Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54, 146, Numbers 22:21-38, Romans 7:1-12, Matthew 21:23-32
Does a vision without a voice have any value? In the pre-civil rights era, many preachers in white churches personally believed in desegregation, but were reluctant to say so from the pulpit. They feared alienating their congregations and losing members. Not many years ago, during a panel discussion on whether to ordain gay clergy, several pastors said they personally supported it, but that taking such a stand would drive their congregations to either fire them or leave the denomination. Only one pastor in attendance had the courage to say: “Let them leave.” Personal convictions, especially regarding matters of justice, mean nothing if we remain silent about them.
The difference between a pastor and a prophet is often their willingness to (pardon the language) piss people off. A pastor is beholden to an audience; if he or she drives members away, they will likely be fired or transferred. A prophet is beholden only to God and conscience. Telling people what they want to hear in order to remain in power is the purview of politicians, not clergy.
When the chief priests and elders asked Jesus by what authority he preached, he countered by asking them: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They dithered among themselves, trying to determine which answer would cause the fewest problems: if they said “from heaven” they would have to admit they’d been hypocrites, but if they said “from man” the people who followed John might turn on them in anger. At no point in the conversation does it seem they asked themselves: “What do we believe is the truth?” They answered, “We do not know.”
No one can truly lead people they fear to displease. When our pastors and priests are willing to tell us something we won’t like – something that may even anger us – we are not obligated to agree with them, but it is an indicator of their integrity. And when we are called upon to lead, we must not equivocate, but instead be clear in our words and intentions. If we wait to take a stand until most of the danger of doing so has passed, we have done nothing at all.
Comfort: You can’t make everyone happy, so don’t try.
Challenge: If the just opinion is unpopular, speak it anyway.
Prayer: God of Justice, give me courage to serve you boldly. Amen.
Discussion: When do you regret not speaking up?
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