2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Sir Nicholas Winton died this week at age 106. Sir Winton was a stockbroker in London in 1939. His father’s name was Wertheimer, and he was of Jewish origin. But when his family immigrated to England, they changed their name to Winton and Nicholas was baptized in the Anglican Church.
When he was 30, Mr. Winton was preparing to go on a skiing holiday when he received a call from a friend who asked him to come to Prague and help him with an “assignment.” And so Mr. Winton left his work in London and went to Prague to help. He and his two friends developed a plan to transport children of refugee families from Prague to England. The found foster families to take the children in England by advertising in British newspapers. They arranged trains that took the children across Germany and into England. He got 669 children out of the country before Hitler declared war on Poland. The last trainload of children 250 of them left Prague but was interrupted, none of the children on board were ever heard from again. Many of the children that he saved, lost their parents to concentration camps in the war.
Mr. Winton didn’t tell anyone about his role is this effort—not even his wife. But he kept a scrapbook and in the 1980’s his wife discovered the scrapbook and learned the whole story. The BBC arranged for a meeting on live television between Mr. Winton and some of the children (by then grandparents) he had saved. After this, Mr. Winton was recognized as a hero—given awards by the Czech president, knighted by Queen Elizabeth the 2nd.
One of the children that Sir Nicholas Winton saved was Alex Pick’s grandmother. Without his heroic action, Alex wouldn’t be here today. What a remarkable story.
I think that Sir Winton’s story is a modern day example of our lessons from Scripture today. Our readings for today explore what is it like to be a prophet—one appointed by God to be his messenger.
In the gospel of Mark, we meet Jesus today in his hometown after his “miracle tour”. He is not recognized as a great healer. Everyone knows him as the son of the carpenter Joseph. He is just an ordinary guy. He’s amazed that they don’t believe in him. But he doesn’t give up, he just cures a few people—and then he tells his friends to go out and continue his healing work. Jesus was a prophet who was rejected by the people. But he conveyed God’s message nonetheless—preaching and healing.
Instead of being discouraged or angry about the lack of recognition that he gets—he just moves forward continuing his own work and motivating others to work with him. He sends his followers out, without banners to announce their work or lots of things to protect themselves from the cold. He doesn’t really even want them to carry lots of food. He tells them just to go to places and ask for help and stay as long as they need to to spread the word and do their work, and then just move on.
St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians talks about his own prophetic vision. His vision was very dramatic, but he realizes that he can’t boast about it. Instead of boasting about this incredible vision or his intimacy with God, he suffers persecution. This persecution, the lack of recognition from his followers, this is the only thing he can boast about because in his weakness is his strength.
The prophet Ezekiel is sent by God to the Israelites—a rebellious and stubborn people who won’t recognize him. But God reassures him, even if they don’t respond, they’ll know that a prophet has been among them.
From these passages we can see a few lessons about being a prophet.
· First, it’s not a very prestigious position. Don’t expect much recognition—at least not initially. Don’t expect to get rich or have lots of fancy clothes or even the basics—like bread.
· Second, you can expect rejection. Your family and friends won’t recognize your prophetic role, they may even ridicule you or persecute you. The only thing you’ll be able to boast about is how rejected you are.
· Third, if you are truly prophetic, if you are truly sharing God’s truth by your words and your actions, people will eventually know that a prophet has been among them. Your words (if they come from God) and your work (If it’s God’s work) will spread as others participate in it and share it.
And these seem to me to be the lessons from Sir Winton’s life. He did what he was called by God to do. He didn’t get fame and fortune when he established the Kindertransport. One quote that I read said that when he told people in Prague that this is what he wanted to do, that people said it was impossible—there was no refugee organization in Prague at the time. Officials said, it won’t work, but if you want to try go ahead. But ultimately his work is recognized as God’s work—truly prophetic work.
What do these lessons mean for us? As I look around our community here in Marin, I see so many needs. The elderly population is growing faster in Marin than in any other part of the Bay Area. The problem of homelessness continues in spite of some really good programs at places like Ritter House and the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy. The costs of housing are rising so quickly that working people like teachers, and public safety workers, health care providers can’t afford to buy or rent places in this area.
Sometimes these problems, right in our midst are so overwhelming, that it seems impossible for us to address them. But if you see these issues if you recognize the people who are hurting here, maybe you are being called to prophetic witness and action. Maybe you have received a phone call from a friend saying can you join me at this charity event. Or maybe you have been invited to participate in a service project. What if one of these voices that you might be inclined to dismiss is the “sending out” of Jesus—calling his disciples to go out and do God’s work. Maybe this is the message that Ezekiel received, or the message that Paul received from the third heaven.
As we listen for the prophetic call, we must be open to visions (like Paul’s) or instructions from a friend (like Jesus’s instruction of the disciples) or a spirit that enters into you and sets you on your feet (like Ezekiel’s message).
We can expect that when we say we’re going to work on a particular issue or start doing something, that people around us may think that we’re crazy. We may be ridiculed for trying something impossible. People may tell us that what we’re doing won’t help or that it won’t make any difference. But if you are sure that you are responding to God’s call, then you may do it anyway.
But don’t expect fame or fortune. This isn’t going to make you famous. I worry about high school students who are being told that if they do service projects it will help their college applications. It might be that the thing that you are called to do won’t be recognized by college admissions officers. At any rate, the hope of that recognition seems like the wrong motivation. Jesus tells his disciples to go out and do God’s work without even a second tunic. You can’t expect college acceptance letters as the reward for this kind of work.
If what you undertake is truly God’s work. If the message that you share by your works and actions is God’s message, then you can hope that ultimately this work will be shared by your friends. Others will follow you. Some will know in retrospect that a prophet has been among them. You will not ultimately be alone in your work, even if right now other people don’t recognize what you are doing.
I take away from the story of Sir Winton and the passages today from Ezekiel, 2 Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark that prophetic voice and prophetic work is ours to do. We are the normal, humans who must listen for God’s word and follow it. Even when the problems seem impossible to solve, or our family, friends and neighbors tell us that our efforts are folly--there might be some contribution we could make, and this is what we have to do.
We pray to God the Father that we might hear his Word. We pray to Jesus Christ, that we might follow as his disciples. We pray to the Holy Spirit that we might be motivated to spread God’s commandments wherever we go. Amen.