Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Prophets & Michelle Obama & Pastor Jeremiah Wright

This issue, about the President’s former pastor, won’t seem to die; so I’d like to say this about that…
by Charlie Leck

I was reading an article in the Washington Post about the first lady’s upcoming speech at the Democratic National Convention. The first comment, following the article, caught my eye; it included the following: “Mrs. Obama supposedly led her husband to worship with Rev. Wright for decades. I often wonder if this is true and if so why she never explained this choice.”

Wow, the Pastor Wright stuff won’t go away, will it? Well I sat back and thought about this comment and wanted to say to the person, “Person, have you ever read the Old Testament prophets and seen how tough they were? They were tough on so-called people of faith and on people who ignored the simple realities of life.”

Then, I wanted to say to the person, “Person, have you ever tried to put yourself in the shoes of a black family that was crated and brought here on a slave ship to endure hardships in America – worse even than one’s most horrible nightmares? Have you ever tried to soften your heart and have a little mercy and understanding for the views of such a person (you know, walk a mile in their moccasins)? Have you ever given consideration to the fact that the views of such a person might be a shade (pun intentional) different than your own?”

There is no greater calling for a pastor – a pastor of a Christian church – than to be a prophet who explores with his congregation the dangers of life as it is being lived – who explores the dangers of failing to be obedient to God’s will. The great seminaries know this and they train pastors to be more than priests and church administrators – they also train pastors to be prophets and to declare the truth to the people (and truth is often very, very difficult to hear – and more difficult to swallow).

Oh, it must have been quite interesting to hear Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Amos speaking the words of truth about people’s disobedience – about your disobedience and mine. Oh, my!

The job of the prophet, as I understand it from my own study of the Old Testament, was to call people back to God, warning them of the horrible consequences of what they were doing, and asking them (pleading with them) to repent.

Are we really so contemptibly conceited that we think America does not need to hear the voices of the prophets? Do we not, individually, need to hear God’s judgment on us? Do we not need to hear, again and again, that we are failing to feed the hungry and shelter the unsheltered, as we have been commanded to do? Oh, America, are you caring for the oppressed, the diseased, the ill-educated and the unemployed?

We are not getting into a discussion here of Republicans or Democrats! The prophets didn’t want to get into that. From all people, God demands justice and righteousness! Of an entire nation God demands compassion, mercy and tenderness – from Catholics, Jews, the Tea Party, the Libertarians and the Liberals, God wants righteousness toward all peoples.

With a strange voice that is unfamiliar, disconcerting and harsh, Pastor Wright is trumpeting God’s difficult word. As a prophet he calls us to examine ourselves as deeply and honestly as we possibly can. The stuff he says isn’t popular, I’ll grant you that. Neither was the stuff Hosea and Amos said. I am willing, however, to give a listen to people like Pastor Wright in order to see if there isn’t something of God’s message in what they say.

You think the people of the Old Testament and the lands of the Bible were comfortable with the prophets? If so, think again! The prophets were harsh and their demands caused discomfort. The people often turned away from them, condemned them and called for their removal from the streets and from the Temple – much as people do in the case of Pastor Wright.

“Who are these crazy people?”

“How dare they speak as they do?”

The prophets may have been removed, but their words lingered and the people could not avoid hearing them in their minds and wondering about them. And those who wouldn’t hear – what of them? They were the lost who would be destroyed by their own stubbornness and refusals to hear God’s word.

“The end is now upon you and I will unleash my anger against you. I will repay you for all your detestable practices. I will not look on you with pity or spare you. I will surely repay you for your conduct and the detestable practices among you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel)

Oh, my!

“You hate the one who reproves you in court
and despise him who tells the truth.
You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts…

“Seek good, not evil,
that you may live…
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.”

“Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that are therein… the mountains shall be molten under him, and valleys shall be cleft, as if it was before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.” (Micah)

“I will judge you – everyone according to his ways… Repent, and turn yourselves from your transgressions; so your iniquity shall not be your ruin… I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, says the Lord God; therefore, turn yourselves and live!”

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them…

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

“Who is wise, and he shall understand these things?
Prudent, and he shall know them?
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the just shall walk in them;
but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

Pastor Jeremiah Wright?
Perhaps Pastor Wright is a prophet! Oooh, that is difficult to hear! He is accused of being tough and mean and warning America of its unrighteousness. As a fellow on the radio here likes to say: “Maybe he’s on to something – or he’s on something!” I tend to think it’s the former!

I love America, but I know it is not perfect – not even close – and has a long way to go to live up to the expectations that the prophets tell us God has for us. I’m open to listening to different and distant voices. I try carefully to understand who might or might not be a prophet – or, to put it another way, who might be a true prophet rather than a false one. I think the truth of this matter would be mighty surprising if we could understand it.

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