By Marjorie D. Grevious

I am deeply honored to begin my appointment here at St Johns, as your Evangelist of Spiritual Healing on this the first Sunday of Black History Month 2024. I am humbled to bear witness to the sacred stations illuminated by candlelight  reminding us of  Black heroes, many of whom lost their lives in gross examples of the racial bigotry and the social injustice that continues to plague our country.

I think about the scripture in Luke from today’s gospel reading and the mothers of our slain heroes. Luke, chapter 2 vs 34-35 reads “34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

I too know the piercing of that sword to my own soul…

 I hope to also bring you stories of Black Joy, possibility, triumph, and the endless contributions we have made to history and the American way of life. 

I have much to learn  with you and from you as I grow into this new space. The word ‘evangelist’ comes from the Greek word meaning gospel and  is specific to our faith as it definitively refers to a ‘christian preacher’. Evangelists are generally understood to be excited to spread the good news of the gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  

Now there is another word that has fallen out of common use in our faith tradition that I believe may speak more closely to my own work-’Prophetess’. A prophetess is defined as  a woman who speaks for God, or by divine inspiration. As anyone who has had to prepare a sermon, homily, or faith based speech can tell you, this is profoundly troublesome work. You wait for divine inspiration, pray for clear discernment, while working to interpret a word from God.  Then, one must prepare and deliver a dazzling oration that ignites, inspires, and moves others to do work in themselves, and in the world- in the spirit of a loving, kind, compassionate God. Many do not see or hear God in such tangible ways, so prophets, prophetesses, preachers, ministers, and evangelists serve an essential role in our faith journey. 

Although the word prophetess is not used commonly anymore there is great biblical precedence for me to follow as a guide. I walk a path set by the tradition of the prophetess found in the bible. Some of whom have a story we know and there are the lesser known, with few scriptures that tell the story of their divinely inspired  impact on the faith of others: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, Abigail, Esther, Rachel, Leah, and the only prophetess of the New Testament, Anna. Several of these women have full storylines in the bible that speak to their purpose and impact. Anna has only 3 verses in the gospel of Luke that tell her whole life story of loss, grief and her nearly lifelong abject faith finally being fulfilled. 

These 3 verses serve as heart felt lessons and guide for those of us a little less dedicated, or as fully committed to our faith walk as Anna. Verse 36 is where Anna’s story begins. It introduces her as a prophetess, states her name and lineage, as well as the tribe she belongs to. Identity is important as it defines who you are by who your people are. She is the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. This reminds me of growing up in a tight knit black community in my hometown of Louisville, Ky. When asked by elders to identify myself,they would sometimes say ‘who yo’ people be?’They wanted to know who my mother was, who my grandparents were, and where I grew up. Like Anna this gave me an understood place, and people in the larger context of the black community to which I was born. 

In this same verse, we learn that Anna is elderly and was married just 7 years. Verse 37 changes Anna’s story to one of a young widow. To put this in context, in that day and time young women generally got married between the ages of 13-16. Being married just 7 years, would have made Anna a widow somewhere between 20-23 years old-then dying at age 84. There is much we might assume from this bit of information. It was customary that a widow be taken in by a brother of her late husband, or by her own children, without this kindness a widow could be left homeless on the streets to survive. We might understand Anna to have no family to take her in as the scripture tells us that she spends the rest of her life fasting and praying never leaving the temple in a near constant state of worship. She lives for over 60 years in faithful anticipation of realizing something great from God. Verse 38 is where Anna fulfills her purpose as prophetess bearing witness to the presentation of the Christ-child, the exaltation of Simeon, and his blessing over Mary and Joseph. 

One might assume that over the years Simeon and Anna had shared prayer, divine promises,and stories of faith in their shared anticipation of the Messiah. In seeing  Baby Jesus in the arms of Simeon, Anna has also witnessed the fulfillment of God’s promise to Simeon that he would live to see the Messiah. She has 60 plus years of faith, fasting, and prayer built up in her spirit. I imagine her soul is on fire with seeing a kindred spirit have God’s promise fulfilled for him. She has much to share in speaking to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  This was much more than what many may have seen as the mutterings of an old woman who had been living in the temple for much of their lives. Can you imagine in todays time a young widow in her early 20s telling every new pastor of St Johns that she lives here now, never leaving, in faithful worship, fasting and prayer to God for 60 years?  Anna witnessing the first presentation of the Christ Child in the temple makes her proclamation a definitive exclamation that God’s promise has been fulfilled and all can now be redeemed. 

