Friday, May 27, 2022

Mass Shootings: Knowing and Then Doing the Right Thing

 



I used to drop my two young sons off at our neighborhood elementary school each morning.  They would run down the hill to the playground to join their friends.  I sat in my car and watched them until the bell rang announcing the beginning of the school day and both my sons passed over the threshold into the school building.

I assumed they were safe once they were inside.  It was a different time.

After that, we moved as missionaries to Europe and our sons attended European schools.

As I try to contemplate the killings in Uvalde TX that left 19 children and two teachers dead along with the perpetrator, my mind is overwhelmed, and my heart is does numb at the horror of the carnage.  I think about my two little boys entering Woodland Elementary School in Mansfield OH. 

I think about the trust I placed in that school, the city that ran it, the elected State and national officials whose job it was to do all that was humanly possible to protect my sons so they could grow into the fine adults they have become.  I trusted my community and my nation to cherish and protect my little boys.

Then I think about the 19 dead children and two dead teachers in Uvalde TX, and I cannot understand why we allow this to continue to keep happening.

I use the word “allow” intentionally.  We are prone to become dispirited and think this cannot change.  We wring our hands and ask ourselves what could possibly be done to stop this.

There are proven demonstrated ways to reduce mass killings.  Simple logic suggests some actions.

My grandfather gave me a single-shot-bolt-action rifle when I was a boy.  It could be lethal, but it would take a long time to kill 21 people in a school in Texas or 10 people in a Tops store in Buffalo. 

Later in life, I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels Memorial Park in Vietnam while on a mission assignment teaching Vietnamese pastors.  They had a shooting range at the tunnels where you could purchase ammunition and fire a weapon used during the war in Vietnam.  I purchased a cache of ammunition, and the attendant loaded it into a Kalashnikov. I pulled the trigger. Before I even realized the gun was firing, I had spent all my ammunition.  It was a costly 2 seconds or so.

Even a weapons novice like me can see this as a cautionary tale.

In the face of these inconceivably horrific shootings, the worst thing we can do is simply accept this as an inevitable part of life in America and go on about our business. 

James writes: Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for them this is sin (4:17).  When the lives of children are at stake, it is important to give things the proper name.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State

Monday, April 11, 2022

HOLY SATURDAY: ENVISONING HOW BEAUTIFUL THE WORLD COULD BE

 


A Dumpster Fire

There is war in Ukraine generating death, destruction, and millions of displaced persons.  In New York State we await refugees fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.  The junta in Burma continues to terrorize, dislocate, and kill ethnic minorities.  Last week we remembered the 28th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  In our own country we seem to makes meager progress in healing the animosities among us.  We continue to struggle with the ongoing effects of slavery and discrimination.  I could go on, but I need not do so.  We know the world sometimes looks like a dumpster fire.

Sometimes it gets to be almost too much; it really does. We have so vandalized God’s creation and so mistreated our fellow human beings, it is easy to lose sight of God what intended it all to be, originally.

Faith in the Midst of a Dumpster Fire

How does one have a vigorous faith in the midst of all these human tragedies?  Part of faith is imagination.  

Victor Frankl in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes about his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.  He recounts one day when he and his fellow prisoners were resting on the dirt floor of their hut, holding bowls of cold thin soup in their hands after a hard day of labor.  One of their fellow captives rushes in and says, “You must come outside and see this sunset!”

The prisoners get up and go out into the muddy prison yard, surrounded by their bleak shacks.  The sky is afire with ever-changing shapes and colors, from blood red to steel blue.  They stand there in stunned silence, their desolate surroundings in starkest contrast to the breathtaking horizon. 

Finally, one of them utters into the silence: “Think how beautiful the world could be.”

To imagine how things could be is an act of faith.  To envision what God wants for us and our world fuels our convictions about the God’s goodness and original loving intent toward us.  

It also brings near the grief of God as God mourns what we have done to one another.

Jeremiah & the Tears of God

The prophet Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet.  Although he announces uncompromising judgment, his writings are riddled with pathos and pain over what is happening.  With great clarity and brutal candor, Jeremiah surveys the mess around him, and then he grieves it.  It is not just Jeremiah’s pain that is given voice in his writings.  The prophet’s grief becomes comingled with the grief of God until the two become inseparable (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets). 

Jesus, in the tradition of Jeremiah, laments over the city of his impending rejection:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones the ones having been sent to you! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matt. 23:37)

As he [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.  They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-45)

These are “contrary to fact wishes.”  Jesus wishes it were not so, but it is so.

We might wish things were not as they are; but they are.  So, do we just give up, give in, or give it all over to futility and go watch the Disney Channel? No.

