Whistle Blower

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 108; 150
, Isaiah 51:9-16, Hebrews 11:8-16, John 7:14-31


The term “whistle-blower” is in the news a lot these days. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity.” How one feels about whistle-blowers and their activities can depend very much on which side of the event one falls. For example, whistle-blowers who expose health care fraud to the government can earn quite a bit of money depending on how much is exposed and recovered. On the other hand, government employees who become whistle-blowers are often subject to harassment and persecution the government prohibits in other entities. And then there are people who leak information for malicious reasons while trying to shelter under the cover of whistle-blower.

Among his many roles, Jesus was a sort of whistle-blower. He frequently and publicly exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leadership. In first century Palestine, the religious leadership was the equivalent of the local government, though they operated within the constraints of their Roman occupiers. Because their authority was grantedgbtly Rome, his disregard for such authority was also a direct affront to the empire. As is the case with many whistle-blowers, confronting his accusations would have led to confirming them. Unable to discredit Jeus on the facts, the authorities began retaliating against him through a whisper campaign among the Pharisees, who plotted to kill him.

Whistle-blowers are almost never the only people who know corruption is occurring. They are simply the first – and often only – people with the courage to bring it to light. If we are to follow Christ, we also need to call out corruption and injustice – in our churches, workplaces, homes, and governments – when we know about it. There will probably be consequences and retaliation, but an inauthentic relationship with God and one another is the much worse consequence of keeping silent.

Truth, even hard truth, is freeing. Deception requires increasing amounts of energy to maintain, and in the end leaves resources for little else. If telling the truth ostracizes us from one community, it joins us with the greater community of saints joined in the body of Christ.

Comfort: The truth sets your soul free.

Challenge: Speak truth to power.

Prayer: God of truth and love, give me the courage to be your witness. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever had the need or opportunity to come clean? How did it feel?

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Conviction

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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“If I perish, I perish.”

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Esther 4:4-17, Acts 18:1-11, Luke 1:1-4, 3:1-14


Are heroes born or made? Esther’s story does not begin heroically: on the advice of her uncle Mordecai she hides her Jewish heritage to become the favored concubine of the Persian king. He makes her his new queen, but a queen who is little more than a slave herself.

Esther’s concerns for the world don’t extend beyond her family. When she learns Mordecai is loitering outside the castle gate and wearing only a sackcloth (a symbol of grief) she sends him clothes. He refuses them and has messengers explain the king’s chief official, who feels disrespected by Mordecai, is going to kill all the Jews in the empire, and asks Esther to plead with the king on behalf of her people. Esther declines, claiming she is as powerless as anyone who approaches the king unbidden.

After Mordecai explains that she is in a unique position to help her people, and that if she refuses then she will die with the rest of the king’s household when someone else rises up, Esther reevaluates her decision. In the end, she agrees to risk her life by approaching the king. Not at all confident about the outcome, she asks her people to pray and fast for her.

In the end, we can’t hide from injustice simply because it does not directly affect us. Like Mordecai warned Esther, one way or another we will feel its impact. When people came to John for baptism, he warned them hiding behind the name of Abraham wouldn’t protect them from the coming wrath. He told tax collectors and soldiers – who thought working for the empire protected them from the consequences of shaking down the vulnerable – to knock it off. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We can ignore a societal cancer and suffer its inevitable malignancy or, like our reluctant heroine Esther, we can say “If I perish, I perish” and do our best to cut it out now. Perhaps some heroes are made when we fear living with injustice more than we fear dying of complacency.

Comfort: It’s okay to be afraid.

Challenge: But try to be afraid of the right things.

Prayer: Lord of Heaven, be my strength and my courage in the face of injustice. Amen.

Discussion: What scares you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!