Not For Prophet


Today’s readings:
Psalms 34; 146, Jeremiah 2:1-13, 29-32, Romans 1:16-25, John 4:43-54

Popular culture, and even some corners of Christian culture, portray prophets as a breed of mysterious oracles revealing the future through puzzle-like symbols and coded language. Modern self-styled prophets are famous for predicting the end of the world, and infamous for batting zero while collecting millions. We lump this distorted image of prophets in with psychics, clairvoyants, and fortune tellers.

The Biblical prophet, however, was not on a road to popularity and wealth. Prophesying was dangerous work; some prophets paid with their lives for confronting a community that had lost its way to idols and injustice.

Prophets like Jeremiah used language and symbols that may need clarification today, but would have been familiar to their audience. Their ultimate goal was not to mystify and condemn, but to convict and save. The warning of a harsh future came with a promise: God loved his people too much to abandon them, and when once again the people learned to properly love him back there would be reconciliation. It was never about God leaving the people, but about the people leaving God.

Consider these words of the Lord delivered by Jeremiah:

          They have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

These words were about more than disobedience; they addressed how the people brought ruin upon themselves. When we substitute our own values and plans for those God has given us, they will ultimately fail us. Like cracked cisterns, they may seem to hold water for a while, but eventually we will find them to be empty and we will be desperate for the real thing.

Jesus also referred to himself as the living water. His message echoed the messages of the prophets who preceded him, and he knew “a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country.” When a prophet tells us what we don’t want to hear, it’s not time to get defensive: it’s time to seek hope through repentance. Christ’s message of radical justice and inclusion was most difficult for those who believed they had a lock on God and religion. When listening for prophetic voices, humility serves us well.

Comfort: God would rather forgive us than condemn us.

Challenge: We have to seek forgiveness before it can be granted.

Prayer: Merciful God, I will listen for your authentic voice. Teach me to hear it. Amen.

Discussion: When have you benefited from hearing something you didn’t want to?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. 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!

Words Matter


Today’s reading:
Psalms 84; 150, Jeremiah 1:1-10, 1 Corinthians 3:11-23, Mark 3:31-4:9

Consider these words from the Lord to the young prophet Jeremiah:

Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

Words, especially those inspired by (or attributed to) the Lord, are powerful. The right words can bring down nations and establish new ones. Jesus was crucified because Jewish leadership and the Roman empire both knew words are sparks that can ignite a revolution from seemingly nowhere; institutions that hide behind false words are tinder waiting to burn.

Healthy institutions welcome exchanges of words and ideas. Good ideas and true words do not need defending; they can withstand scrutiny and welcome constructive criticism. When governments and religions fear their people, they try to silence those people. Authoritarian governments and legalistic religions enforce silence through threats, imprisonment, and even death. Institutions which are less authoritarian (or wish us to believe they are not) may act more subtly yet still silence people through lies, legal action, and propaganda. The most malevolently skilled institutions get us to silence each other.

To the corrupt and fearful, the most truthful words are the most threatening. When Galileo persisted in advancing heliocentrism – the now undisputed theory that the earth revolves around the sun – the Catholic church put him under house arrest for the heresy of contradicting scripture. Under the Third Reich and the Cultural Revolution, artists and writers who expressed “unacceptable” ideas were arrested and executed. The words we hear – or are permitted to hear – shape our understanding of the world. Truth is often not in the best interest of the powerful, so they suppress it.

Don’t fear words and ideas. Don’t trust leaders who fear them. Instead, learn to listen critically so you can discern the good from the bad, the true from the false. If someone answers a question by saying you shouldn’t have asked it … ask again. Speak plainly and truthfully, and expect the same of others.

Jesus was the Word made flesh. All true words lead back to him.

Comfort: Truth is always from God.

Challenge: Not everything we think is true really is.

Prayer: God of truth, grant me the words to share your truth with others, and grant me ears to discern the good word from the bad. Amen.

Discussion: When is the last time someone spoke a truth that changed your worldview?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. 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!

Joy of the Ordinary


Readings: Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Jeremiah 31:10-14, Galatians 3:15-22, Matthew 1:1-17

What does “joy” mean? For many people the word conjures heightened emotions like euphoria or ecstasy. Such emotional intensity is not sustainable for very long. Eventually mundane concerns like bathing and eating will pull us back down to earth. Joy in the Lord, as described in the readings from Psalm 147 or Jeremiah 31, can certainly have its ecstatic moments, but it is more about a state of existence in which the Lord’s justice is a constant presence in our lives.

The world needs extraordinary people: thinkers, creators, and innovators who lead us forward … but it depends on ordinary people. Some would claim wealth, fame, and other worldly successes are the result of favor from the Lord. The psalmist teaches us the Lord does not delight in extraordinary speed or strength (and by extension wealth or power), but in those who fear him and hope in his love. The world claims to admire those who lead lives of humble service, but in practice we rarely aspire to be them, because they resemble what the world calls failure. Jesus tells us the world will be turned upside down, and the last will be first. The world constantly tempts us to measure ourselves against “the first” so that our sense of whether we are happy becomes comparative and competitive. If our joy instead rests in being a delight to the Lord, and that means hoping in his love, then joy is available to everyone regardless of status.

When Jeremiah talks about joy in the Lord, he speaks of gathering the outcasts, healing the brokenhearted, and lifting up the downtrodden. The Lord intends ordinary lives to be joyful. Unfortunately God’s justice  is not the standard of most of the world, so when we hear “ordinary” the implication is often “less than good.” Advent reminds us that, while the world is a fallen place, we look forward to the time when it is restored. When God’s justice finally becomes our standard, ordinary will no longer mean uneventful, boring, or miserable, but full of peace and plenty. You are built for joy; don’t let the world talk you out of it.

Comfort: The joy of the Lord is available to everyone, including you.

Challenge: If something blocks your joy, it usually also stands between you and God. This coming month, identify and work to remove one roadblock between you and God.

Prayer: In you alone, O Lord, will I seek my joy. Amen.

Discussion: Do you think there is a difference between happiness and joy?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and 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!