An Aspirational Vision

In the book of Revelation there is a stunning scene of a healed human family.

You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
    and they will reign on earth. (5:9-10)
 

 This aspirational unified vision of the human family sees that family as being constituted from all tribes and languages and peoples and nations. Our diversity is not erased; it is still there in identifiable ways. This diversity is simply no longer a problem for us. 

Our diversity remains; our divisions are healed

This is what God wants for us, all of us.  Have no doubt about that.  And someday God’s desire will no longer be a “contrary to fact wish.”  As is often said “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”  No dumpster fire of war and refugees and loss and injustice can finally hold back God’s original and enduring intent.

For Now

We, for now, live in the meantime, in what is called “Holy Saturday,” that day between the death of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter.  What do we do for now?

First, we live as if the hymn of Revelation 5 were already true for us.  A vision of how beautiful the world could be shapes our daily living now. This vision determines  how we treat others and what we consider important in this present day.

Second, we remember that when we grieve our world we share in the grief of the Maker of Heaven and Earth.  In that moment the longings of God’s heart become the longings of our hearts.  This is a good moment.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

Thursday, February 24, 2022

War in Ukraine -- 2.24.2022

 


I met them at a board meeting of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague in March of 2012.

These four young Ukrainian women were about to finish their theological education at the seminary and return to their native country.  They talked about the challenging opportunities for ministry they would find in their homeland. I said I hoped things would change in their country, and I wished for them many opportunities to practice their gifts for ministry.

This morning, indeed, things are changed in their country.  I don’t know whether over the past 10 years they had expanded opportunities for ministry, but I do know this morning their opportunities for ministry multiplied overnight.

For weeks we have heard reports of Russia’s slow march toward the invasion of Ukraine.  We have seen photographs of the amassing of lethal arms and soldiers at the border.  I have often thought of those young women as I watched.  I wonder how their faith is sustaining them and encouraging them under the shadow, and now the reality, of war.  I wonder what opportunities for ministry this current outrage has provided for them.

As we hear about tanks and sanctions, about differing accounts of history, about economic and geopolitical shifts, we can forget about the people on the ground in Ukraine.  These are people who prepare breakfast in the morning and get off to work, enjoy meals with friends, care for aging parents, like to walk in the woods on a sunny day, have dreams for their children, and love their spouses.  Last night many of them bathed their young children and told them a story before putting them to bed.

In other words, they are like us.  Except today there are tanks in the street and missiles flying overhead, and soon many of them shall likely die.

The All Ukrainian Associations of Evangelical Christian-Baptists is a family of about 2,000 Baptist churches in Ukraine and a fellow member of the Baptist World Alliance.  This morning the Association's President Valery Antonyuk began his message to his churches in this way:

Dear brothers and sisters, ministers of the Church!

This morning, February 24, the war in Ukraine began. What we prayed for God not to happen has happened today. And we, as believers, fully understand that we will have to go through and go through this period and this time.

The Bible says, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I will not lack. And even if I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid of evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff will comfort me. ” 

That is why we urge everyone, above all, to continue and intensify our prayers. This is our weapon in times of war, military confrontation. This is the first thing believers do. And we urge everyone, wherever you are, to seek the opportunity in person, in your families, in your churches, in ZOOM, where possible, to unite together and pray to the Lord.

We in America can do this too; we can pray. 

We feel powerless to turn back the events in Ukraine.  It has been like watching a car accident happen in slow motion and all our shouting could not stop the colliding cars.  Yet this one thing we can do. We can pray.  This is what people of faith do in response to things they cannot control, turn back, or reshape; we turn them over to God.

I encourage all our churches this coming Sunday to pray for the Ukrainian people and to pray for people in all places where the will to power, greed, arrogance, and inhumanity destroy human community, kill the innocent, and reward the ruthless.  We must continue to remember the ethnic minorities in Burma who for decades have suffered at the hands of the powerful and the indifferent.

I also encourage you to send a note of support to our Baptist brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Go to https://www.baptyst.com/pro-soyuz/ and go to the bottom of the page; ЗАЛИШИТИ КОМЕНТАР means “leave a comment.” There you can leave a brief comment letting them know NYS Baptists are praying for them.

And if you think about it, pray for those four young women I met in Prague 10 years ago and for all those other faithful leaders who guide their people through difficult times with words of hope and faith.

Blessings,

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

 


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Knowing Ourselves: A Reflection on Martin Luther King Day

 


The African American writer James Baldwin is being interviewed by a European American woman for a segment on the news show 60 Minutes, a segment that CBS recorded in 1979 but never aired.  The interviewer seems well intentioned and appears to be genuinely interested in the experiences and thoughts of Baldwin. 

