A little over two years ago, there was an article in the Fargo Forum about Allyne Holz, a retired Lutheran pastor from Moorhead, who boldly stood up for what she believed.
I like to think about Pastor Allyne as a pesky prophet.
Even though Pastor Allyne doesn’t fit the profile of most Biblical prophets. She doesn’t utter defiant words to kings. She doesn’t shout in people’s faces. She doesn’t foretell doom and destruction.
But she is persistent. Back in June 2018, Allyne waited in line for four hours under the hot sun to see President Trump here in Fargo. Once inside Scheels Arena, after President Trump had started speaking, this old woman stood up in the aisle. Then she silently turned her back to the president.
But the crowd didn’t like that. Everyone pointed and yelled. A security guard quickly escorted her out.
Back then, Allyne had decided to go against her normally quiet nature. She was having lunch with a friend when their conversation turned to Nazi Germany. They both wondered how a country could go down a path like that, yet have no one speak up.
But Pastor Allyne did not want to be someone who did nothing. She wanted her faith to make a difference. So, that’s what she did. Her silent protest spoke loudly.
Well, guess what? This week, that same pesky prophet was back. This time at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Once again, she stood for hours waiting to enter. This time in the cold rain.
Inside the stadium, Allyne melted into the crowd. After all, who notices an old white woman? Once again, as the president was speaking, Allyne stood up and turned her back to him. This time, however, she was a little more dramatic. This time, she blew a whistle. Sometimes a pesky prophet can be loud.
Once again, a security guard escorted her out through the angry crowd up the stairs. Again, people yelled and pointed.
But at this event, Allyne didn’t feel as safe as before. She asked for a security guard to walk in front of her and a police officer behind. It was all broadcast on the big screen and TV.
Later, the police took her photo. Allyne wondered if her hair looked OK. Then that pesky prophet was taken outside and transported in a golf cart to a city street. So ended Pastor Allyne’s prophetic act.
Which reminds me of another pesky prophet: Elijah. According to the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, Elijah lived in the 9th century BC (over 3,000 years ago!) in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah defended the worship of the Jewish God over that of the Canaanite deity Baal.
Some people didn’t like that pesky prophet either. The Israelite King Ahab called him a troublemaker. Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, threatened to kill him. So, Elijah fled to the desert as a refugee.
Poor Elijah was deeply discouraged by that threat. He saw himself as the last of the pesky prophets of Israel. But then God told him to anoint Elisha as his successor. And Elisha served as prophet for 60 years.
Today’s first lesson tells us a story about Elisha. About a leper named Naaman, who was the commander of the army of Aram, a country that shared borders with Israel.
The two kingdoms had previously fought many battles against one another. So, for Israelites, Naaman would have been seen as a foreigner and enemy. In fact, Naaman had a Jewish slave girl, who was taken as a war prisoner from Israel.
Naaman suffered from leprosy, which had no cure. The slave girl told him that Elisha the Jewish prophet could heal him. So, eventually he sends for Elisha.
But that pesky prophet Elisha doesn’t make it easy for Naaman. He tells the mighty leader to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan River.
But Naaman’s bigotry, his anti-Semitism, becomes a barrier. Why (he asks himself) should he wash in their dirty river, when there are plenty of clean rivers in his own great country?
Again, the nameless Jewish girl intervenes. Quietly she convinces him to give it a try. So, Naaman lets go of his angry arrogance, and follows the directions of the pesky prophet.
And Naaman is healed of his leprosy. Naaman the foreigner, the enemy, is healed by a God he does not know. Saved by the words of a poor slave girl.
And Naaman is healed not just in his body. But also his soul. He’s healed of his bigotry, when Naaman comes face to face with a gracious God.
A story that ties in with our Gospel lesson. The grateful leper in this story from Luke is another foreigner healed by another pesky prophet, Jesus.
In the time of Jesus, lepers weren’t allowed to live with their families. They couldn’t worship with their faith community. They were completely excluded from society.
So, it’s not surprising that these ten lepers come to Jesus for help. But when the Samaritan returns, Jesus wonders how it’s possible that only the foreigner comes back to say ‘thanks.’
The Greek word used here for foreigner is allogenes (αλλογενης.) It literally means “other race.” It’s the only place in the New Testament where this word appears. I believe the writer of Luke uses it here to make a point.
Over and over again, Luke presents stories of people that tell us that God’s grace is for everyone. The prophetic theme of the message of Jesus.
That God loves each of us, just as we are. No matter your race or ethnicity. No matter your country of origin. No matter your gender identity or sexual orientation.
For some of us, it can be difficult to take those words to heart. Especially if you are someone struggling with coming out.
This past Friday was National Coming Out Day. I spoke at chapel at Concordia College on Wednesday night about the coming out process and my own coming out story.
And on Thursday morning, I went back to hear a transgender student named Drew from Luther Seminary—the seminary I attended when I was young. When I was there, there were no trans students and no one who was trans was allowed to speak to us.
I was surprised to hear Drew share that when he told his friends about coming to Moorhead to preach, they warned him to be careful. They were worried that it might not be safe for him as a trans individual to come here. The kind of risk trans people face every day.
The same kind of risk, whether actual or perceived, that the pesky prophets of our Church also face—when they preach that Christianity is a faith which welcomes the stranger among us.
A faith revealed in Jesus, who—when he heals a leper, a foreigner—demonstrates in an undeniable act that God’s grace is for everyone.
A grace that can change our inner selves, so that each of us, in this world today, can become God’s pesky prophet. With our own story to share to tell.
A story that needs to be told today more than ever.
The story of God’s unconditional love. The story of God’s commitment to the marginalized among us.
The story of a God who welcomes and embraces the foreigner and migrant. The story of Jesus bringing healing and wholeness to the lepers among us.
The story of grace that sets us free to be ourselves—as beloved children, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Amen.
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Gospel Lesson: Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”