On June 24, we celebrate the feast day of John the Baptist. It’s a good day to consider prophetic missions in modern times.

It’s a subject my brain revisits on a regular basis. As we look back, it’s so clear which issues of social justice needed loud voices to cry out. In retrospect, it’s clear which victims needed piercing voices to insist on change.

A hundred years from now, which of our prophetic actions will gain the approval of future generations? Which silences will condemn us to their contempt?

I was asked to write about John the Baptist in a week where we got depressing news about the western Antarctic ice sheet that is melting faster than we thought. It will likely be centuries before we see the full effect on dry land, but we’re told now that it’s too late to change our behavior enough to prevent the melting. Can we change our behavior enough to keep the rest of Antarctica from melting?

It was also a week where I went to a lecture by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau. We were in Ft. Lauderdale, so most of the questions concerned climate change. After telling us that most of south Florida would need to move to higher ground, Cousteau said bluntly, “You will not be leaving your houses to your children.”

And then I got home to find the envelope from my insurance adjuster. It’s not a surprise when my flood and windstorm insurance rates go up thousands of dollars in a year, but it’s always unpleasant.

Unlike John the Baptist, Cousteau delivered his message with kindness. He took no glee in the fate of those of us who have invested unwisely in low-lying areas. He probably knows that our rising insurance rates are punishment enough.

Still, in an age where so many people insist that technological innovation will save us, Cousteau’s honesty was refreshing.

We can argue about which social justice situations demand our prophetic voices; perhaps you’d be more sympathetic to an essay that talks about the fact that it’s even easier to own a slave in the 21st century than it was in the 19th. Maybe your prophetic voice would call out on behalf of those Nigerian school girls — and all the thousands of other girls and boys who vanish every day into sex trafficking rings.

Alas, the list of social injustices is long and ever-growing. We may feel despair at the idea of doing anything.

When I feel the most despair, I remember the words of John the Baptist: “I am not the Messiah.” I am not the savior of the world. No, that job has already been taken.

But just because I’m not the Messiah doesn’t mean that I have a free pass. God does not look favorably at those of us who just sit on the sofa and let others cry out for justice.

On this day when we celebrate John the Baptist, let us do some work to further the cause of justice. There are plenty of causes and plenty of ways to support those causes. Let us do some of that work today.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative writing classes for the last 20 years. Find a link to Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s blog, “Liberation Theology Lutheran,” at Lutheran Blogs.

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