A journalist once asked Carl Sandburg, "What is the ugliest word in the English language?" After a few minutes Sandburg replied, "Exclusive." The ugliness of exclusive depends upon whether we are among the included or the excluded. We pride ourselves on being members of exclusive clubs, living in exclusive neighborhoods, dining at exclusive restaurants, vacationing at exclusive resorts, belonging to exclusive churches. Being an insider carries with it a sense of pride and security. Most of us, however, have been excluded often enough to agree that exclusive is an ugly word. When we are among the marginalized, the rejected, the pushed aside, or the left out it hurts.
Through the beginning of time in society, workplace and what we know as the institutional church, there are those who are on the "inside" and those who are on the outside. Prophecy on the Margins informs us that prophetic revelation, a spiritual harvest can occur in the most unlikely place and person. It emerges from a voice that emerges out of the wilderness, someone not always from the class room but rather from the coal mines, not always from the sanctuaries but a voice that comes from the streets, not always a voice from the palace but one that emerges from the prison. One may say, God can't call a murderer, yet God called Moses, God can't call a betrayer, yet called Judas, God surely cannot call a blasphemer, yet called Paul, or a runaway, yet God called Jonah, oh wow, a man who fell in love with prostitute, yet called Hosea, a hothead denier of Jesus, yet God called Peter to be the living voice of building his church and so on today, in the 21st century, why would or should Jesus' modern day disciples be any different?
The voices that emerge from numbers are being questioned by those who feel that are on the inside, that they have the inside tract in knowing what prophecy should be.
God said to Moses,
Take 70 of the elders and go to the tent of meeting, and I will meet you there. I will take some of the spirit which is upon you, Moses, and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so you will not have to bear it by yourself alone.
Should people bear the burden, on might ask? Martin Luther said, "no." The gifts of ministry have been given to all who are baptized. He called that "the priesthood of all believers." We are all priests. We are all here to minister to one another.
So God empowered the seventy, but then there two.
Two in addition to the 70, Eldad and Medad, remained in the camp. We don't know why they remained in the camp, maybe they missed the registration deadline, maybe they didn't check the Facebook events page, maybe they were so preoccupied in the realities of what was going on in the camp, in doing ministry, in reflection, in contemplation that there mind and spirit were on things not of the flesh, but on spiritual matters. No reason is given for their absence from the seventy. But these two men began to manifest the gift of prophesying. Joshua, the successor of Moses then overheard a young man telling Moses that it is two men prophesying in the camp, not with the seventy. Joshua, then became envious of the emerging prophecy going on outside of the tent meeting and urged Moses to make these men to cease or in other words, stop prophesying. Is it amazing, how in this this day and time, you have visionaries, prophets if you will, both young and old, are still bound by various institutional laws, but have a message for the masses that can set people. Free to worship in spirit and in truth and just because they have not gone to an Ivy league Institution, sat amongst the richest in the land or Grown up in mainstream Christianity, that they cannot be prophets in perilous times like these we are living. Moses then teaches Joshua not to covet exclusive rights to God's Spirit. Moses' desire in response to Joshua was that the spirit would encompass all people.
Centuries later the prophet Joel would echo the words of Moses as he proclaimed to the people of Judah concerning the coming Day of the Lord:
I will pour out My Spirit on all people,
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29).
The sad reality from the book of Numbers is what prevents this reality from taking shape. You have leaders that are the "INSIDERS," the successors to the promise who feel that they are the stakeholders of the spirit. It is disheartening that the biggest obstacle for the move of the spirit and ability to address the realities of those who are oppressed, those who are marginalized, those who are the last hired and the first fired, are folks who call themselves the "keepers of the law." Well, It is no different in today's time, those who have been in church all of their lives, sat on their generational family pew, names engraved in stone on the front of the church and here you have someone, who at times, came from nothing BUT have a trust and hope that things in the Lord would be better for their lives. Today, people are angry, upset, frustrated and flat are in flat out protest, asking the question, How in the world can we change things for people that just got here?
A prophet in the margins to me is like this illustration in describing Sodium and Chlorine. Sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is the poisonous gas that gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine however, are combined, the result is sodium chloride. What is sodium Chloride, one may ask? Salt, common table salt. The very substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor. Love and truth can be like sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken WTHOUT love, it can turn people away from the gospel. That is the dichotomy, the challenge prophet on the margins, in this modern day world we live in. When truth and love are combined in an individual or a church, however, then we have what Jesus called "the salt of the earth," and we're able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith beyond the four walls of the church. Even though we are working in the church, the beauty of our faith should be shared by all. Therefore all prophets are not just located in the pews on Sunday for an hour or two. Those with the gift of prophecy, have the ability to utilize the gift God has given them in the pews and outside of the pews.
Prophecy on the margins is not limited to the grandeur of a cathedral, in all of its beauty and splendor but can take place in a store front, in a garden, in a park, on the beach, in a food pantry, on the street, etc. It does not matter if you come from the wheat fields of Kansas, the oil fields of Texas, the corn fields of Iowa, the cotton fields of Alabama, the great lakes of Minnesota, the hay fields of Wyoming, the Bronx of New York City, the swamplands of Louisiana, the frigid landscapes of Alaska or even the cane fields of Hawaii God can and will use you. You can be of any hue, any gender, any size, any height to prophecy to the masses. HOW IN THE WORLD do we do that, one may ask?
Like Eldad and Medad, rather in the camp or not, prophesy anyway.
Come here Amos, what is the justice of the marginalized? He states "let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream."
Come here Micah, what does the Lord require of us? He states it is to act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with our God."
Come here Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. how do we be prophets on the margins? "The hour is late," said Martin, "the clock of destiny is ticking." We must act now before it is too late. The American dream forever stands in the midst of the "isness" of our terrible injustices to remind us of the "oughtness" of our noble capacity in human beings for Justice and love.
What we need now is a new prophetic mandate. Somebody needs to stand in the public square and ask the questions: Are we interested in the fundamental principle of life, which is justice for all? Are we sincere in building true relationships and developing the prophetic gifts that reside not only from those in pews but outside of the church?
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter:www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr