“A Prophet, A Priest, and a King….”
Amos 7: 7-15
Chilmark Community Church
July 10, 2016
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
On this past Tuesday morning I made a delightful acquaintance with a clergy blogger who writes under the name of “Preaching in Pumps.” Her logo is a black, stiletto heeled shoe. She is a 4th generation preacher in her family. She, too, was struggling with the prophet Amos this week when she recalled her mother preacher’s advice: “Tell a joke, make a point, sit down!”
She noted that a sermon that starts off with “A prophet, a priest and a king,,,,” only needs the addition of a bar and a good punch line and she would be on her way to sitting down. But, alas, try as I might, I could not find a punch line – – so all you get is the sermon.
The prophet, of course is Amos – – “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees”
He lived in the southern kingdom of Judah but he preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This fact, all by itself, was enough to make him unpopular with the people in the north. Imagine a prophet from the deep south of this country presuming to tell New Englanders what is wrong with the way we live!
The king is Jeroboam. Nissan Mindel, in an article called THE PROPHET AMOS (PUBLISHED AND COPYRIGHTED BY KEHOT PUBLICATION SOCIETY)NOTES THAT: By all accounts, Jereboam was a pretty good king. He managed to establish a working relationship of mutual help and friendship between the two Jewish kingdoms and repaired the damage his father had done to the relationship between the north and the south. Under Jeroboam there was a reasonably good political situation and with that came economic prosperity. Many people in the Northern Kingdom became very wealthy and were able to lead a luxurious life. The problem was that along with the wealth and security came a decline of morality and justice in the society. The high social ideals of the Sinai Covenant, the great commandments, were ignored. Notions of the practice of justice and loving kindness fell by the wayside. The wealthy oppressed the poor – – might was right – -corruption was on the rise – and with all of this – – idolatry increased. The Golden Calves that caused so much trouble way back in the book of Exodus were pulled out of mothballs and the people began to adopt again the religious practices reserved for the Canaanite gods.
King Jeroboam had his hands full. Good king or not, the covenantal relationship between God and the people was slipping away from him.
The priest is Amaziah. Amaziah has the king’s ear. He warns Jereboam about this prophet Amos and then tells Amos to get out of town and go back to the south with his prophecies. Amaziah may well represent the religious status quo – not wanting things to be shaken up too much or his job will be at stake.
Not surprisingly, Amos gets a little defensive. He reminds Amaziah that he isn’t a run-of -the-mill prophet like those who were active at the time. Rather, God had singled him out, pulled him away from his quiet peaceful life, to speak in God’s behalf to the king and to the people of the Northern Kingdom. Real prophets, the genuine thing, are always reluctant to answer the call.
Dennis Bratcher is the driving force behind Christian Resources Institute. He writes: ….. the prophets’ primary task was to call the people as a community to accountability and responsibility in their relationship with God……. This was the work of Amos. His prophetic ministry was directly related to the need to keep the king and the ruling elite in line with God’s covenantal relationship with Israel – to call the people into responsible relationship with God. We do not hear the same strident prophetic voices again after Israel goes into political exile. There is a haunting question for our time. Are there any prophets today? Is there anyone out there fulfilling the role of the biblical prophets to speak the truth of God to the complex economic, religious and political structures we confront every day?
Bratcher answers: Well, no. And yes. If you mean, “Are there prophets like Israel had in the Old Testament?”, then no. If you mean, “Do people speak with prophetic voices today?”, yes. …… the prophets stood as a counter voice to those who would allow the allure of power, ambition, and self-serving self-righteousness to blind them to the things of God: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. They were, in the best sense of the term, “counter-culture” Israelites.
Abraham Heschel wrote: “the prophets always sang one octave too high”. They were empowered by a vision of how things could be, a future in which the people and their leaders would live out their calling to be the people of God as a channel of blessing to the world. And the prophets had the courage to call into question any preoccupation with the status quo on any level that interfered with that [god-envisioned] future. As a result, they were often in trouble with those who stood to lose the most if the status quo were changed….. .
If these are the marks of a prophetic voice, then where do we hear it today? Certainly not in the halls of power. It is almost as though the words of the prophet Nahum have come true: the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more. (Nahum 3:13) Perhaps the last publically recognizable prophetic voice for our time was silenced with the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
So, in the sense of the classical biblical prophets it is safe to say that no, there are no prophets in our time. BUT – – and this is a big BUT – – there are prophetic voices whispering and shouting for our attention. Indeed – some of our own voices may be among them.
