In today’s gospel lesson from the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus has come home to Nazareth immediately after last week’s two stories of healing. Apparently he is there for at least a few days and when the Sabbath comes he does as he has done elsewhere: he goes to the synagogue. In Luke’s version of this story, Jesus is given a scroll from the prophet Isaiah and reads from it:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [1]

And goes on to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [2]

Mark does not include these detail, but they help explain why “many who heard him were astounded.” [3] Exactly what their initial attitude toward Jesus teaching may have been is unclear. Luke says that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” [4] but again Mark leaves that detail out. What both Luke and Mark agree on is that by the end of the event, the crowd had turned hostile. According to Mark, “they took offense at him,” [5] while Luke says they did rather more: they “were filled with rage” and “got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” [6] Like those to whom Ezekiel was sent in our first reading today, the people of Nazareth were “impudent and stubborn.” [7]

In any event, in both versions, Jesus cites (and, in Mark, expands) a well-known proverb: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” [8] Also, in both the Marcan and Lukan stories, he does none of the sorts of healings or deeds of power he had done in Capernaum and in the Decapolis. In Luke, it’s unclear whether this is because he is unable to do so, or perhaps just unwilling, but in Mark’s story it is clear: he was unable to do so – “he could do no deed of power there … and he was amazed at their unbelief.” [9]

In both of these stories, by reading the prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah and declaring himself to be its fulfillment in Luke, and by citing the proverb in both Luke and Mark, Jesus is claiming for himself the mantle of prophecy. In our Old Testament reading today, the prophet Ezekiel also claims or, more accurately, accepts the call to the office and ministry of a prophet. “I am sending you to them,” says God to Ezekiel, “and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” [10]

Although we sometimes (perhaps often) think of a prophet as a seer, a predictor of the future, that is not primarily what prophets do. In Hebrew the word for “prophet” is navi, a word derived from a phrase meaning “the fruit of the lips;” it means that a prophet is a speaker or spokesperson, specifically one who speaks God’s word to the culture and society in which the prophet lives:

A prophet is basically a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on God’s behalf and convey a message or teaching. Prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God. They set the standards for the entire community.

* * *

Prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon people; rather, it is the culmination of a person’s spiritual and ethical development. When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical achievement, the Shechinah (Divine Spirit) comes to rest upon him or her. [11]

“A prophet stands in a twofold relationship: to God, from whom the prophet brings the message, and to people, to whom God’s message is addressed.” [12] According to Charles L. Aaron, Jr., a professor of ministry at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas, in his commentary on our lesson from Ezekiel, this is now the role of the church, of each of us and of all of us together, “the ministry of speaking to the world the word of repentance and justice.” [13] So, I want to talk with you today about the church as a prophetic community.

In a few minutes, we will say together, as we do every Sunday at the Eucharist, the Nicene Creed. As we do so, we will profess that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” [14] What do we mean when we say that? What do those four words – one, holy, catholic, apostolic – mean?

Our catechism in the back of The Book of Common Prayer [15] provides us some quick and easily understood answers to this question:

Q. Why is the Church described as one?

A. The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, despite the Church’s human divisions through schism and reformation into Orthodox East and Catholic West, into Catholics and Protestants, into differing denominations, into camps and parties within denominations, it is still one because regardless of which fraction we may be part of, we all acknowledge one Lord and Savior, one “advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” [16]

Q. Why is the Church described as holy?

A. The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God’s work.

The word “holy,” used in the Creed, does not in any way suggest that the members of the Church or the Church as an institution are free from sin. To say something is holy simply means that it is dedicated or devoted to the service of God. The Church is holy not because it is our church, but because it is Christ’s Church, set apart for a special purpose by and for God, a foretaste of the New Jerusalem “filled with the presence of God and of the Lamb.” [17]

Q. Why is the Church described as catholic?

A. The Church is catholic, because it proclaims the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.

“Catholic” is a word of many meanings within the Church, but its basic meaning as used here is “universal;” as the catechism says, it is for all people for all time.

Q. Why is the Church described as apostolic?

A. The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people.

Those last words are in the Catechism’s answer are important ones: to be apostolic means “to be sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people.”

If we want to summarize the four marks of the church, if we want to simplify them into a single word, that word would be “prophetic.” When we recite the Nicene Creed and profess our allegiance to and membership in a Church which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, we are acknowledging that the Church is, and we as members in it are, called to the office and ministry of prophet, to be spokespersons for God to the world around us.

The Prophet Micah set out what theologian Miroslav Volf calls “the grand summary of the prophetic proclamation:” God requires human beings “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” [18] This two-fold message, of right relationship with God combined with right relationship with our human brothers and sisters, is set out again in Christ’s summary of the Law: Love God and love your neighbor. [19] The good life to which the prophet calls the people, to which we as the Church call the world around us, must include both.

