They were called “the ones who speak for another.” They spoke for God. They were not neatly groomed sages climbing down from their towers, waltzing into throne rooms, delivering mystical wisdom or coded predictions and retiring back to their offices to work on their next PowerPoint presentation. These were weathered, often homeless individuals with bounties on their heads. Being a prophet was less like being a celebrity and more like being a fugitive. They were leathery skinned, trash talkers ripping up the powers that be and tearing down the pride of the people. They were harsh and at times even crude.1 Yet, they weren’t macho, loudmouth jerks. They were deep souls – brave poets – delivering some of the most beautiful and gentle imagery in the Bible often quoted by Jesus himself. They were custodians of the faith, guarding it from not only godless influence, but internal distortion and the missing of the point by the religious. From this vocation the prophets spoke and wrote.
“I’ve been asked to say this and to make it loud and clear. We talk about being a people and even a nation under God as if we have a merit worthy morality or at least did back in the 50’s. We ask God for justice and pray for His return. We worship Him and give of our time and money. So, why is our country in this shape? Does He see us?
God sees you. He sees you worship and yet on that same day you commit violence with your words, fists and weapons. You live in a society full of exploited people and you chastise them because they don’t pull themselves up by their boot straps. Is that the kind of worship he wants, an hour of emotional expression and bowed heads? Is that what you call worshiping God?
Do you know what He really wants? He wants you to care about the inhumanness of our prisons where we joke about criminals being raped and call it justice. He wants you to stop getting filthy rich off your employees while you demand more work and longer hours. Help the poor and stop stereotyping everyone on welfare as lazy and enabled. They are not.
This is the type of religious worship God really wants. When this is done, you will be that city on a hill you claim to be and things will get better for everyone. When you live like this, you put yourself in a place where God can protect you. Outside of that, you are on your own.
When your speech is filled with hate and you point your finger of disgust at everyone else, God hates that. When you fail to show any amount of empathy to overworked people and simply disregard other humans as illegal outsiders, inner-city thugs or fly-over state white trash, your Sunday morning prayers are ignored.
But if you work tirelessly to put an end to all of this, you will again be “garden people” living in a dense, forest-green peace. From within you will flow a deep, clear soul. Then you will be known as restorative, life-giving people.” (That was my paraphrase of Isaiah 58.)
But, our morality is lopsided. I heard a story of a minister who stood up in front of an auditorium full of ministers and said “There are thousands of people in our city going hungry every day and none of you give a damn about it. The problem is that you are more upset that I just said the word “damn” than you are about the hungry people.” Christianity has in many places been hijacked by moralistic terrorists checking the length of women’s skirts and the frequency of your quiet times. Many are more concerned about women wearing scandalous yoga pants or the amount of curse words in that movie than we are about the murder rate in Chicago or the horrors of Aleppo. Jesus told the Pharisees the same thing:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”2
This is not either or. We cannot separate the way of Jesus into a spiritual or social gospel. Listen to His own description of his ministry as he read from Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”3
This is about our witness. When we are more offended by the immorality on television than we are by that of our leaders, our witness is weak. We cannot make excuses for ourselves by shrugging off disgusting behavior for the sake of a political agenda. As followers of the way of Jesus, we are not afforded that moral maneuvering. This is a call to a more complete morality than we see in either political party. This is a call back to the higher way of God. This is a call beyond the lopsided morality of much of evangelical Christianity that gets more angry about whether the Home Depot greeter says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” than we do about Syrian refugee babies washing up on the beach shore. This is a call to be custodians of the faith cleaning up the puke in the hall left by an unhealthy Christian witness before the pungent odor of grossly missing the point sets in permanently.
If we embrace a strong personal morality and religious conviction and yet, at the same time, fight against injustice, work for equality, and live from a heart of grace and mercy for all people all over the world, “then our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear; then our righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the LORD will be our rear guard.”4
If we refuse to sell out to any political party and refuse to comprise one part of our morality for the sake of the other, no matter how hard it is, then “the LORD will guide us always; he will satisfy our needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen our frame. We will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”5
When we do this, we will again have an empowered witness. When we do this, we will again be ones who speak for another.
1 Ezekiel 23:19-21 – you’re not going to read that in church.
2 Matthew 23:23
3 Luke 4:18-19
4 Isaiah 58:8
5 Isaiah 58:11