Anna is important as she is the first prophet in about 400 years. Not since Malachi, the last book and prophet of the Old Testament is there a prophet recorded in scripture. Simeon is not necessarily a prophet because his song of praise is in response to God’s promise being fulfilled to him, not a broad sharing of the coming of Christ. In the book of  Malachi there is an understanding of messengers such as Malachi and John the Baptist who prepare the way for God’s ultimate messenger Jesus. Then in Luke 2:38 we have the pinnacle of  Anna’s story and role as prophetess. It reads:  “AT THAT MOMENT SHE CAME, AND BEGAN TO PRAISE GOD AND TO SPEAK ABOUT THE CHILD TO ALL WHO WERE LOOKING FOR THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.” Once Anna sees the Christ Child she immediately begins to speak about him to all who were looking for redemption, a savior, the Messiah.

We are not all called to the pulpit, or even into the streets to proclaim God’s word. I do believe that as christians we are all called to share a good word on the redemptive loving kindness of a compassionate God and share that divine kindness through our actions. One of the scriptures for today from Hebrews 2:14-18 is very clear that God made His divine intention to understand our lives as human beings by becoming one Himself and walking and living among us. Experiencing God in the flesh was something Simeon lived on God’s promise to see and got to hold in his hands. He blesses a shocked Mary and Joseph for this incredible moment. Just bearing witness to this filled Anna with immediate purpose and intention in her praise and  message of redemption for all.  Anna’s very short story in the scriptures has much to teach us. It shows us that:

Really trusting God is hard- Anna believed for 60 plus years after her life had fallen apart that God would do a great thing

Being a prophetess takes time to have a divine word to share- you can’t just proclaim what you think is right, but what God is ready for you to share

Complete dedication to God can be your whole life as Anna chose to live in the temple, never leaving, choosing to live in complete devotion. Today some of us may choose a lay ministry, others of us go to seminary, become ordained, enter formal ministry, some of us choose a vocation that is like ministry in the service of others and many of us just choose to be good people sharing God’s compassion and kindness with others. 

Anna shows us what a strong faith looks like as you don’t have to have a book of the bible named for you to be a person of tremendous faith and praise

What is means to be in faithful expectation of God-waiting on His promises on His time

What happens when one is filled with the Holy Spirit-  causing Anna to praise and proclaim

What it means to live with a heart of Joy and Gratitude- joy comes from within and makes way for gratitude. Her praise to God is her gratitude for God.

Anna is an example of what it means to survive a hard life by relying on faith and not giving into her dire circumstances as a young widow. Instead she gave her whole life over to God.

I want to leave you with these questions from the lessons of Anna’s devotion for your own life and faith journey:

  • How will you spend time with God and draw near to Him consistently, regularly, faithfully?
  • What is your own modern day ritual to keep you centered in your relationship to God? Anna used fasting and prayer, I use yoga and meditation, what is your practice?
  • What are you expecting God for? What prophecy has God revealed to you? For you? For others? Are you listening for the Holy Spirit that dwells within you?
  • Are you ready to share with others what you have learned on your journey of faith? What God has shown you in your own life?
  • How, like Anna, might you live above the darkness of the world, above profound loss and grief and find divine light through your faith, your belief in what God can do?

In my black christian church culture there’s a call and response we say and most anyone of us will have the same response to friend and stranger alike, and it goes like this: One person exclaims the question , “Won’t He do it?” and the immediate answer is a resounding  “YES, He Will!” I envision a moment like that between Simeon realizing God’s promise fulfilled as he holds the Christ Child singing his song in the spirit of ‘Won’t He Do It?’ and catching Anna’s eyes. She immediately proclaims YES, HE WILL!!! 

Where in your life has God shown up and fulfilled the promises He made to you? When will you proclaim your own


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