At one point in the interview, Baldwin speaks candidly of his experience of living as an African American man in America.  Baldwin then says to this sympathetic interviewer:  “I don’t know you.  I’ve got nothing against you.  I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically.”  I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically. That is a telling distinction.  

I think of myself as a well-intentioned white American of goodwill.  I know myself personally in this way.  Baldwin is suggesting I ought to also know myself historically.

I think such a distinction between the personal and historical lies at the heart of the ministry of Dr. King. 

Paul Greenberg wrote King “understood he [King] had an ally in the heart of his adversary, and he never ceased appealing to it. He was relentless in his application of mercy [Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1988].”  King was a man of great mercy and grace, even in the face of ugliness, indifference, threats, and violence.  King believed his adversaries had it within them to be converted to better things, but in the meantime he knew they remained impediments to his quest for racial justice. He strove to confront them with the tension between knowing themselves personally, on the one hand, and knowing themselves historically on the other hand.

King was not naïve about the momentum of our nation’s history that sweeps up well-intentioned people in its current.  We call this momentum “systemic racism.”  We all have a personal identity, but we also have an historical identity shaped by our ethnicity, religion, class, and gender.  We were all cast into roles before we were born.  To break out of those roles takes deliberate initiative.  We call this “anti-racism.”  Ant-racism undermines the inertia of the status quo into which all were born.

In King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he exposes the tension between our personal identities and our historic identities.  In April of 1963, when King writes the letter, some local Birmingham clergy have called King’s activities in Birmingham “unwise and untimely,” activities for which King has been jailed.   He responds with this public letter.

King begins by observing that he rarely responds to criticism, otherwise he would have no time for constructive work.  In this case he makes an exception: “Since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”  In King’s opinion, “their genuine good will” is not sufficient for the situation.  King is looking for some action that will transform the historically-scripted roles of both the white people and black people of Birmingham.

King suggests that we must avoid “the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”  When he talks of “underlying causes,” King is referring to that momentum of our national history; we name this “structural racism.”  He is calling us to know ourselves historically, to take a broader view of our lives than our own individual efforts at being fair and kind in our daily dealings with people.

In his letter King recounts, what in his day was, 340 years of history.  He wants those well-intentioned clergypersons to understand that their good intentions do not cancel the structures and practices built by 340 years of injustice. He writes: “Shallow misunderstanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

We all know ourselves personally, but we need to know ourselves historically.  We need to understand the residual power of a history of slavery, then Jim Crow in the South and segregation in the North, and the persistent and pernicious legacy of systemic racism, up to and including the killing of Ahmed Arbury.

King writes in his letter that he sheds tears of love over the state of race relations in his day.  He closes his letter by expressing the hope that he can meet with the addressees of his letter as “a fellow clergyman and Christian brother.”  He simply wants them to face the tension created by knowing themselves personally and knowing themselves historically.  He is as was his custom, “speaking the truth in love [Ephesians 4:15].”

I encourage you read the letter in its entirety at https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches o New York State

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Two Faces of Faith: Remembering and Anticipating

 

Part 1: Remembering

Two Faces

The god Janus of ancient Roman myth was a god of two faces.  One face was turned back looking to the past, and the other was turned forward looking to the future. The two faces of Christian faith are like that.  One face looks back, remembering God’s faithfulness.  The other face looks forward, anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promises.

 In the present reflection we consider the face that looks back and remembers.

 Things That Weren’t There Anymore 

When I lived in Philadelphia I would watch a television show on Saturdays entitled Things That Aren’t There Anymore.  Each week the program would showcase some thing or place that had influenced the city, and sometimes the nation, in profound ways.  These were things and places that were not there anymore.

 For example, in 1902 Philadelphia-based restaurateurs Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened their first Automat named Horn and Hardart. They had already established, in 1888, a small café of the same name that sold cheap coffee and quick meals. Theirs was the first Automat in the country.  In my day, it was not there anymore.

 American Bandstand premiered locally in late March 1950 as Bandstand on Philadelphia television station WFIL, channel 6.   The show went off the air in 1989.  In my day, it was not there anymore.

 Week by week, Things That Aren’t There Anymore catalogued buildings, parks, venues, cultural treasures, and restaurants that were gone.  As I watched, I felt nostalgic for times and places and a city that I, myself, had never experienced.

Remembering as Faith

Remembering the accomplishments, struggles, and courage of those faithful believers who came before us encourages us in the present.  We see our passing and precious days as an opportunity to write our part of God’s story.  We ask what worthy things are we doing with our allotment of time.

