Hospitality (Matthew 25:1-46)Systemic: Before we get too excited about being sheep, can we ask honestly and compassionately who has been cast out and why? Who has been cast out from homes, who has been kept out from wealth or even a living wage? The sheep and the goats are not just a matter for spiritual metaphors; the experience of hell is a very real and daily experience for many who are dislocated and dismissed. Personal: You know how the sheep say, “What??? We took care of Jesus without knowing it?? No way!” Let’s debunk that myth: these days, we rarely if ever care for others “accidentally.” Perhaps it’s time to stop accidentally caring and clothing and visiting, and instead practice hospitality intentionally.

Lent 6/Passion. Financial Injustice / Socially Conscious Spending (Matthew 21:1-13) Systemic: What are the modern systems that financially squeeze those who are already struggling? Personal: Perhaps the harder question: how and where are we participating in those systems? Are we like the folks in Jesus’ day who came to the temple and bought sacrificial doves without realizing that it was problematic?

Easter. Mass Incarceration / Urgent Advocacy (Matthew 28:1-10) Systemic: Your parishioners may not come to church on Easter Sunday expecting to hear about mass incarceration, but perhaps no other system is so physically contrary to Easter: these institutions that enclose, cut down and cut off people’s lives! Personal: It’s time for us to catch an urgency in our advocacy like the women running from Jesus’ tomb!

#8

BEYOND THE LECTIONARIES

Finally, two simple ideas for sermon series that step outside of the Revised Common and Narrative Lectionaries:

Hymns: Choose one or two favorite hymns of the congregation, and preach Sunday by Sunday on the stanzas & refrain or on the prominent images of those hymns. Bonus: the congregation gets to sing its favoritest hymns every Sunday!
Prayer: Preaching on prayer is a great approach to a Lenten sermon series. You can preach on the Lord’s Prayer line by line, or you can preach/teach on a different type of prayer each Sunday (lectio divina, silence, etc.). I drafted two sermon series ideas on prayer for Lent last year that you can check out.

I hope you’ll drop me a note and let me know how these sermon ideas work for you! Blessings as you prep for the Lenten season. If you’d like to receive a daily prayer “nudge” via email through Lent, as a way of keeping yourself grounded through the busy holy season, send me a message to sign up.

Dear White Preachers, Take Off Your Prophet’s Mantle

Dear White Preachers,

I have been watching and listening to your reflections on the task of preaching to predominantly white congregations in the wake of the non-indictments in New York City and Ferguson, in the wake of the powerful movement in the U.S. and around the world to affirm #BlackLivesMatter. I am not currently serving in a ministry setting that includes weekly preaching, so while I listen to your conversations I wonder what I might preach. The season of Advent is rich with scriptural longing for a world that has not yet been realized, for an appearance by God or God’s messengers in response to the world’s great need.

Advent and the daily news and — importantly — the persons in the pews all converge & commingle & require prayerful exegetical work by every preacher from Sunday to Sunday. I’m encouraged to witness the support being shared among you as you prepare sermons for such a time as this, and then as you offer affirmations to one another when you report on the impact of those preaching moments…

…And I confess that I am troubled by a particular word that recurs often in those post-sermon conversations, so let me offer this reflection and caution from one colleague to another: White preachers, we are not prophets.

That sermon you just preached on race to your predominantly white congregation was not prophetic. Admonishing America’s racist soul — or, taking the more pastoral approach, affirming God’s love for all people/the least of these/the poor & oppressed — in your sermons for two Sundays in a row is not prophetic. Your invitation to church folks to gather for a vigil in prayerful solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement is not prophetic. Naming directly the racism that you hear from congregants on Facebook or in person is not prophetic.

Yes, these actions may be hard to do in your context. Yes, these words may be rare in your place of ministry. Yes, you may feel uncomfortable or nervous or even fearful as you speak in these ways. Yes, there may be difficult conversations as a result. Yes, it’s possible that you could become a lightening rod for congregants’ tensions. Yes, there’s even a chance that your job stability could be risked. And yes, mustering the courage and Spirit to move past all those fears and to do something — whether preach or pray or protest — may qualify as brave.

But friends, these actions and these words do not make us prophetic.

Why not?

(1) Because we’re white. Let’s start there.

Because, as uncomfortable as you may feel naming race from the pulpit, it’s not your life that America is debating or devaluing. (Which isn’t to deny you the struggles you may have with America’s valuation of your life, but it is to distinguish and to recognize bluntly that your white life is not being killed by police at almost the same frequency as lynchings occurred in the Jim Crow era.)

Because we are uncomfortable saying “#BlackLivesMatter” clearly and unequivocally from the pulpit — think on that for a moment — and so we hedge and say #AllLivesMatter and we slip Eric Garner’s name into a pastoral prayer, thus concluding that we have spoken truth to power. Yet we are the power. You, my white colleague, are the power — by virtue of being part of the dominant culture and by virtue of your office, no matter who cuts your paycheck — so I ask you: Is “God loves everybody” a truth that challenges and upsets your power?

