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It Isn’t Easy Being a Prophet!

July 3, 2021
the view from our vacation cabin on Lookout Mountain, Mentone, Alabama

“Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” This final verse concludes the passage from Ezekiel 2:1-5 which is one of Sunday’s Scripture readings. Ezekiel, like many of the prophets, was surprised that God would call him to do the work of a prophet. That work wasn’t easy and it often got the prophet into hot water with the powers that be. When your call is to tell Kings and religious leaders that they aren’t following the ways of God, it can get a bit hairy to say the least. Yet the prophets did speak out and regardless of whether or not the message was heard and/or received, a prophet had spoken in their midst!

 

In the gospel of Mark, we read in Chapter 6:1-13 about Jesus’ trip to his hometown where he taught in the synagogue. The reception by the hometown crowd was chilly to say the least. In verse four Jesus said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” I remember thinking about this particular story when I first preached at my home church a long time ago. I wondered whether or not the congregation would hear a preacher preaching a sermon or if they would see George and Shirley’s son who had grown up in the church. Would they say, “Oh look, it’s little Michael in the pulpit… how special.”? That was how I first interpreted this story all those years ago… I also knew that the message may or may not be heard by my home church because of that filter.

 

Now to be honest, I haven’t preached at my home church since graduating from seminary in 1986. My preaching has changed a great deal as well over the decades as my understanding of Scripture has deepened thanks to a combination of my own life-experiences and a healthy dose of the Spirit’s inspiration. How would the message be received? I don’t know. In fact, as I think about it, my Mom while she was alive, never heard me preach and Dad still hasn’t. I do know that some of my sermons wouldn’t exactly have made Mom comfortable, or Dad for that matter. But the point is that my calling in ministry has grown, deepened, and been transformed through the years.

 

Blame it on the Spirit or blame it on the Prophets… I am not called to only preach messages of comfort and joy… sometimes life calls for the words and the challenges of a prophet. And as I tell the congregation when I preach, if it feels like my finger is pointing at you… look at my hand… three fingers are pointing back at me. Try that experiment yourself, dear reader. Point your finger away from you and then slowly turn your pointed hand over… yep… three fingers pointing back at you.

 

I firmly believe that the voice of the prophets need to be heard in the church. Just as Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day to stand up to the Empire, I believe we need to stand up to the Empire as well. This is the Fourth of July weekend. Signs saying “Jesus saves” have been carried into the Nation’s Capitol by people claiming to be christians (yes, lower case is intentional) as they sought to subvert the constitutional process of ratifying a presidential election. Faith and nationalism are being intertwined in a way that I believe would appall the authors of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, let along the one who calls us to put away our swords and love every neighbor… including our enemies.

 

Jim Forest, a Peace Activist and friend of Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrigan, and Dorothy Day, shared a letter that Thomas Merton had written him early in his activism. Merton “stressed the importance of seeing people, including adversaries, simply as fellow human beings. One of the most important things to do is to keep cutting deliberately through political lines and barriers… and emphasize that these are largely fabrications and that there is a genuine reality, totally opposite to the fictions of politics: the human dimension.” (Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment by Jim Forest (p. 3))

 

During our vacation and this past week, Denise and I have been reflecting on a dark portion of American history which is often swept under the rug and ignored on a day when “Independence” is celebrated by this nation. We have literally and spiritually been spending a lot of time on the “Trail of Tears,” especially reflecting on the journeys of the Cherokee and Muskogee (Euchee) people who lived in this area and in the area near Florence, Alabama long ago. As a nation, we need to seriously come to terms with the horrors inflicted on the Indigenous people and upon the enslaved people by people who claimed to be christian. Instead of shooting off fireworks and singing “God Bless America” or “God Bless the USA” shouldn’t we reflect on both the gifts of freedom and the call to do better as individuals and as a nation in ensuring that ALL people share equally in the blessings of that freedom?

 

Dr King once said, “Today we particularly need the Hebrew prophets because they taught that to love God was to love justice; that each human being has an inescapable obligation to denounce evil where he sees it…”. Isn’t that what the prophets are calling us to do today? I know that they are calling me out and their voices refuse to be silenced. In the words of the Prophet Micah, shouldn’t we be doing justice, loving kindness/mercy, and walking humbly with God and with all of God’s children?

5 Comments
  1. Wow! Amen! Let God’s Word be heard. This is inspiring.

  2. Back in seminary, when they used to talk about cultural religion, I never thought that it would explode into the kind of nationalist form of Christianity we have today. Speaking truth to people who have wedded nation and faith is a difficult task. There are days I’m really glad to be retired.

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