Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is Behind Those Prophets?

Today, the third Sunday in Advent was a day where we paid special heed to the voices of the prophets. At least, a sampling of prophetic voices was provided by today's lectionary readings.
We began with Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11
In another case of neglected verses, we missed verses 5-7 which read,
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double,
and dishonour was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.

Maybe that would have made the reading too long, or too confusing. Maybe the part about foreigners tilling the land while you become priests sounded a bit like slavery.

Next came 1Thessalonians 5:16-24 where we are advised about prophets,
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

And then we have the case of John1:6-8,19-28 with the following expurgated verses,
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

There go those uncomfortable words again. Words like "only son" and "No one has ever seen God." Isn't it easier to leave some prophetic words out of the lectionary?
Well, it should make preaching the sermon easier shouldn't it? Charlie took the opportunity today to preach about prophets. He included Amos, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Ronal King as good examples of prophets. In his focus on prophets of the modern day, he missed something. It could have appeared to the casual listener that prophets are just people who look around, see something wrong in society, take a stand in opposition to the ways of the world, and try to do something about it.

What is missing? I am not despising the words of the prophets mind you, but I am testing.

Is a social activist a prophet because they saw something wrong? While Charlie's examples are Christians, why not delve into the question of what power is the source of their vision, what is inspiring them, and what is pushing them forward despite the heavy odds. Is it just their concern for fellow man? If so, then who needs God? Yes, the God connection was not clearly elucidated. I missed it. How else can the prophet survive the pressures of the world?


  1. I believe that the Pewster is correct: Charlie's examples of modern "prophets" do not qualify in the biblical sense of the word. They do, however, qualify as social activists. The Church does not qualify as a school for social is the machine for spreading the Good News of salvation.

    As we hear in the Readings, all of the Old Testament was a preparation for the coming of Christ. The prophets announced, in varying ways, the salvation the Messiah would bring. John the Baptist, the greatest of those born of woman (cf. Mt. 11:11), was actually able to point out the Messiah himself; his testimony marked the culmination of all the previous prophecies.

    It is the prophet's and the preacher's job to bear witness to the Good News of salvation. So important is the mission to bear witness to Jesus Christ that the Synoptic Gospels start their account of the public ministry with the testimony of John the Baptist. The discourses of Peter and Paul recorded in the Book of Acts also refer to this testimony (Acts 1:22, 10:37, 12:24). The Fourth Gospel refers to this testimony as many as seven times and we know that John the Apostle was a disciple of the Baptist before becoming a disciple of Jesus, and that it was indeed the Baptist who showed him the way to Christ (cf. 1:37 ff)

    The New Testament shows us the importance of the mission of the Baptist. His testimony is undiminsihed by time; he invites people of every generation to have faith in Jesus the true Light. Such is the prescribed mission of every prophet and preacher. Soup kitchens are certainly important within the context of corporal works of mercy but, without acceptance of the Good News of salvation, they are as tinkling brass and sounding gongs.

  2. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Cato - very disappointed in you - point to think on - for all we know, the good people that Charlie mentioned yesterday may be(and I believe this to be true) sent by God as his prophets. Many times in the past humble and not so humble mankind has not recognized the prophetss among us until generations later. Thus Cato, I find you dissertation, while learned, rather closed minded. All prophets don't come to us in a blaze of glory accompanied by the anglic blare of trumpets. Many are very quiet and go about their business without recieving even so much as a thank you.

    Signed C2G

    PS - to the Pewster - just once I would love to see a sermon/ service/topic review that doesn't totally run our beloved clergy under the proverbial bus! Now wouldn't that be a lovely and economically sensative Christmas gift to the COOS congregation?

  3. I confess to thinking of modern prophets with an initial bias against them. Their deaths and the test of time confirm their prophetic vision. MLK Jr, Dorothy Day, and Ronal King were and are deeply religious people and that is what I was getting at in this post. Just listen to Rev. Ronal King in the link in the post above and you know what is driving his ministry.

    Without Christ, we are merely being social activists. With Christ we can be so much more.

    P.S. I promise to be positive in my Christmas Eve post.

  4. Anonymous5:58 PM

    I missed the "proverbial" bus. What verse was the prophecy about buses in?

  5. Sorry, C2G, but the good people that Charlie mentioned yesterday do not qualify as prophets. They qualify as social activists or reformers. It's unfortunate that you find a biblically based argument to be "closed minded". Even MLKJr himself would be horrified at that statement.

    I'd also question your position that not all prophets come in a blaze of glory. In fact, none of them do.

    The point was that while such charitable works as soup kitchens are laudable, they amount to nothing without the Lord Christ. Rather than preaching pious political platitudes from the pulpit, a healthy dose of the Good News of salvation might be in order.

  6. This whole prophet business is interesting, and I am sure it will come up again, but may I close with this from today's reading from 2 Peter 1:20-21

    "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

    Hang the prophets from the great commandments, first love God with all your heart etc and then you will be able to truly love your neighbor as yourself.