Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
These are excerpts from his sermon last Sunday morning.
As we continue our journey through the Old Testament, we are witnessing the framework for the welcoming of Jesus of Nazareth. The world is painted as a dualistic conflict…two world views are distinct. One the one hand is the world viewed through the eyes of the kings, nearly all described as wicked. On the other hand is the world view offered by the prophets, the men and women of whom Stephen would later ask minutes before his stoning, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?”
Let’s start with kings and politicians. The Bible is clear on how it came about that Kings ruled Israel. It was not God’s first choice. God’s first choice was that humans rule themselves. Humans couldn’t or wouldn’t and so God anointed leaders. But the people decided they wanted a King to rule over them. 1st Samuel 8…the people demanded a King. Samuel sees this as a rejection of his judgeship. God sees it for what it truly was. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” God asked Samuel to warn the people of the consequences. A king will tax you more than you can bear, a king will take your sons and make them soldiers to fight his war, and a King will take your crops and oppress your dreams. But, the Bible says, “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! But we are determined to have a king over us, 20so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
God knew better than the people but God’s rule is that humans get what they really want whether it’s a good choice or a bad one. The people rule.
Not a lot has changed in the 3000 years since. The people now get to vote for their leaders in many nations but don’t seem to have the vision to see beyond their own selfish needs to choose wisely. The people complain about politicians as though they had nothing to do with their selection. Whether it be kings or presidents…God gave us a world where humans make the choice. But from the time of Adam and Eve, we have not been willing to take personal responsibility for those choices.
And then there are the prophets and the preachers. People in the pews tend to speak highly of both preachers and prophets. But the difference is that while they might invite the preacher over for dinner, the prophet is not welcomed at the dining room table. They would be pleased if their daughter married a preacher, but if she chose a prophet, she’d have to elope.
The story of Micai’ah speaks to the fact that the world is full of false prophets but has sparse true prophets. The story tells us that self interest is one of the characteristics of false prophets. The 400 false prophets in 2nd Kings are far more interested in saying what the king wanted to hear. They had a lot at stake in pleasing the king, status, comfort, security. Micai’ah, on the other hand, was the one who was willing to risk it all to tell the truth. True prophets have a deep understanding of the culture in which they live and of which they speak and its history as well as a deepened relationship with God.
Preachers are sometimes no different than those 400. They are afraid to speak the truth because they may offend their congregation or worse yet those with power in the community. So they often say what people want to hear, rather than looking deeper for God’s truth.
Billy Graham admits to regrets that he once decided his relationship with Presidents was more important than the truth. To maintain that relationship, to stay on the White House invitation list, he supported the war in Viet Nam and even engaged in anti-Semitic conversations with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. And as a result, Rev. Graham became America’s favorite preacher.
But when Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s one-time pastor, said, "And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains”…that’s being a prophet.
Don’t we tend to idolize Billy while demonizing Jeremiah Wright? Rev. Wright was willing to risk it all…including the chance to be known as the President’s pastor, meetings in the White House and all the trappings of that relationship…to tell what he believed to be God’s truth. We can debate whether what he said is “the truth” but we cannot debate the fact that he was willing to set aside all self interests in order to say what he felt needed to be heard.
That is the difference between being a preacher and being a prophet. I am not here to criticize preachers. That’s what a lot of people in the pews want on Sunday morning. They like hearing what they want to hear about how it’s those others who are the sinners…people like a clear, crisp, literal interpretation of the Bible. They like messages that can be reduced to needlepoint and put on a doily or better yet a bumper sticker. Things like “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” Or my favorite (NOT) “The Bible says what it means and means what it says!” Cute quips that are designed to end the conversation. That’s preaching and that’s what preachers do.
Prophets are different. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Obadiah...the others, were not preachers. I suspect they didn’t even like the preachers and I know preachers didn’t like them!
William Blake, the 18th century English poet, painter and visionary allows us to imagine what it might mean to see the prophets in this way: “The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them, and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, and so be the cause of imposition? To which Isaiah replied, ‘I saw no God nor heard any, in a finite organic perception, but my senses discovered the Infinite in everything and as I was then persuaded and remained confirmed that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for the consequences, but wrote.”
It is indeed a curious thing that today most pulpits are filled by preachers while the Bible is filled with prophets! I suppose it’s why we have more politicians than statesmen or women in public office. It’s what the people want! And God’s people have always gotten what they wanted…for good or bad…or wicked or indifferent. From the beginning God said, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.”