 Remembering is part of our faith. The Hebrews were told repeatedly to remember, 15 times in Deuteronomy alone.  In Hebrew faith to remember is to believe; to forget is unbelief.  Amnesia is a form of atheism in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Bible, remembering shapes the way we live in the present.  In Deuteronomy 16:9-12, the people are told to celebrate the “Feast of Weeks” and to include their sons and daughters, their servants, and Levites.  The list of invitees continues on to include aliens, orphans, and widows.  You can almost see the peoples’ eyebrows rising as slaves, immigrants, and unrelated orphans and widows are included in the guest list. 

 This commands ends with the words: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.”  As the sons and daughters of ex-slaves, people who in their day were excluded and marginalized, the present generation is to invite the excluded and marginalized into their homes and lives.   Remembering brings with it responsibility.

 Faithful Remembering is not the Same as Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a longing for the past and wanting it back.  We remember a time we associate with good feelings and want to turn back the clock and live there again.  Or perhaps we want to return to a halcyon past in which we, ourselves, did not participate.   This is what I did as I watched Things That Aren’t There Anymore.  I longed for a city and a way of life that I had heard of but had never experienced myself.

 Nostalgia discourages and disheartens us.  It diminishes our energy to stake out a life in the present and clouds our vision for what is possible in the future.

 We should remember how God has faithfully sustained and nurtured our congregations.  We should give thanks for the courage and sacrifices of our ancestors in the faith.  In remembering how they wrote their chapter of God’s story, we realize that we too are now writing our chapter of that same story.  This is quite different from wanting to return to former days and write on pages long past.  We write our portion of the story  in the present tense. 

 The Hebrews Sometimes Got Stuck in Nostalgia

The Hebrews sometimes got stuck in a nostalgic longing for the past.  In Psalm 137, the exiles in Babylon sit and weep as they remember Zion.  They wonder “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  They cannot see the opportunities in the present because they are so captured by things that aren’t there anymore.

 Isaiah does tell these exiles to remember God’s faithfulness.  In 44:21-22, the prophet writes:

Remember these things, O Jacob,
    and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you, you are my servant;
    O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
 I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,
    and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have redeemed you.

In Chapter 63:7-9 the writer recounts all the great acts of the Lord.  Remembering makes the Hebrews brave and hopeful.

Yet the prophet also admonishes these same exiles to leave behind a type of nostalgia that blinds them to what God is doing among them in the present.  He encourages a type of forgetting that liberates them from longing for the past and opens them up to what God is doing in the present day.

Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (43:18-19) 

Longing for things that aren’t there anymore saps their courage and dims their vision.  Isaiah wants his readers to remember what God has done so that they might find courage in their day to embrace the new things God is doing. 

 No Encores

In short, God does not do encores.  God does not give us the old things back or do the prior thing again.  God does fresh things.  No matter how long we stand and clap for an encore, God does not give us back things that aren’t there anymore.  God is initiating a new chapter in the grand story of redemption and is calling us to write our part of that story with faithfulness and hope.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Except You Become as a Child

 


It began about 5 years ago with emails and letters about hearing aids.  Then the advertisements for retirement and estate planning starting coming. Fortunately, there has been no mail yet from funeral homes or caskets companies.  I periodically get promotions for hydrostatic tubs; I must say they have piqued my interest.

In November, I turn Sixty-five years of age. (Don’t tell me age is just a number; it is not.  “Age” is a word.)  Now on a daily basis I get literature about Medicare Supplements and Advantage plans.  I now know the difference between Parts A & B & D, a supplement, and an Advantage plan.

OK, I am aging. I tell myself I feel as if I am still 35.  Of course, I have no memory of what it felt like to be 35; I suspect it felt different than nearly 65. 

Although I cannot turn back the aging of my body, I am working to retain youthfulness of spirit. Recently I learned anew some things about youthfulness.

I spent last week as Camp Pastor at Pathfinder Lodge with a group of people who are truly young—in body and spirit.  I learned some things about aging as well.

First, these campers are not just kids.  They are young adults in some ways.  When asked about their fears and when they had felt betrayed, they shared some very sobering adult-like experiences: abandonment; the untimely death of loved ones; and social cruelty.  They have not led “Leave it to Beaver” lives.  Their religious beliefs have been both formed and tested by some difficult things.  Their faith should be taken seriously.

Second, their hearts and minds and faith are open to the new experiences life brings to them.  As we grow older, our faith, our view of people and the world, our loyalties and dislikes become increasingly  fixed.  It takes more effort to change and to grow.  So, we tend to settle in where we are like a smooth rock in a stream and let the current of life flow around us, leaving us barely changed.

