It’s a common story among bishops. A bishop is contacted by congregants upset with their young pastor. It’s something about attitude, miscommunication, cross purposes. The bishop asks the pastor what’s going on. The reply? I am just being prophetic. They can’t handle it.
God knows this world needs prophets. God still calls people to be prophetic. But there is a difference between God calling someone to be a prophet and us just choosing to tic people off. There’s a difference between preachers deciding they need to change the world from the pulpit and God pushing people forward to speak truth to power.
Almost every time I prepare a sermon, I get to make lots of choices about what to preach. I can choose from among four texts offered each Sunday by the Revised Common Lectionary (especially if the Gospel for the day seems too challenging). I can choose to switch to the Narrative Lectionary. I can choose to preach another text or theme if I think it will help my hearers with matters of the day.
But every once in a while, I have no choice. The Spirit lays something on my heart that must be preached – and She’s hard to fight. It’s something that I know will have members upset. I find myself preparing for the discussions that will follow before I even preach the sermon. I pray to be let off the hook. But the Spirit says, Preach it.
This is what happened to the First Testament prophets. God said, I have a message that you must preach. And you must preach it to the powerful. The prophet said, I don’t want to preach it. Get someone else. And God said, Preach. And the prophet preached. And the prophet was cast out – or imprisoned – or stoned – or…
Right now God is calling for prophets. The incoming administration threatens to wall off our neighbors, register Muslims, reduce the quality of public education, and seek advice from white supremacists. (And that’s for starters.) Already it is difficult to preach the basics challenges of Jesus without getting complaints from listeners. There are powerful people in our pews that don’t want to hear Jesus call to love our enemies, to teach wisdom, to welcome the stranger, to care for the poor.
It is becoming prophetic just to quote Jesus. We are called as preachers to quote Jesus. In fact this is a time when it is much more important to quote Jesus than to trust in our own creativity. It can be risky to simply tell the stories of a Savior who is alive and working in our world. It is a prophetic challenge in this time to preach the Gospel as it was given to us – without watering anything down.
Jesus is among us. Preach Jesus. And Jesus will be the prophet among us.