Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Prophet? Me?! Imagine That…

I’ve whined before about society co-opting, then warping, ‘religious’ words. Like, any idea how ‘Jesus Christ’ became a swear word? Or ‘righteous’ a mid-90s surfer synonym for ‘good’? Me neither!

I’ve also noticed a similar phenomenon, though nearly the mirror-opposite- religious words receiving distorted meanings within religious communities. Consider, for example, ‘salvation.’ Contra commonly held belief, the Bible rarely, if ever, uses salvation to mean ‘granted admission to Heaven after death.’ Sure, I was taught that; maybe you were too. But throughout Hebrew Scripture and into the Christian Testament, salvation has a primarily this world focus. Israelites are “saved” from bondage in Egypt. Kind David prays for “salvation” from military enemies. In Philippians 3, Paul urges readers to “work out your salvation,” like it’s an ongoing, divinely directed, here-and-now process. For it is! God’s goal is abundant for all life, in this life! Or as Jesus put it, “God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth...” I do believe that God’s saving grace includes eternal life embraced by love. But eternal life- salvation- begins, well, now.

Another word(s) that’s also received oft-misleading meanings, I believe, is ‘prophet’ (and its relative ‘prophetic’). Many believe, of course, a prophet is someone who sees into and predicts the future. A fortune-teller, crystal ball expert, clairvoyant, mystical, eerie. To be fair, some Hebrew and Christian scriptures interpret prophetic texts much that way. But that, as they say, ain’t the whole truth.

You may already know- and if not, I’m going to tell you :)- that contemporary biblical scholarship uses “prophetic” differently. After reading closely the texts and stories of Israelite prophets (a substantial portion of Hebrew Scripture), these modern scholars note how little space the prophets devote to foretelling events. Sure, sometimes they wax melancholic about the coming “Day of the Lord.” They dream and scheme, wail and boom about impending doom or God’s deliverance. Even within these passages, however, a higher purpose emerges than simple prediction. The prophet’s main concern, in fact, is what’s at hand, the present.

After all, why predict God’s imminent wrath unless you’ve a strong case this wrath is warranted? And believe me (or read Jeremiah), prophets spent much energy on that task! Similarly, even those sections we recognize from Christmas pageants and Handel’s Messiah, about “Every valley shall be exalted” and “Unto us a child is born”, are examples, primarily, of imaginative social critique. The prophets, this theory goes, along with whatever else they were, were mostly poetically inclined observers and commentators. Bold, daring, creative souls who imagined something more holy than what they saw around them. And wouldn’t stay silent about it, sometimes enacting this new reality.

As such, we can celebrate ‘modern prophets’; bold, daring, creative souls like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Mohandas Gandhi. Notice, David Koresh and Harold Camping don’t make the list, because those disturbed men cared/care more about future-casting, “be damned!” (literally) with the present. And while authentic prophets may not always like what they see, they also love the world and God’s children with fervency and hope.

So what’s this to do with Plymouth Creek? Well, one effect of modern prophetic scholarship is renewed interest, among many Christians, for cultivating our own “prophetic imaginations.” “No way, Shane!” You might protest, “A prophet? Me?!” To which I’d respond, honestly, “It’s possible. Imagine that…” Indeed, I believe that’s an important skill for Christians to develop, with God’s guidance of course. An ability to look clearly upon the world that is, discern where it falls short of God’s justice, freedom and righteousness, and then prophetically imagine what it could be with God’s- and your- help.

And to that end, we’re directing worship this Lent. Every Sunday, we’ll explore one great story or text from the Hebrew prophetic tradition, all in preparation for the greatest prophetic act of all: The Resurrection of Jesus! The defeat of sin and death on Easter morn! Which he accomplished believing that you and I could follow his lead; help God’s Kingdom come on earth, God’s glory shine brighter. But it takes bold, daring, creative souls- prophets- to make that happen. Like you. Me?! Imagine that…

Grace and Peace,


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