by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
This was a hard week for writing. All I wanted to do was find a way to y’all about the DREAMers, but not matter how hard I pushed, everything I wrote to that end came out... not right.
I hope there are nuggets of usefulness in here somewhere. And I hope we learn to welcome the stranger as we were once strangers in a strange land
This is one of those weeks where I am fairly sure that the reading were pulled out of a hat and someone was like, “Let’s see how preachers make these go together!” We have the promise of a prophet, food and stumbling blocks, and a demon recognizing Jesus. What?!
However, the more I dig in, the more connections I see. Whether you preach on one, two, or all of these texts, there is a lot of meat in here we can use today.
To give credit where credit is due, I was inspired by Dr. Ralph Klein’s website out of The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, which can be found here.
“The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me…” this statement, according to Dr. Klein, should be translated as a continual thing, not a one time deal. God will raise up prophets again and again and again. The eternal God is not just going to try to get us the message once, but again and again and again -- and this is being done because we cannot handle to hear from God God’s self. I have always thought about this as maybe God’s voice is too powerful, but what if it is what God says? Like we can’t handle God’s raw honesty, it’s too much, so we need a mediator.
I have an honesty problem. I am that person who you don’t ask for my opinion unless you actually want my opinion. But it’s not just my words. I have friends who won’t call me when they are having a hard time because I reflect them back at themselves. Through me, they seem to see the ways they are messing up and they can’t handle it.
What if this is why God speaks to us through prophets? What if, like Jack Nicholson’s evergreen quote from A Few Good Men, we can’t handle the truth, at least not as God tells it. What if we need it to be spoken differently to us? What would that say about what God *actually* is saying to us, if the prophets harsh words for the people of Israel (and the prophets who have come to us since that time) are somehow *more* palatable than the words of God?
Whatever reason the people had for telling God they could not bear to hear directly from God, their request was, is, and will be honored. God has given us prophets again and again. From the Hebrew scripture voices of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Isaiah’s wife, Deborah, Miriam through to today’s prophets such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Martin Luther King and Traci Blackmon. God continues to speak through prophets, calling us to true worship, to sacrificial love of neighbor and caring for community through living into the promise God gave us so long ago. Prophecy did not end with the Hebrew prophets, nor did it end with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have prophets in our midst today. Will we listen to their challenge?
Because we are held accountable to the words of the prophets. We are accountable to the words of Isaiah, calling us to throw out our need to look like we are doing the right kinds of worship while we starve the poor and imprison our siblings. We are accountable to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who called on white moderates to step up and speak out and warned that the church would become an irrelevant social club if it didn’t work for justice (and, um, this is a pretty amazing example of a prophets words coming to pass and God holding us accountable).
But the prophets call us to hard work. They call us to do difficult things and to be willing to be uncomfortable. It is so much easier to listen to the false prophets. Those who tell us everything is fine when it isn’t, those who allow the privileged and powerful to remain comfortable: even going so far as to completely ignore or pervert scripture to their own meds.
Moses warns us of false prophets -- but what do false prophets look like? We know from the reading from Mark that even unclean spirits recognize the Word of God. False prophets will be those who recognize the word of God and use it to their own ends. They will put stumbling blocks in front of God’s people and attempt to lead them astray. We know from the prophets that false prophets will be the ones who say peace when there is no peace and who will promise things that God never can (and never will) deliver.
What do false prophets look like today? These are the people who put stumbling blocks in front of people, which to my mind are those who stand in front of Safeco field with giant signs about who all is damned to hell as they scream from giant megaphones about the coming of God to judge us all. I can only see this as a stumbling block. As I have long said, if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in hell and you aren’t going to be afraid of going there. But if you encounter this week after week on your way into a Mariner’s game, you are probably going to start to think Christians are awful and you are not going to want to join our club.
False prophets place a stumbling block in in front of people when they convince them that the right words/acts/prayers/DONATIONS will get them God’s love and that a sign of God’s love is prosperity given in kind to devotion given to God. What of the person who gives their life savings and never sees the result they were looking for? They are both destitute and bereft and left to either believe that they weren’t enough or God doesn’t do what God (in reality the false prophets) have claimed. Abundant life has been stolen from these people. In addition, this system of belief warps our cultural mindset regarding those in need. If our theology tells us that God rewards the deserving, then those who do not have must have done something wrong. They must not believe enough, must not be living in a “right” way. Stumbling blocks all around.
To whom will we call our people to listen? Who will we be? Are we willing to risk our own comfort to listen to the call of the prophets, to challenge our people to be uncomfortable? Or will we float happily along a stream of deception because it yields ease and comfort in this life - only to be held accountable in the next?