In last week’s gospel stories of healing, the synagogue leader Jairus and the woman who suffered the 12-year hemorrhage both had great religious belief and commitment, yet Jairus’s strong faith was, by itself, not enough to cure his daughter; the woman’s deep belief was, by itself, not enough to end her dysmenorrhea. Not until they had each come into relationship with God incarnate in Jesus Christ was healing possible; both committed belief and personal relationship were needed to work the cures. In like manner in today’s gospel, the townspeople of Nazareth, even Jesus family members, cannot receive healing; although they have a deep personal relationship with Jesus – “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” they ask – they do not believe; rather, “they took offense at him.” [20] Because one of these two necessary elements, in their case belief, is missing, Jesus “could do no deed of power there.” [21]

The prophet’s message, in a similar way, must include those two elements, love of God and love of neighbor, or it will “do no deed of power.” Miroslav Volf, whom I just mentioned, in an article entitled The Church as Prophetic Community and Sign of Hope wrote:

The two prophetic demands for walking with God and for doing justice and kindness are inseparable but they cannot be identified with each other. We should neither be so socially naive as to believe that when people have peace with God social arrangements will take care of themselves, nor so theologically blind as to assume that when people live in peace with one another they thereby live in peace with God. Prophecy can neither be replaced by evangelism nor dispense with it. They belong together because personal fellowship with God and the new world in which every tear shall be wiped away are two aspects of the single reality of the new creation. Prophecy is the social (and ecological) dimension of evangelism and evangelism is the personal dimension of prophecy. [22]

Today’s gospel story, in both its Marcan and Lukan versions, is a reminder that this ministry of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is not easy. If done whole-heartedly, some will hear and be healed, others to whom it is addressed will take offense. As a newspaper editor once wrote of the rôle of journalism, it is the rôle of the prophetic church to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

In a recent article in The Irish Times, the Rev. Marie Rowley-Brooke of the Church of Ireland, a retired canon of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, wrote:

There is a trinity of heartbeats pulsating through scripture; the heartbeat of love, succinctly summarised in 1 John: “God is love”; the heartbeat of hospitality, demonstrated so profoundly in Mary’s consenting to partner with God in bringing forth Jesus, our Lord and Saviour; and the heartbeat of justice, which we understand as demanding the freedom and flourishing of all peoples regardless of gender, sexuality, race or colour. Love, justice, and hospitality. [23]

If that same trinity of heartbeats pulsate within us as they do in scripture, then we shall fulfill the church’s prophetic ministry and do great deeds as a church. As Jesus proclaimed in the Nazareth synagogue, good news will come to the poor, release will be proclaimed to the captives, the blind will recover their sight, and the oppressed will go free. If we have both faith and a right relationship with God incarnate in Christ, we will do these things even if we face a stubborn and impudent people.

Let us pray:

Your church, Lord, is composed of people like us.
We help make it what it is.
Its heart will beat with love, justice, and hospitality, if our hearts pulsate with those same heartbeats.
It will be friendly, if we are.
Its pews will be filled, if we help fill them.
It will do great work, if we work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes, if we are generous givers.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if we invite and bring them.
It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if we are open to such growth and service.
Therefore, with your help Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to the task of being all the things you want your church to be: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; a prophetic community and a sign of hope.



This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

The lessons used for the service are Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; and St. Mark 6:1-13. These lessons can be found at The Lectionary Page.



[1] Luke 4:18-19; cf Isaiah 61:1 & 58:6 (Return to text)

[2] Luke 4:21 (Return to text)

[3] Mark 6:2 (Return to text)

[4] Luke 4:22 (Return to text)

[5] Mark 6:3b (Return to text)

[6] Luke 4:28-29 (Return to text)

[7] Ezekiel 2:4 (Return to text)

[8] Mark 6:4 (Return to text)

[9] Mark 6:5-6 (Return to text)

[10] Ezekiel 2:4-5 (Return to text)

[11] What is a Prophet?, Judaism 101, available online (Return to text)

[12] Miroslav Volf, The Church as a Prophetic Community and a Sign of Hope, European Journal of Theology 2:1, pp 9-30 (1993), page 23 (Return to text)

[13] Commentary on Ezekiel 2:1-5, Working Preacher, July 8, 2018, available online (Return to text)

[14] The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 359 (Return to text)

[15] The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 854 (Return to text)

[16] 1 John 2:1-2 (Return to text)

[17] Volf, op. cit., page 16 (Return to text)

[18] Ibid., page 22, citing Micah 6:8 (Return to text)

[19] See Mark 12:28-31 (Return to text)

[20] Mark 6:3 (Return to text)

[21] Mark 6:5 (Return to text)

[22] Volf, op. cit., page 23 (Return to text)

[23] Marie Rowley-Brooke, The Irish Times, ‘Wilfully schismatic’ movement supports submission of women to men, July 3, 2018, available online (Return to text)