14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – July 4, 2021
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Ezekiel 2:2-5; Psalm 123:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
As I mentioned, and as most of you know, my name is Fr. Michael Brungardt. I was ordained a priest by Bishop Kemme three years ago at the ripe ol’ age of twenty-five. So if you’re doing the math, you’re correct, I’m very young. I also know that you can already smell it—smell the city boy on me. I grew up in Wichita; lived in Wichita my whole life except for the years when I was in college and seminary.
Fun fact, though: my grandmother is actually from Lyons. Her maiden name was Hamler. She grew up down the street at 310 N Grand. She was a protestant, but rumor is her little high school sweetheart was a Catholic. My mom grew up down in Nickerson and she would always talk about her trips up to Sterling. So I have a few ties here to Rice County, not a complete outsider. I’m very excited to be here in Lyons. I already feel very welcomed, very much at home.
What Kind of Person Is a Prophet?
You know who didn’t feel welcomed? Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel. Our first reading today was from Ezekiel. And he was an Israelite living in Babylon during the Babylonian captivity; uprooted from his homeland and taken to Babylon when he was about my age. But then a few years later, the Lord appears in this vision (that we read from in our first reading) and commissions him as a prophet.
Now, real quick. When we think of prophets, we think that their job is to do what? Predict the future, give a “prophesy.” We think, for example, of the prophet Isaiah, when he says, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Prophets predict the future, right? Well, yes and no, but usually no.
The prophet has the task of helping to open the eyes of the people to the divine view of their life, which, more often than not, is a view different than what they are typically convinced is “right” (Nagel). And because the prophets challenge the views that people hold to be “right,” views which they hold very tightly, they’re usually not the most popular people in town.
And yet, the prophets are compelled to keep speaking; they cannot keep silent (c.f., Jer 20:9). When the Spirit of the Lord enters into them and sends them out (c.f., Ez. 2:2), they have a pressing need to speak. And so they go out to the people to proclaim the divine view, knowing that they will most likely not be popular. Ezekiel was—how would you say—not popular, and he felt that. But a prophet rarely is. The Lord told Ezekiel that he would be rejected by the people, that they wouldn’t listen—and He wasn’t kidding.
Our Call to Be Prophets
Ok, why do I bring all of this up? Well, because—are you ready?—each and every one of us in this place today has been called, set apart, destined by God to be a prophet, to preach the Gospel. The day of our baptism, we were anointed on the head with the Sacred Chrism, setting us apart as people who share in Jesus’ mission as king, and priest, and as prophet.
And just like Ezekiel, just like Ezekiel, for most of us one of the first things we do is…make excuses. We point out that people don’t want to listen. We remind God that we’re just going to be rejected. So what’s the point? And we make more excuses, “Eh, I’m a little too busy. Well, I have kids. Uh, I really don’t think you want me to do that. I’m not comfortable sharing my faith, I just want to pray and come to church.” The Gospel isn’t a popular message these days—so we avoid it. But fun fact: the Gospel has never been the most popular.
Too Familiar? Or not Familiar Enough?
I think the real challenge comes from the fact that we ourselves are not always familiar with Christ, and so it’s hard to proclaim that message. Or better yet, perhaps we’re a little too familiar with who we think Christ is supposed to be, we’re a little too familiar with what we think the Gospel is—and so we’ve missed it.
Think back at our Gospel reading for today. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth and is teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath. The disciples were with him, and in their conversations they were probably telling people about the amazing things they had seen happen in the presence of this man. And the people from Nazareth who hear him were astonished, amazed at what they were hearing. And they started to ask questions, “Where did he get all of this? Where does this wisdom come from? Isn’t this Mary’s kid? Didn’t we watch him grow up here? Who does this kid think he is?” And just like that, their astonishment turns to offense, to shock, to scandal. After all, Jesus is just an ordinary guy, right? Just another native of Nazareth? And they probably start saying things like, “Who is this guy to be teaching us, to be doing such extraordinary things? Nah, I knew him when he was a kid and there can’t be anything special about him.”
I think this is often where we find ourselves. At least, I know that’s where I was at for a long time. I thought the Gospel and being a Catholic was just going to Mass and doing all of the “Catholic stuff,” something I had to do to keep myself from going to hell. Honestly. I thought that Jesus came to teach us the new and improved morality which would finally keep us out of hell. I thought that Jesus came two-thousand years ago, left us with some teaching we had to believe and follow, and then died and rose again so he could open the pearly gates. And now he’s just waiting up in heaven to judge us on how well we did. But, my dear brothers and sisters, that’s just absurd! When this is what we think the “good news” of Jesus Christ is, when this is how we experience the “Gospel,” when we think this is the message we’re supposed to share—we’ve missed it.
When this is the case, then it’s easy to put ourselves in the shoes of the people of Nazareth in today’s Gospel and say things like, “I’ve heard all of this before, and it doesn’t make much sense. I grew up as a Catholic, and I just never understood it. I still come to Mass, but only because I have to.” Jesus just becomes that ordinary guy we grew up with, and we begin to think, “There’s no way he’s anything special.” And so “preaching the Gospel” sounds so foreign to us.
To Preach or Not to Preach?
But preaching the Gospel doesn’t mean standing up in large crowds and telling everyone why Jesus is their personal Lord and savior. Preaching the Gospel doesn’t mean blasting your religious opinions and views all over Facebook. Preaching the Gospel doesn’t mean berating people with Catholic moral principals.
To preach the Gospel, to be a prophet—it begins by simply sharing what God has done for you with the people to whom God has sent you. Every one of us has stories about the things the Lord has done for us. Every one of us can share how the Lord has restored our lives, taken us out of darkness and into his light. To be a prophet and a disciple who proclaims the Gospel means to boldly communicate what Jesus has said to you “in the darkness,” what Jesus has done, personally, for you.
And that’s scary, I know. As a good German, what I like to do is hold it right here, and then one day…I’ll die. We don’t reveal our hearts, we don’t expose ourself to ridicule and embarrassment, we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of others. We are scared of opening ourselves to ridicule, of showing signs of weakness, of dependence on the Lord. But do not be afraid.
Called, Empowered and Sent
One of the things I hear the most is, “Wow, you are very young to be a priest. Wow, why did you become a priest? Wow, why would you give up everything to do this?” And some other things that shouldn’t be repeated in church. But look: just by my vocation, by accepting the call God has given to me, by how I live the Gospel in and through my life—I have opened myself to ridicule. But at the same time, by opening myself to ridicule, I have also become a living sign of the Gospel. Simply by the witness of how I live the Gospel in and through my life, before I ever say anything—people are disarmed by a 25, 26, 27, 28 year old who would leave everything else behind. People ask me all the time, “Why did you become a priest?” And then I have a chance, not to give a lecture of Catholic morality or to explain why Jesus is important—I have a chance to simply share what God has done for me, and that he offers this to everyone. I have the chance to be a prophet.
Each and every single person here has this kind of opportunity—more than you think. The Lord has called each and every single person here to be His prophet, to be the disciple he sends. Many of us could list off people we know that used to come to church, but don’t any more. Many of us could list off people that grew up Catholic, but have fallen away. Perhaps we don’t need to begin with converting everyone we see in the grocery store, but those people we already know. Yeah, it’s not easy. Being a prophet in your home town, in your native place isn’t easy. But it is a way to imitate the Lord, to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ. He will be with you. He will strengthen you. In the moments when you are weak, his strength will empower you. The same Spirit you received on the day of your baptism, that you were empowered with on the day of confirmation, and the strength from this Bread of Life will not fail.