Were the prophets in the Old Testament happy about delivering the messages they were commissioned by Yahweh to give? Was Jesus stoked when he picked up the prophetic tradition and delivered hard messages to his most common opponents, the religious/political elites? I would say the answer is no in both of those cases. The prophets were not happy, nor were they excited about the words they’d been entrusted with. They simply had to say those words because those words came from the God of creation. Those words weren’t easy or natural for these characters. They were words of lament and anguish, not of triumph or condescension.
So why is it that for the most part in the modern worship service there are moments when words are uttered which derive from the prophetic tradition that are met with glad head nodding and intense agreement? How can we be so blind to our own failures? How can we cheer when repentance is preached? Is it because we fail to see our need for prophetic voices to call us to repent again? Do we not also need to examine the issues we bring? Do we see ourselves as having arrived? Is this our golden opportunity to point our collective finger at “the world”?
There’s an uncomfortable moment in most of the church contexts I’ve been part of: it’s that moment when the pastor “speaks the truth.” I know, we celebrate “truth” in the church. “Don’t water it down…”, we say. “Give it to us straight.” What we seemingly mean when we repeat these oft-heard mantras is: “That’s right, Pastor. Speak the truth to that sinful world out there. They need to hear your truth!”
What if the prophets were targeting those insiders who are us in present day American Church World as much as they were the Pharisees or the Priests during Bible times? What if “the truth” that these prophets bring is actually a corrective not for “a lost world” but for a “lost church”? What if we’ve got some things to work on so that we might take hold of our calling on behalf of people who need to be rescued rather than scapegoated?