Prophets of a Future Not Our Own + Commentary

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. 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.

Archbishop Oscar Romero – martyred on March 24th 1980

Commentary: This was first shared with me at a seminar course I took through Fuller.  Someone thought that this was not actually from Romero, and a little searching found a possibility that it was written by Bishop Ken Untener, for funerals for priests.  Apparently it is referred to as the “Romero prayer” in honor of the Archbishop.  That’s what wikipedia says, so, that’s that, I guess.

This poem struck several chords with me.  First, I am prone to over-emphasizing my own work and abilities.  In my head, I often envision large programs or groups of people moving with a unified vision and purpose, and I feel like it’s my work to put it all together.  When those things don’t happen, I get frustrated or despondent that I’m not doing enough.

My house community recently spent some time reflecting on Galatians 5, where Paul discusses the Fruit of the Spirit.  In the past year, I’ve begun participating in a community garden.  These three things, poem, passage, and practice, have helped foster in me a sense that the work I am capable and/or responsible of doing is probably less than I think.  I don’t make the fruit grow.  I can mend the soil, pull some weeds, make sure there’s plenty of water, but that’s about it.  If the plants don’t do well, there’s only so much I can alter the next time around.  This is not to say that there isn’t work to be done.  Quite the opposite, there is always more soil mending, more weeds, etc.  I must be vigilant in these things, while simultaneously aware of my limited influence in whether or not the fruit comes.  Jesus talks about yeast working through a batch of dough, and I think that this might be what he is getting at.

What does this mean practically?  I recognize that I cannot convince anyone to follow Jesus.  What I CAN, and MUST do, is live in such a way that a space is created for the Event of God to break through in lives, both my own and others around me, for the transforming power of the Cross to rupture all previous understandings.  I can live in a way that is genuinely loving of others, without having a hidden agenda of having “the talk” in which I get to tell someone about Jesus.  Nobody likes being a project, and I don’t ever want the people around me to feel that way.

What does this poem evoke in you?  What are your reactions to my thoughts?  Christians, am I de-emphasizing the proclamation modeled by the apostles and discussed by Paul, or should we begin discussing what it means to proclaim truth?  Does proclamation automatically mean propositional truth claims that must be argued and defended?

For my friends who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus, what do you think of the poem?  Have you ever felt like some Christian’s ‘project’?  (If so, I hope it wasn’t me, and if it was, I’m sorry.)

I love that this poem leaves space.  Nothing is clear-cut, finished, or tidy.  This is how I find life to be.  No religious explanation can do justice to the injustices of the world, and to even attempt that is, I think, to do a further injustice.


~ by Joe Paparone on June 1, 2010.

3 Responses to “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own + Commentary”

  1. I’ve noticed lately that I enjoy washing dishes. Why? Because there is a beginning, a middle and an end. I can make actual progress, and that is something I sometimes find difficult in ministry. Maybe I’m getting old.

    If I’m honest, I really struggle with the idea of “planting seeds,” which is really a much-less eloquent way of saying we only get to see a small piece of The Kingdom. I want objectives, measurable progress, outcomes, etc. I’ve become some sort of Christian social worker. Not sure when that happened, but it did.

    Anyway, really enjoying the blog so far.


  2. Good thoughts, man. I don’t think you’re getting old 🙂

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by Christian social worker? Do you mean that as an example where goals and objectives are in place or where they aren’t?

    I think in terms of smaller-scale ministry stuff, having definite goals and objectives, a clear beginning, middle, and end is very good, even necessary. I read a post awhile back that suggested church plants having a time limit, say, five years. It gives an urgency to the mission, requires a clear focus and goals, etc. I thought that seemed like a pretty good idea (I’d say longer than five years for a church plant, though). I think the poem suggests more big-picture stuff. Even a five-year church plant could recognize their role as gardeners who prepare the soil for the Spirit to come, know what I mean?

    • By Christian Social Worker, I mean someone who has lost sight of the journey/narrative aspect of faith and leans towards the measurable result side of things. I don’t see it as a good development in me, just something that has crept in. Check back in an hour. I may feel differently once I’ve had some coffee.

      I agree that each generation may have different responsibilities. One generation prepares the soil, one plants, one harvests. Here’s the problem: I rarely ask myself, “How can I build on the work of the generation that went before me?” In fact, in the rare situation that I know what the work of the previous generation was, I often prefer to work against it. Furthermore, I have rarely, if ever, met older lay Christians who have a clearly articulated vision of what it was they did in their day and how it can be transferred to ours.

      I guess the challenge is to get to a place where the previous and the current work together on the same fields instead of planting different crops.

      I think I’ve moved off topic a bit. Forgive the rabbit trails.


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