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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ
comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God. Amen.
Psalm 80.1-4, 18-19
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you that led Joseph like a flock;
Shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim,
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your mighty strength
and come to our salvation.
Turn us again, O God;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Let your hand be upon the man at your right hand,
the son of man you made so strong for yourself.
And so will we not go back from you;
give us life, and we shall call upon your name.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
The Jewish scriptures (our Old Testament) has many accounts of the ancient prophets. A simple definition of a prophet could well be: someone chosen by God to speak for God. The job of the prophet, no matter how challenging the times and the circumstances, was to accurately pass on God’s message to humanity. There was no specific training for this role, and there were no qualifications needed, other than being chosen by God.
As Jews looked back into their own history, they saw the prophets as being important signposts for God’s will and for the future God planned for this world. Unfortunately, as in their own time, the message of the prophets became distorted. Those chosen by God to speak for God conveyed a difficult message. What they gave as the ‘word of God’ was seen as challenging comfortable and profitable lifestyles. Their message was seen as having potential for overturning the status quo. The message of the prophets demanded ‘change’, which everyone knows as being such a difficult concept.
In today’s short reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is being questioned about the role of the prophets in those later times. Jewish teaching and tradition dictated that the great prophet Elijah would return to restore the equilibrium of a good relationship between God and humanity. Jesus gave his disciples the shocking news that the second coming of Elijah had already taken place, and that nobody had noticed it happening.
When Elijah’s earthly life came to its end, we read of a chariot of fire and horses … and Elijah [ascending] in a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). After such a dramatic exit they expected more than the frugal and penitential John the Baptist as Elijah’s return. They expected and wanted great heavenly fanfares and angels and chariots of fire, and absolutely everything heaven could throw at them. What they got was a man who spent much of his time in the wilderness and who called on everyone to turn from their old ways. Similarly, they expected the Messiah foretold by the ancient prophets to come in the form of a great warrior king. They were not ready for the loving and serving Messiah we see in Jesus.
Our message for today is about the prophetic nature of our calling. Jesus called us ‘friends’. The intimacy of that relationship makes it clear that we are all called into a prophetic ministry. We are all chosen by God to speak for God. The big question for all of us is how we will, in our time, account for our response to that call to the God who chose us? Or will we have to give an account of why we were in the crowd shouting: Crucify him!
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God, whose love brings victory out of suffering and death.
May the Church always have courage to preach the Gospel without fear. Grant to all Christian people perseverance in their calling and faithfulness to the truth that they have been taught.
Have mercy on a world where good is often met with evil and love with anger. Open the eyes of men and women everywhere, to see and follow the goodness around them. Bless those in authority and lead them into the way of peace.
Give us strength when faith is hard and brings us into conflict with others. Help us to witness by word and example to those among whom we live and work.
We pray for all who suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel and for all whose faith has alienated them from those who should be close to them. Give them courage in their affliction and soften the hearts of their persecutors.
We give thanks for all who have faithfully witnessed to the truth in this world. Grant that those who have suffered for their faith may find rest and eternal life in the realm where all tears are wiped away and there is no more pain.
We pray through Christ that we may be strong in the faith that sustained his holy martyrs.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Who would true valour see,
let him come hither;
one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather;
there’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound,
his strength the more is.
No lion can him fright:
he’ll with a giant fight,
but he will have the right
to be a pilgrim.
John Bunyan (1628–1688)