Because we haven’t done our own work on race and racism or not enough of it — we can never do enough work on it, white folks. Because we don’t know our place when the outcry is “Black power!”, so we cheer “No justice, no peace.” Because we’re uncomfortable standing next to our Black colleagues in solidarity, so we take a white buddy with us.

Because the movement isn’t about us. (See #2 below.) Because prophets are called out from among a people to speak to or on behalf of those same people — and white folks, we are not the people in question when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter. It is not about us. Yes, there is a response to #BlackLivesMatter that is incumbent upon white people, white ministers, white churches — but we are respondents to the message not prophets with the message. At best, white preachers repeat the message with a lens for how it will be received in our pews, challenging our churches (and ourselves) on the idea that our context is limited to our church walls or even to our geographic regions. But even when we relay that message effectively, friends, we are not prophetic.

Why aren’t we prophetic?

(2) Because we don’t tell our own stories. That “prophetic” sermon you gave? Did you mention Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Tanesha Anderson, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin? Did you tell a story about your (one) Black friend? Did you reflect aloud on — hear me closely & honestly, white colleagues — your own Black or brown child if you have an interracial family as I do?

When you told someone else’s story in your sermon — no matter how heartbreaking the story, no matter how personally close you are to the person — you (subconsciously) guaranteed that there was no risk to you. Maybe there was the risk of tears, maybe the risk of someone walking out, but there was no risk to your own whiteness. In fact, by highlighting someone else’s story as the primary illustration of race, you implicitly affirmed to your white congregation (even if they said they were offended), “See — I/we are not that.”

To be sure, the affirmation of #BlackLivesMatter necessitates the recognition that someone else has an experience of daily life that is other from our experience. Yet in our progressive white liberal resolve to know and to name (to consume*) the other story, we manage to avoid the more soul-searching question: “If we are not the other, then who are we?”

[“White identity…has remained largely exempt from examination or self-questioning.” And on *consumption: “Whiteness…has not come into being as a form of overcoming but rather as a form of plunder.” Both quotations from White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity by James W. Perkinson, pages 171 and 164 respectively.]

Wondering, then, what story to tell when you preach if not the other’s story? Tell your story, tell your church’s story, tell your community’s story of whiteness. I don’t mean your story of German-ness or your story of Norwegian-ness or your story of New England-ness (or whatever region has shaped you). I don’t mean your story of white guilt and liberal lament.

I mean that story of how you came to pastor a predominantly white church in a predominantly white town. That story of whether you noticed that the search committee that hired you was all-white; whether you preached your trial sermon and thought to yourself how odd it was to look out over a sea of white faces. That story of why a predominantly white town is a comfortable place for you to call home. That story of how the congregation feels good because mostly white isn’t all white, and how you feel affirmed to have three persons of color as members in the congregation thus confirming that you are a racially inclusive pastor and that the congregation knows how to welcome (allow) the other to sit among them.

Wondering what story to tell when you preach on race? Tell the story of how your congregation came to be predominantly white in the first place. Did the founders choose to establish a white faith community? Do your congregants remember those rare instances when a person or family of color visited on a Sunday, but “Of course they didn’t feel welcome here”? What are the stories of your church choosing — individually and collectively — not to see the non-white faces in the pews (“We don’t see color”) and in the community?

Tell the story of how your predominantly white town came to be so white in the first place. Was it a sundown town? Were there laws about who could own property where? Are there still implicit codes among local realtors about home ownership? Is the town predominantly white due to the displacement or slaughter or erasure-by-education of American Indians?

Before you stake your and your church’s identity on the dubious theological story of liberal do-good-ism and white saviour-ism, first excavate your story of participation in American racism and your removal (whether by conscious choice or unconscious default) from an integrated Kingdom of God, taking seriously that “one cannot partake in heritage a la carte.” By confessing our own, our churches’, our communities’ stories of whiteness, we do not make ourselves to be prophets but we begin to prove ourselves to be allies.

Friends, take a close look and a long listen. In the U.S. these days, the prophets are not in the pulpits. The prophets are in the streets. The prophets are staging die-ins and staring down police lines and shouting at city council meetings and organizing efforts to interrupt commuters and businesses and daily routines. The prophets are calling us to a new way of being — and not just calling, but making it happen.

We are not those prophets.

Though by our office as preachers it is our job to proclaim God’s word, we must be clear that this word, this movement, was not given to us by God to proclaim. Someone else — someones else — have the honor of proclaiming this particular day of the LORD and of calling all people to this particular repentance of racism.

When we call ourselves “prophets” for speaking against racism, we unintentionally reveal the very white privilege that we believe we are denouncing, for we plunder and steal the prophet’s mantle when it is not rightfully ours.

Friends, “prophet” is not a self-proclaimed title.

“Prophetic” is not a synonym for bravery.

The kingdom of God for which the true prophets are now in the streets crying out, demanding, will upend our white world no matter how much we believe ourselves to be allies. Perhaps we can participate in that coming kingdom, but we do so in a confessional posture…not a prophetic stance.