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Sunday, 31st August, 1997 - The Uncomfortable Prophet

Today we have only a few people I would describe as prophets of God. One would be Sir Alan Walker the former Superintendent of Wesley Mission. When he spoke out boldly against the war in Vietnam, his was a lone voice and the community as a whole were outraged against him. The church bureaucracy hated his stance. The prophet is always uncomfortable for Church leaders.

Another would be Rev Fred Nile when he first warned about the consequences of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. His was a lone voice, and some Mardi Gras participants created a huge likeness of his head on a platter which was pulled along by near-naked gay men in leather G-Strings! The Church bureaucracy hated his stance, because they were harbouring closet gays and adulterous heterosexuals among their own staff. Leaders of the Uniting Church have never called homosexuals to repentance and new life in Christ, but instead affirmed them in their life-style. A prophet makes life uncomfortable for church leaders. They ostracised Fred and did not identify with his cause at all.

Both of these men were staff members at Wesley Mission. If you read our history, Wesley Mission has been led by many bold leaders, who spoke the truth, defied the religious authorities when necessary, and who stood for righteous living, moral behaviour and obedience to the Word of God. In putting Rev Fred Nile's head on a platter, the gay and lesbian group were acknowledging Fred's role as a prophet when not even his own church could see that. For the image of the head on a platter is that of one of the greatest prophets of all time.

John the Baptist called people to cease from immoral behaviour and repent of their sins. Religious and political leaders contrived to get John, and through the sexual blackmail of a young woman over her step-father, John the Baptist was silenced by being beheaded and his head dished up on a platter. Such is the fate of prophets, for true prophets of God make us uncomfortable.

Jesus described John the Baptist as a great prophet of God in line with the greatest of the Old Testament. Jesus spoke of John the Baptist: Matt 11:9 "Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." In our quest for the historical Jesus, we must consider Jesus Himself as a prophet of God. David Kaylor, in his book "JESUS THE PROPHET: HIS VISION OF THE KINGDOM ON EARTH" claims we do not understand Jesus, unless we see Him primarily as a prophet of God. Kaylor has this beautiful summary of the life of Jesus. "Jesus was a prophet in word and deed. He did not curry favour with the wealthy and powerful in order to garner their support for His reform movement. Neither did He pander condescendingly to the poor in order to use them in his enterprise. Like true prophets of the past, he fearlessly proclaimed God's will as He saw it, letting offence or approval be the result of His message, not the shaper of it."(p211)

How I am emboldened by our Lord who "fearlessly proclaimed God's will as He saw it, letting offence or approval be the result of His message, not the shaper of it." That is essentially the definition of a prophet of God: one who fearlessly proclaims God's will regardless of whether people take offence or approve.

1. THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS.

In the Old Testament a prophet could be defined as "a seer...one who is called by God to speak." Moses was a great prophet, a leader, a visionary of the nation, one who spoke from God and called the people back to God. Samuel was a prophet, priest and judge who led the people, called them back to God, and called upon Israel to honour God. The prophets criticised Israel's vain worship. Amos shouted 5:23-24 "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" Holiness of living was important. The prophets spoke out against religious leaders who lived impure lives of sexual immorality, and who did not proclaim God's word through to the community.

The religious bureaucrats wanted to hush Amos up. They did not want the boat to be rocked. They did not want their own immorality brought to light. But Amos would not be shut up! The prophets words were recorded and valued because they were a great moral challenge to the nation. We today need priests of God who will pray and intercede for the people. We needs pastors of God who will comfort and care for the believers. But we also need prophets of God who will speak out God's word bravely, who will call the immoral to repentance and the nation and the church back to God and His word. Priests we respect. Pastors we love. But prophets are just too uncomfortable!

The prophets spoke forth what God had told them to speak. They often predicted what would happen if people did not repent and change.

People do not like that kind of message. For example, when we have pointed out that all the statistics about Uniting Church membership, attendances, and finances are all in decline, and that the church is heading on the same course as the Titanic, the response has been: "Don't say that - it is disloyal. It doesn't matter, it is only the older people dying off. Someone else has new figures and the rate of decline doesn't look so bad." People do not want to hear the Emperor has no clothes.

Among the hundreds of letters, faxes, E-mails we have received during this current crisis within the Uniting Church, some have tried to defend the status quo. Some have been from ministers. The younger ones seem to want to keep on the right side of the bureaucrats, and the older cannot believe anything is wrong. But of those opposed to our position of proclaiming the need for a new morality, a new vision among the leadership, and a new commitment to the authority of the Bible, not one has made one suggestion of what should be done to correct immorality, to halt the decline or to bring newness into the church! The future of the church is certain, but the status quo won't take us there! From the bureaucrats, the only response has been - not to change their positions, privileges and immorality, but simply strategies and dirty tricks to get rid of the critic! Jeremiah would understand!

2. JESUS WAS A MIGHTY PROPHET.

Jesus was a mighty prophet of God. Jesus called Himself a prophet Lk 13:33 "I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day, for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!"

Some scholars say you come close to the historical Jesus, when you understand Jesus as a prophet like Jeremiah or Elijah. They spoke forth God's word concerning social and political issues of their day. In this sense, Jesus is also a prophet like Moses or Joshua, great liberators of their people. While prophets are viewed well by history, they usually suffer from the hands of the religious bureaucracy at the time. And Jesus certainly knew that. He once said: Lk 4:24 "I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown."

This refers to when Jesus read the Scriptures and preached in his hometown. The people got angry because He said God often blessed others. Lk 4 22 "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.' 24 "I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian." 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way."

Jesus spoke the truth, but people are not comforted by the truth. They prefer to be affirmed in their lies. Jesus spoke about God's coming Kingdom. But Jesus also urged social reform now. Jesus is seen by some scholars as a social prophet, not just preaching the coming Kingdom of God, but repentance to right living, and changed standards here and now. Jesus is a radical social reformer with a new ethic of behaviour. He calls people to mould the world about them, not be moulded by it. Sadly, the church today is more moulded by the values and standards of the world, than the world is effected by the values and standards of the church. We are called to be thermostats, determining the temperature of our environment. Yet many church leaders are merely thermometers, going up or down with every change of temperature.

3. JESUS WAS A MIGHTY UNCOMFORTABLE PROPHET.

Jesus overturned the money changing tables in the Temple as a protest against the mis-use of money by the religious establishment. How that has a contemporary ring to it! Jesus was a mighty uncomfortable prophet boldly telling the Pharisees to repent of their sin and to change their life-style. That also has a contemporary ring about it.

The religious establishment found Him too uncomfortable a prophet of God and plotted to get rid of Him. Yet Jesus loved that city who found Him too uncomfortable a prophet of God. He cried Matt 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

The prophet was willing, but the religious establishment found Him too uncomfortable because He spoke God's word and reminded them of their sins and need to change.

After his death, Cleopas and a friend were sadly walking home to nearby Emmaus when the Risen Christ drew near to them. They did not recognise Him. He asked why they were so down hearted and they asked Him if he was a stranger that He had not heard of the things happening in their midst. Lk 24:19 "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people."

The Risen Lord stood before them, and they did not recognise Him. They knew Jesus only as a mighty uncomfortable prophet of God. But He was much more! The term mighty uncomfortable prophet fails to fully describe Jesus! Like John the Baptist, Jesus was a prophet but more than a prophet!

That was what the two on the Emmaus Road had to learn. Jesus was a mighty uncomfortable prophet who spoke truly the word of God. But He is also the Risen Lord, who died upon the Cross for the sins of the world, and who was raised by God's power as the living Lord to empower us and enable us to live as children of the light eternally. When you accept Jesus as the mighty, uncomfortable prophet of God, you are on the way to accepting Him and Saviour and Lord. But you must continue in your quest for the historical Jesus until you discover Him as Saviour from your sins, and the Lord who guides you in your living as a child of God, holy and acceptable to Him.

Gordon Moyes

REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:

JESUS THE PROPHET: HIS VISION OF THE KINGDOM ON EARTH R D Kaylor. Westminster 1994
THE HISTORICAL FIGURE OF JESUS E P Sanders Penguin 1993

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