Sunday, August 21, 2016

Everybody Hates a Prophet

Upper Rogue United Methodist Church
August 14, 2016          Isaiah 5:1-7 

Can anyone here tell me the three branches of biblical ministry? They are pastor, priest, and prophet. The pastor’s purpose is to help people grow and mature spiritually. Paul explains that God gave some to be pastors “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). He or she accomplishes this through the Teaching/preaching of traditional doctrine and Care giving, such as visitation, counseling, comforting, and taking care of the needs of people. The role of the priest is to restore people to God: every time we break the bread, pour the baptismal waters, or anoint the sick it is a priestly act. The Prophet has, 2016 the thankless task of speaking the hard, but necessary word of God: words that challenge our deeply held values, prejudices, and priorities. They point out our sins and call us to repentance and the return to righteous living. Maybe that's why everyone hates prophets.

We may love our pastor. Many people admire the priest. But just about everyone hates a prophet. Indeed, prophets have a long history of being hated, persecuted, and even killed. In his lament over Jerusalem, Jesus says: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you...” (Matt. 23:37a). The prophet Jeremiah was cursed, beaten and even jailed by his own kin. Elisha was under a death sentence from Joram. When Elijah was in a cave, hiding from Jezebel's wrath, he called out to God: "LORD God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!" (1Ki 19:10) Jeremiah was tossed into a dry well. The list goes on.

Pastor's and priests are nice to have around. But prophets? When Ahab saw Elijah, he said, "Have you caught up with me, my enemy?" My enemy. A fitting title for those whose word is so bothersome, and who will not be silenced. The words of a prophet like Isaiah are often bitter medicine, without a spoonful of sugar. The don't go down easily. But Isaiah was also an artist; an artist whose paint was words. He painted word pictures that drew you in, making you want to listen. Such is today's passage. A song of love betrayed

The song describes a farmer who carefully and lovingly planted a vineyard. He dug the soil and cleared it of stones; he planted the finest vines. He even built a tower to guard them, and dug a pit for treading the grapes. But then something went terribly wrong. All of the grapes, though coming from the best stock, were sour. In spite of his loving care, his beloved, his vineyard, betrayed him.

At this point the whole tone of the song changes as the prophet calls upon the people of Jerusalem to judge between his friend and the vineyard. Is there anything I failed to do for it? Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?
(Isa 5:4) And then Isaiah swings the ax.
"Here is what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge around it, break down the wall that protects it, and let wild animals eat it and trample it down. I will let it be overgrown with weeds. I will not trim the vines or hoe the ground; instead, I will let briers and thorns cover it. I will even forbid the clouds to let rain fall on it."
(Isa 5:5-6) And just in case there is any doubt, the prophet makes it clear he is not speaking of grapes and vineyards at all, but of his listeners. Israel is the vineyard of the LORD Almighty; the people of Judah are the vines he planted. He expected them to do what was good, but instead they committed murder. He expected them to do what was right, but their victims cried out for justice. (Isa 5:7).

Everyone hates prophets. Maybe because it isn't easy to hear your sins enumerated. It's almost like sitting in a courtroom listening to the reading, point by point, of the charges against you. And the charges were many, and ugly. You are in for trouble! You take over house after house and field after field, until there is no room left for anyone else in all the land.
(Isa 5:8)You are in for trouble! You get up early to start drinking, and you keep it up late into the night. At your drinking parties you have the music of stringed instruments, tambourines, and flutes. But you never even think about all the LORD has done,
(Isa 5:11-1 At this point Isaiah has left preaching and gone to meddling.

Everyone hates prophets. It's an election year, and just about anything can and will be done or said. 8 years ago, in another election year, you may recall the fuss over the preaching of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who enumerated some of the sins of American culture; racism, violence, injustice, and war-mongering among them. Preaching that probably would have never been reported had not one of the candidates' Barrak Obama, been a part of his congregation. There were those who opined that Mr. Obama should condemn his pastor for those remarks. But the truth is, Rev. Wright stood in a long line of those whose prophetic pronouncements make their listeners uncomfortable.

As much as everyone hates prophets, they are necessary. Their words call us back to God, back to righteousness. Prophets won't let us settle down to the easy work of mercy when Justice remains to be embraced. There is a difference. A missionary once described mercy as being kind. When we offer a meal to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and our presence to the lonely, that's mercy. And mercy is important. Last week, as you left the communion rail, I urged you to do mercy. We do works of mercy in the name of Jesus, who also did works of mercy.

But mercy is often not enough. H.L. Mencken,wrote: “ Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.” There is an old story about two neighbors, a baker and a farmer. The baker began to be suspicious of the farmer, wondering if he wasn't getting his money's worth when he paid for a pound of butter. He weighed the farmer's butter on several occasions, and the butter consistently weighed less than a full pound. Enraged, he had him arrested for fraud.

The judge asked the farmer at the trial, "I presume you have scales?"
"Yes, of course, Your Honor," the farmer replied.
"And I presume you use standard weights to measure your goods?” the judge asked.

Yes, generally,” said the farmer. “But I don’t use them when serving the baker,” replied the farmer.
"Then how do you hope to weigh accurately the butter you sell to your neighbor?" the judge asked.
"That's easy," the farmer said. "When the baker began to buy butter from me, I decided to buy my bread from him. I've been using his one-pound loaves to balance my scales when I portion out his butter.”

A pastor asked her congregation what they would do if they saw a baby floating down a river. Almost to a person they replied they would jump into the river and pull out the child. “What if there were two babies?” she asked and received the same answer. What if there were 4, or 8, or 16, or 32? Finally one of those listening said: “I think I'd head upstream and find out who was throwing those babies in the water, and stop them.”
And that, said the pastor, would be an act of justice.” And justice is one of the things the prophets call us to. Jesus berates the pharisees saying: “You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin. Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either.”(Mat 23:23)

Micah exhorts us: The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: "See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God."
(Mic 6:8) And how does our society respond? Much like Jerusalem to whom Micah preached. You store up stolen treasures and use dishonest scales. But I, the LORD, will punish you for cheating with weights and with measures. You rich people are violent, and everyone tells lies. Because of your sins, I will wound you and leave you ruined and defenseless. You will eat, but still be hungry; you will store up goods, but lose everything-- I, the LORD, will let it all be captured in war. You won't harvest what you plant or use the oil from your olive trees or drink the wine from grapes you grow.
(Mic 6:10-15)

Everyone hates prophets: but as unpleasant as their messages can be, it behooves us to listen. It behooves us to listen when they tell us a garbage heap of plastic the size of Connecticut is floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It behooves us to listen when they tell us we are polluting God's creation to the point it endangers not only our children and grandchildren, but even ourselves. It behooves us to listen when they tell us our activities are changing the climate it ways that endanger life: animal, plant, and human. It behooves us to listen when they tell us the glaciers are melting and the seas are rising. It behooves us to listen when they tell us that the economic gap between the wealthiest and the poorest of earth's people cannot be sustained. It behooves us to listen when they tell us that violence must be restrained. It behooves us to listen when they tell us that before God blesses America, America must bless God.

Everyone hates prophets, but their words are a part of the proclamation of the Gospel. When they call us to justice, they call us to follow Christ. When they call us to care for the earth, they call us to obey God. Our prayer for God's kingdom to come, “On earth as it is in heaven.” cannot, and will not be answered without upsetting a lot of people, people just like us. Justice and righteousness are the agenda of the prophets, let us make them ours. AMEN.

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