“We are Prophets of a Future not our Own”


This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development…

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, drafted for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in November 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.


athensI spent last week at our camp down in Athens, Texas, as the Keynoter for the Tri-Area (the North Texas Area [Dallas], the Trinity Brazos Area [Ft. Worth and Waco] and the Northeast Area [Tyler]) Junior Youth Fellowship – Camp 2. I have worked Summer Youth Camps and Conferences from the earliest days of my ministry in the early 1970’s in Oregon and South Idaho right up to the present time.  I believe that this annual investment of time, effort and energy is as important as any that I make all year as a minister.

Because of the present patterns of church attendance and what constitutes “active” participation, I know that in the intensive experience of Christian community that a week at summer camp affords them, that you will get more time – both quantitatively and qualitatively – with kids than you’ll get with most of them the rest of the year at Sunday School and Youth Groups combined.  And so I am always ready to go to camp when I am asked.  It is one of the ways that I try to affirmatively answer the question that our August Adult Forum at church is posing this year ~ “Will Our Children Have Faith?” I view my assignment at Summer Camps and Conferences each year as a way of doing my part to see that they will.

sowIn Matthew 13 Jesus compared the work of the Kingdom to that of sowing good seed in a field.  That seed falls on different conditions of soil with different results, and I always think about this while I am at camp. With elementary-aged kids you just never really know what’s getting through. And so you bring the goods just as creatively and memorably as you possibly can every time you get up to teach, knowing that the results of your efforts won’t show, often for years.

In another Kingdom Parable that Jesus told, the mystery of this was specifically named –

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4:26-29)

The farmer scatters the seed on the ground and then he goes to sleep.  There’s nothing more that he can do.  He doesn’t even know how the seed grows.   That’s not something that he controls.  The seed grows all on its own in the soil that has received it, and all the farmer can do is wait and watch.  And when there’s crop, he harvests it.

In the Upper Room on the night before He was crucified, John tells us that Jesus told His disciples that it would be their responsibility to “bear witness” to the things they saw and heard of Him “from the beginning” (15:27).  But this external witness would be matched, in fact, preceded by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit who would be sent when Jesus went away (15:26).

I try to keep all of this in mind while at camp with the kids — and in the pulpit at church.  You don’t really know the impact that you’re having.  The seed that gets sown will have to take root and develop.  But that takes time, and it is largely hidden.  And so all you can do is wait and watch, trusting that the Holy Spirit is inwardly bearing witness to the hearts of those to whom you have outwardly borne witness to their ears.

Al Mohler has written about our “product envy” as preachers and teachers of the Word.

We envy those who build houses or sell cars or build great corporations or assemble automobiles, or merely those who cut the grass. Why? It is because they have something tangible to show for their labor at the end of the day. They may be fastening widgets and assembling automobiles, or they may be putting things in boxes and sealing them up and sending them out, or they may be cutting the grass. They can see the product of their hands. A carpenter or an artist or a building contractor has something to which he can point. What about the preacher?

The preacher is robbed of that satisfaction. We are not given the sight to see what we would like to see…. We would like to have an assembly line of maturing Christians go out the door of the church, wherein we could at least see something and note some progress. We could statistically even mark what kind of impact this sermon had over against another. But, we do not have that sight; it is largely a hidden work in the human heart. Such a work will bear good fruit, but this will take time to be evident. [http://www.preaching.com/sermons/11565862/]

It’s not a style of Christian Music that I often gravitate to, and I find the imagery a little bit too literalistic and sentimental for my usual tastes, nevertheless I find that Ray Boltz’s 1990 Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award for “Thank-You” as the “Song of the Year” still touches something very deep inside me.

I dreamed I went to heaven and you were there with me.
We walked upon the streets of gold beside the crystal sea.
We heard the angels singing, then someone called your name.
You turned and saw this young man, and he was smiling as he came

And he said, “Friend you may not know me now.” And then he said,
“But wait, you used to teach my Sunday School when I was only eight.
And every week you would say a prayer before the class would start.
And one day when you said that prayer, I asked Jesus in my heart.”

Thank you for giving to the Lord.  I am a life that was changed.
Thank you for giving to the Lord.  I am so glad you gave.

The measure of our work is not something that can be figured now.  As Bishop Ken Untener put it in his tribute piece to Archbishop Oscar Romero –

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

I don’t know who taught Einstein how to count, but I know that somebody diligently did. I don’t know who taught Mozart the musical scale, but I know that somebody patiently did. I don’t know who taught Shakespeare the alphabet, but I know that somebody consciously did.  I don’t know who taught Monet his colors, but I know that somebody lovingly did. I don’t know who taught Billy Graham in Sunday School, but I know that there was somebody there along the way who planted the seeds of faith in his heart and who then prayerfully waited for them to grow.  And I know that I want to be that person for some child somewhere in North Texas today, and so I go to camp each summer when I am asked to plant seeds and then I prayerfully wait.

Will our children have faith?

Well, I don’t control the condition of the soil of their hearts, but I do control the sowing of the seed.  And so I can’t say for sure that our children have faith.  But what I can say for sure is that if we aren’t in the business of sowing the seed, then we’re not doing our part, and the possibilities for faith to take root and grow are thereby reduced.  As they say about the lottery – buying a ticket doesn’t mean that you’ll win, but 100% of those who win have bought a ticket!  All of which is to say, we’ve got to be in the game.  And so I am willing to go to camp each summer to do my part to see that our kids will have faith, and as a church, Sunday in and Sunday out, I know that we’ve all got to be prepared to  consistently, creatively and conscientiously do our part to see that they will as well.   DBS+




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