When I’m asked what I do my heart always sinks a little as I have casual part-time employment in such a niche activity that I can see eyes glazing over even as I start speaking about it. But at this time of year I come in to my own amongst a small circle of educationalists as around the county school timetablers struggle to complete their work ready for the new academic year.
And with more subject choice these days, more innovations and changing demographics writing a timetable is never the same two years running. In fact if you really want to irritate a timetabler / show your ignorance, just say to them “why don’t you just use last years timetable?”... and exit sharpish.
For a big school it’s weeks of work and while it can never be done perfectly it’s got to be done well enough. So I sometimes get called in to help. We work for a few hours and make some progress, we solve several problems but our brains have turned to mush and we have to leave at least as many problems unsolved for the next day. And folk can get a bit despondent. This is never going to be finished, they say. And that’s when I roll out my standard word of prophecy. “Fear not,” I say, “something will happen in September.” And they smile wanly and thank me for my reassurance, slightly encouraged perhaps by the fact that I’ve seen this all a hundred times before and something has indeed always happened in September.
But how do I know? I don’t actually and I suppose there is always the possibility that complete chaos will happen in September but that’s not what prophecy is about is it? It’s about speaking and acting as we believe. Such a lovely old fashioned word, it comes with a lot of baggage but if we start from the idea that to prophecy is to communicate a message which we have ourselves received it can be quite a helpful way of looking at our Christian calling. It also gives me a chance of connecting today’s three reading as frankly, I can’t see any other link.
So let me just restate that idea - we have heard the message of God’s love and how it is shown to us in many different ways. If we pick up on the facets of his love and try to weave them into our own lives then we do indeed prophesy and reflect his love for us. Now let’s briefly visit each of the readings.
Working backwards, we were reminded in the gospel reading that Jesus had a healing ministry. And whatever we make of miraculous healing, it is part of our faith that there is health and wholeness and hope to be found when we look to him. So in supporting each other in times of trial, in getting alongside people whose hope is fading we communicate that loving message and we do in a sense prophesy.
Then in the epistle we were reminded that churches and individual followers of Jesus have an imperative to give. There should be a fair balance, says Paul. So in giving from our surplus to others who do not have enough we speak volumes for God’s way of looking at economics. And I am sure it doesn’t have to be money - material and practical help, given freely does prophesy because it shows we believe that the good things we have are God’s gifts, given in his love.
And finally in the Wisdom reading we heard a reflection on the nature of creation, the big picture, if you like. And perhaps it’s here that we need to front up and face the fact that our present day understanding is way different from that of the scripture writer. We read “the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them” and we see lovely poetic thoughts but scientific truth? I personally don’t think so - the generative forces of the world are what they are. We face a very different philosophical landscape from one which sees the universe as dominated by good and evil, - it’s not hell but the very vastness and impersonality of the universe that scares us now.
But does that mean we give up on God in the wider realm? For me, no, because humankind never did know the nature of God, in religious terms, he has always been acknowledged as unknowable so in that sense, nothing has changed, he remains a focus for faith rather than certainty.
Which kind of brings us full circle because you really can’t see and prove love, you can only accept it and respond to it. Giles Fraser was reflecting on similar lines in his Guardian column yesterday and he pointed out how fraught it can be always to be looking for proof of love. In Shakespeare’s Othello, he observed, the tragedy is set in motion when Iago makes a spectacularly unhelpful comment to the effect that Othello would at least know that Desdemona didn’t love him if he saw her being unfaithful. Totally destructive, and even then, not really true.
So that’s how to show God doesn’t exist for us. If we turn away from the sick and needy, if we don’t give to those who don’t have enough, if we don’t seek the unknowable in the world we see around us then we’d have to admit the message we have received is not being passed on.
But as we do these things we prophesy, we pass on the message of God’s love. We show that for us, God is there.