“Then he told them many things in parables…” – Matthew 13:3a
“When there’s an authentic mystery, as opposed to just a question being asked, that’s what makes you lean forward.” – J.J. Abrams
Part 5 – Preach Preacher, Preach. We Need The Good News!
Prophetic followers of Jesus have been the exception for far too long. This is particularly true of ministers. A lot of us want to be somewhat prophetic, speaking truth into the darkness of difficult realities, but a lot of us also want to live in a house, feed our families, and do other similarly “convenient” things. Those things require paychecks, and the moment you start speaking uncomfortable truths, being prophetic, church folk start thinking about whether or not you are really the one to whom they want to give that check. Some of us, on the other hand, are just hesitant about causing that kind of a stir and look to pastoral concerns in rationalizing why we don’t always confront injustices and make calls for radical inclusiveness and love.
Whatever the reason, at some point we need to recognize, no matter if we are minister or congregation member, when we fail to speak those kinds of truths in the face of hate, exclusion, violence, bullying and any other kind of unloving actions, we fail to be reflections of the one we claim to follow – Jesus.
The Powers That Be love it when the Church is docile. As a matter of fact, a domesticated and responsive Church is one of the best ways to control the masses. As Karl Marx so aptly observed, “Religion is the opium of the people.” Power mongers learned long ago to use religion as a tool of manipulation. It has been used to oppress, marginalize and devalue the very people whom the powerful use it to manipulate. That is not where Christianity started.
At its roots, Christianity was never a practice of the powerful. In most cases it stood over and against those who oppress, marginalize and devalue others.
Jesus came to teach us to “love one-another,” not to divide us or promote some and push others to the side. Yet, we live in a world where human nature leads some people to seek out more power, more prestige, and more privilege. It is a fact of human existence – just check the history books.
Christianity should serve as a counterbalance to that kind of behavior by the powerful. All too often, in Christianity’s recent history, we have served as a platform for those who abuse power rather than a counterbalance to them. For the most part, we have lost our ability (or at least our will) to be prophetic.
In many ways, it is counterintuitive to realize we must look backward to move forward. People continue to walk away from organized religion, in part, because we are not who we say we are. We claim to be about loving everyone. Yet, how often have you seen churches sit silently by as some segment of society is hurt by the actions of the powerful? Is that a loving response?If the Church hopes to speak with relevance to the coming generations as The Powers That Be continue to distill resources and privilege down to an ever-decreasing few and by doing so create a majority of the marginalized, it will need to reach back into it’s rich history and to begin to once again emulate the prophetic voice and actions upon which it was born. It must, once again, call out to the world, “no greater love has anyone than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” It must insist that we are all created equally in God’s image, making us brothers and sisters together, a brother and sisterhood of humanity. Call it an image of the heavenly banquet table around which we will all gather one day, or call it an image of the bridge of the Enterprise, it is a vision the Church must once again dream of for the world.
It is a prophetic voice we must reclaim.
The Church must be willing to put the power, prestige and privilege it has gained over time on the line for the benefit for those in need. After all, it is what Jesus would do.Learning to preach is a bit overwhelming. At least, it was for me. My homiletics professor in divinity school, Dr. Brad Braxton, used to give us encouragement as we stood up in front of the class to deliver what for many of us was our very first sermon. Before we began, he would have the entire class say to us in unison, “Preach, preacher, preach. We need the Good News.”
Talk about encouraging. Talk about empowering.
It may not be as audible as it was in my homiletics class, but I believe the world is calling out to the Church, “Preach! We need the Good News.” I am left to wonder if that isn’t exactly what is being said with the ever-increasing exodus from organized Church.
It is time for the Church to become prophetic once again. It is far past time. It is time for the Church to, once again, speak the sometimes difficult truths (truths that have put more than a few prophets in personal peril) to the present as well as cast a vision for the future. When we do, it’s important to keep in mind, we may need to take a little lesson from our geeky friends and use metaphor if we hope to encourage people to lean forward rather than walk away.