OWAAT June 10: Real God-Talk: What Makes a Prophet Authentic?

Have you ever felt something stirring within you to publicly speak to a situation beyond your normal area of expertise? With social media and the Internet it seems like everyone wants to be an expert – or everyone at least has an opinion on something. Particularly since the 2016 US presidential election the discussion among armchair “experts” on things like immigration, civil rights, women’s healthcare has been fraught with tension, to say the least.

I, too, have a great many opinions about what is currently going on in our country. The desire to share them is plenty strong, as well. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t – but when I do I always spend time – maybe too much time – wondering: is there a point to doing this? What do I hope to accomplish by sharing this? If it’s to change someone’s mind about something, that’s not likely to occur. If it’s to have a discussion on something  that might happen – if all participants agree to meaningful dialogue – which is difficult to do online, if you haven’t noticed. The parallel questions to this are: how can I make a meaningful contribution to the issues I care about, to make the best use of my voice and privilege?

The prophet Jeremiah lived a life and ministry of sharing unpopular opinions with a stubborn Israel who even if they listened to what he had to say, weren’t so great about implementing his advice. I find myself wondering, if he was such an unpopular and doomsaying prophet, what about him was so compelling that his prophecies made it into our Bible? The Theological Bible Commentary puts it this way: “The book of Jeremiah does not present itself as a univocal reflection on those difficult times. Its vivid multivocality indicates that the preservation of differing perspectives on Jeremiah’s witness has been understood to be crucial from the earliest formation of the book as Scripture.” (p. 221)

Daily Bible readings:

June 10 – Jeremiah 22
June 11 – Jeremiah 23
June 12 – Jeremiah 24
June 13 – Jeremiah 25
June 14 – Jeremiah 26
June 15 – Jeremiah 27
June 16 – Jeremiah 28

Think:

Daniel Simundson wrote a great article about Jeremiah, and though he intended it for those who preach, there are some great things in it for anyone who wants to listen. He discusses how the book of Jeremiah “struggles with many questions about how God works within a turbulent world. Thought Jeremiah (or most other biblical books, for that matter) may not give a definitive solution to our deepest concerns, it will provide words, images, language, and structure to talk about them.” (p. 424) On the question, “How can we tell the true from the false prophet?” he writes:

This seems to be a time of heightened “spirituality,” whatever that means.
There are innumerable false prophets and gurus out there ready to provide content to people’s search for meaning and spiritual depth. Organized religion is often regarded more as an obstacle to true spirituality than a place where it can be achieved. Churches that teach social responsibility, who talk of peace and try to tone down the demonizing of perceived enemies, who advocate for the poor and powerless are dwindling while churches concentrating mainly on personal fulfillment and well-being are prospering. Surely, the problem of false prophets is still with us. How do we detect them and distinguish between those sent from God and the others? How do we avoid being false prophets ourselves? Jeremiah shows us how difficult this question can be, especially in times of insecurity and fear. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. Jeremiah’s whole life is a witness to that. And, of course, Christians are driven to think of Jesus and the theology of the cross when dealing with this issue. (p. 425)

Something with which those of us who strive toward prophetic witness must struggle is discernment, and what makes a prophet and their prophetic witness true or false. On your walk with God, what helps you distinguish between true and false prophets and prophecy?

Pray: 

This month’s spiritual practice is described as “Face to Face Connection” by the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. It includes having hard, deep, or otherwise meaningful conversations with people in person. Ahlberg Calhoun notes, “When we resort to digital communication to break up, go on a rant and the like, we avoid seeing in the face a heart we have damaged.” (p. 159) In this political climate, in this social media environment, I wonder what would happen if we shared what we post online in-person instead, or how what we share might change.

Think of a relationship that you maintain primarily via e-mail, online messaging, or other text-based way. Does it have issues or ever seem like something from it is missing? What in it might change if you got together in person?

Act:

This month’s book, Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, considers the human cost of organizing: “Organizing culture, particularly in the United States, is often brutal in its constant demand to put the cause above all other aspects of life. … While organizers may build relationships that go beyond work, the bottom line assumption is that they are together to do a job. … Congregations are unique in the U.S. movement for justice in that they maintain two simultaneous purposes – working to change the broader community while also becoming a model community.” (p. 92-93) I think this is a good and valid point at some times in some organizations, and yet I hesitate to throw out all of faith-based community organizing because of this.

In my understanding of life and of how faith-based community organizing has impacted it, we are taught neither at school nor in church about the nuts-and-bolts of standing up against selfish, powerful, and moneyed interests seeking to destroy the common good. There are very real costs to taking strong stands in real-life against these interests – Jesus himself knew that better than anyone else, and yet he still took them. For centuries, though, Christian faith largely became a matter of individual, inward belief and self-debasement and/or improvement. Faith-based community organizing has over the last century given us back this concept of sacrificial love for the good of humanity – maybe not to the point of death, but certainly at personal cost to the individual. It encourages ordinary everyday people who love God and humanity to act on and out of that love in tangible ways that engage God’s power. That said, as I continue to learn about FBCO as movements, I think that like our experience of and with God, this movement is growing and changing – and there is room for growth in the area of what it mean for FBCO organizers, leaders, and others involved in these incredibly necessary movements to be a part of them as Christians – and how does our Christian faith make a difference in this work?

Additionally, something I would like to see addressed in the book is the role of money, fundraising, and development in faith-rooted community organizing. For instance, this week is MCU’s annual fundraising celebration, Jammin’ for Justice, an incredibly important event because it brings MCU supporters together, and the funds raised through the event provide MCU with what is known as “hard money,” rather than “soft” (directed – often grant-funded) money, which MCU can use in any way it needs to do its work in the world. A lot of places, including many churches and affiliated organizations, don’t like to talk about money. We’re of course reminded of 1 Timothy 6:9-10: “…people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (CEB) While the love of money at the expense of care for humanity and the creation leads to bad ends, when used well money is an important tool that helps us to live out what God has called us to.

What has being a part of FBCO cost you?

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world!

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

Resources:

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Fretheim, Terence E. “Old Testament: Jeremiah.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=44.

Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.

Luther Seminary. Jeremiah. Vol. 22 of Word & World. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2002. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=88.

Luther Seminary. Prophets and Politicians. Vol. 33 / 3 of Word and World. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2013. http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=131.

O’Day, Gail R., and David L. Petersen. Theological Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Salvatierra, Rev Alexia, and Peter Heltzel. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Sharp, Carolyn J. “Jeremiah.” Pages 221-234 in Theological Bible Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Simundson, Daniel J. “Preaching from Jeremiah: Challenges and Opportunities.” Word & World 22.4 (2002): 423–32. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/22-4_Jeremiah/22-4_Simundson.pdf.

Society of Biblical Literature. “Bible Odyssey,” n.d. http://www.bibleodyssey.com/.

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