Bratcher describes a truly prophetic voice as one who has the courage, perhaps even, in some sense, the calling of God, to look around at the community of faith in its status quo and say, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” A prophetic voice is one who calls God’s people to return to their calling as God’s people. A prophetic voice is one that will not settle for the status quo, not for the sake of stability, or security, or comfort, or even for the sake of conserving the tradition. A truly prophetic voice is a radical voice, a liberal voice that calls for change…
This voice is in danger of being silenced – or ignored – or resisted in the larger church in the service of avoiding conflict or schism. The resistance and fear of the prophetic voice is nowhere more apparent in the United Methodist Church than in its slowness to recognize that its official policies regarding the full humanity and the full inclusion of the LGBTU community need to change in order for the church to truly reflect its calling as the people of God.
The prophetic voice is surely silenced and mocked and ridiculed and demeaned in the halls of power when that voice speaks out against policies that contribute to what is an epidemic of gun violence in this country. Again, the country is reeling in shock and grief as we mourn the deaths of seven more precious souls. The prophetic voices that decry excessive and deadly force by police fall on ears deaf to the immensity of need for systemic change – even as the country mourns the loss of two more black citizens this week. The cycle of violence escalated again with the sniper shooting of 5 police officers in Dallas – – a city that has been working to respond to the voices that call for change. The prophetic voice cries “How Long, O Lord?”
Bratcher continues: A prophetic voice will not gloss over injustice or oppression, will not be silent in the face of bigotry or prejudice or false pride, and will not compromise faithfulness for practical ends no matter how noble those ends may be in themselves.
A truly prophetic voice is one that will sweep away all the trappings of religion [and politics] and simply ask, “What does God require?”, and answer simply, “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.”…..” A prophetic voice is one that will settle for nothing less than holiness of heart and life as the result of faithful obedience to the voice of God.
Jesus has been placed in the company of the classical prophets – nowhere more clearly than when he reads from the portion of Isaiah that says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-21) Luke’s gospel says he then rolled up the scroll and sat down in the midst of a stunned group of listeners and stated unequivocally that the scriptures were indeed being fulfilled right in front of them.
We are surrounded with a cacophony of “prophetic” voices promising that if we will just adhere to this diet, or buy this miracle vitamin to lose weight, or follow this or that financial guru that life will indeed be transformed for us if we do what they say. We will be slimmer, have more vitality, live longer, be wealthier. I suspect the ancient kings of Israel had to sort out the same kinds of claims they were hearing from the “rubber-stamp” court prophets around them – flatterers who would tell the king what he wanted to hear. Royal courts did not like it when a true prophet emerged and told them that deep spiritual and political and economic change was required in order for life to be in harmony with the Divine will.
In Jesus’ time Herod feared the new voice enough to try to search him out and kill him before he was even old enough to walk. Rome hated his voice enough to crucify him. A truly prophetic voice is not popular – it makes us uncomfortable -it is risky – a truly prophetic voice may pay a huge sacrifice. Jesus as prophet should make us all uncomfortable if we are comfortable with the status quo – whether in our church community or in the community beyond these walls or in the way we come to terms with national politics.
A prophet, a priest and a king walk into a bar……..the prophet takes a big risk. She asks the priest and the king “What does the Lord require of you?”
The anticipated answer is “to do justice -to love mercy and kindness – to walk humbly with God – or it may be even simpler – love God and your neighbor. Or it may be a lot more complex. The real life response to the prophetic call is to shout for the release of those imprisoned unjustly; work with the community to see to it that those without homes are housed; agitate to dismantle the violence that pervades our society; Influence policies to insure that all people have access to adequate health care; make good education available to everyone who wants it and on and on. These and more are the things that modern day prophetic voices harp on. When we begin to find our voices – when we begin to join with others who seek to align themselves with the prophetic relationship with God – – when we live from a center of justice, mercy and kindness – – then we too may become the much resisted prophetic voice. Solitary prophetic voices are few and far between – – too easily silenced. But the voice of the people of God can make a mighty and irresistible sound for the good of the children of God. When we cry for justice and mercy and lovingkindness together – things can and will change.
I guess the big question is, do the prophet and the priest and the king listen to each other and leave the bar with a common commitment to a world aligned with the law of God? A world where clear seeing and compassion and justice reign? Or does a bar brawl ensue between them and effectively silence the prophetic voice once again?
It’s really hard to come up with a funny punch line. But I hope somewhere in this you will find the point.