Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prophetic Preaching in the Present Day

This week's scriptures are Ezekiel 34: 1-24 and Matthew 25: 31-40

Well, I went and changed the scriptures that I want to preach from this week. On Easter, when I first looked at what would be the focus of this week's sermon I was all set to talk about the appearances of Jesus following the resurrection in which He proved to His disciples that He wasn't a ghost by eating food and inviting them to touch Him. These are important passages. The invite you and me to also test and experience Jesus....and, they don't condemn us for the struggles and doubts we have along the way.

But then I started looking at and listening to the news, reading the paper, and watching the internet stories about Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright. And it seems to me that neither Obama in his responses, nor the media in theirs, understand the role in our society of persons like Rev. Wright, nor how much we need them.

All throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God raised up prophets to speak to God's people. The primary function of the prophet isn't to predict the future...though there is some of that in what they say...but to hold the people to account-on God's behalf-for their breaking of their relationship with God and with each other. Their words are often strong, hard to hear, and set them, almost always, over against those in power. They point out the inequalities in the social structure; condemn corruption; and comfort the oppressed with the knowledge that God will come to their rescue.

This is the kind of preaching that Rev. Wright was doing in his sermons that were quoted in the news. I doubt that this is the only kind of sermon Rev. Wright ever preached. I imagine that he often preaches sermons that are called 'pastoral' in nature...meaning that they seek to address the needs of his congregation for comfort, guidance, and care. A good pastor does both. Most of us find that our strength tends to lie in one direction or the other; my own preaching tends to be more oriented toward pastoral care...because of the historic role of the black church as a center for social discourse, many black pastors have great skill as prophet preachers.

Our society needs people like Rev. Wright who will hold our failings and our shortcomings as a society up to the light. For Senator Obama to dismiss his prophetic preaching as being "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with" and to condemn his remarks as "divisive" as though it is somehow the ultimate sin, is both insulting to his former pastor's skill as a prophetic voice and shows a lack of understanding on his part about the prophetic task of those called into ministry.

Of course Rev. Wright's words are divisive. They challenge us to look at the social ills that have brought about bulging prisons, poverty ridden neighborhoods, and an attitude that we as a nation can solve almost any problem by military action. We don't like to hear that kind of word. None of us does. It demands that we look and examine and decide whether we will change.

Would I, in preaching a sermon on these same issues, use the phrase "God damn America" as Rev. Wright did? Probably not. Do I agree with him that we've built an criminal justice system that perpetuates itself as it grinds up the poor and the disinherited; that we've supported state terrorism around the world when it's served our economic and political ends; and that we've treated our citizens as less than human-acting as though our nation, rather than God, is supreme? Absolutely.

If you want to hear more what I think scripture says about these issues, join us on Sunday at Broadneck as we try to take a hard look at the hard words about social and economic justice in the passages above.

I hope to see you then.


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