Young people, on the other hand, are still malleable.  They are ready to learn and to grow.  They are listening and looking, learning and testing.  They are still being formed and are open to revision, rethinking, reviewing, and renewing.  The theme for the week at camp was “Renew.”  They were game for that.  They reach out for life with both hands, letting it take them where it will.

There openness and freshness were wonderful.  It makes them vulnerable to the Spirit that transforms and renews us. Paul encourages this vulnerability: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). 

Jesus recognized the advantages to youthfulness of spirit when he said: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [Matt. 18:3].”  He was talking about the openness and flexibility that comes through the humility that characterizes youth.

 It is enormously fun and exciting to work with a group of young people in whom you can see the Spirit of God working with great freedom.

There is, on the other hand, a danger to this youthful enthusiastic embrace of life.  Young people stand in the stream of life and their experiences shape their soft contours.  Unfortunately, not all those experiences are healthy and will bear good fruit in their lives.  Because they are impressionable, they are vulnerable to being misshapen by the pathologies and violence and cruelty of this world.  In other words, they can become “conformed to this world," as Paul writes.

We must care for the young people around us, in our families and our neighborhoods, in our churches and our schools, on our streets and in our nation.  We are responsible for them, all of them.

 Last week, a group of young people at Pathfinder Lodge had plenty of good food to eat, a nurse to provide medical care, safe places to sleep, and counselors who listened to them, treasured them and taught them about God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.  We talked about what God wanted for them in their lives and what God expected of them as they move through this world.  They were shaped in good ways.

 Given the river of influences under which these young people live their lives, a week at camp may seem like an inconsequential thing; but do not doubt the power of God when it is set free for a week on a hillside in the lives of young campers.

 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31—32).

Camp is about believing that a mustard seed can become a mighty tree and, likewise, these young people will grow into mighty fine and faithful adults. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Playing the Prophet and Being the Priest

 The more you know the more you realize you don’t know, said Aristotle. 

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld complicated the issue by saying “there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”

I really don’t know what that means, but I do know this:  I used to be a great deal more certain about what I knew.  I am confident the seasoned adults who knew me early in my ministry smiled at how certain I was of so much.  I was comfortable playing the prophet in those days.

A prophet in the Hebrew Bible, according to Walter Brueggemann, is one who speaks to the moment to a concrete community (The Prophetic Imagination, p. 24).  The prophet tells the people what time it is and what God is now doing and what God expects of us at this moment (p. 53).  The prophet brings the word of God to the people with a sense of urgency and confidence.

There are appropriate times and places for playing the prophet.

Richard Mouw, long time President of Fuller Theological Seminary, adds a wrinkle to the conversation by contrasting a prophet with a priest.  A priest is one who takes the deepest concerns of the people and confessions of sin to God, writes Mouw.  He suggests that we will be more effective prophets if we have first been good priests.  “Transforming leadership requires that we genuinely listen to others, that we be emphatically open to their points of view on matters that concern them deeply.  Only by approaching them as priests can we hope to relate to them as prophets [Uncommon Decency—Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, p. 125].”  Mouw goes to write this listening cannot simply be a strategy by which we then get a chance to tell others what we think.  “Genuine listening involves a willingness to be changed by what we hear.  We cannot hope to transform others without a commitment to being transformed ourselves [p. 126].”

 Over the years I have learned that a prerequisite for possessing an effective prophetic voice is first acting as an attentive priest.  Letting the people touch my heart and change me is a key part of being a good priest.  In Matthew 9:35—36, we see in Jesus a compelling picture of both priest and prophet.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Jesus proclaimed the Good News to the crowds. He also healed their brokenness and demonstrated compassion.  He was both prophet and priest. 

Later in his ministry Jesus utters a heartbreaking prophesy as he arrives in Jerusalem.  

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God. {Luke 19:41—44].”

As he says this, he is weeping.  The ground beneath Jesus is damp with tears of this priestly prophet. 

The Prophet Jeremiah brings some hard-to-hear things to his people.  Nonetheless, his unsettling pronouncements are bathed in his tears.

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
    not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
    for the slain of my poor people! (8:21—9:1).
 

Prophetic proclamation without priestly compassion is not the stuff of the Bible.

It is easier to play the prophet that it is to play the priest.  To play the prophet asks little of us; we can move on untouched by those around us and their lives.  We need to give no thought to how those around us came to be where and how they are. 

A priest does not have the luxury of distance and disconnection.  Maybe that is why the church spawns many more prophets than priests.

Jim Kelsey

Executive minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State