Harold Camping is not a prophet either. For those of you who may have forgotten him, or who have never heard of him, he was the radio preacher who predicted that the world would end on May 21st. He had also predicted the end would come in 1988, and in 1994, and now he has moved the date to October 21st. After three failures I think it is safe to say that he is not a prophet.
Hananiah, in our first lesson, was a false prophet. Some people claim that Harold Camping's stroke which he suffered about three weeks ago is akin to Hananiah's fate, but since I am not a prophet, I cannot offer an opinion on that. Jeremiah, in this long passage of which I have subjected you to as little as I thought would make sense, has put on himself a yoke at the command of the LORD, as a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar's subjugation of Judah, a yoke which will eventually be broken, but not yet. We do not know why Hananiah takes it upon himself to say otherwise, but his words, his acts do not prevail against the true word which comes of God.
Prophecy is repeating the word of God; false prophecy is daring to speak in the name of God, but putting your own words in His mouth. There is an appalling lot of the latter going about. Either that, or we've gotten extremely fortunate: when I was writing this I typed “prophetic voice” and “episcopal” into Google, and it told me it had found fifty-four thousand results. And just for fairness' sake, I put in “catholic” instead of “episcopal” and got two hundred and eight thousand. The new version of the church calendar that has gone into trial use seems to identify political activists as “prophetic voices”, or in the case of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, unabashedly designates them as “liberators and prophets”. Personally, I am skeptical. However worthy the cause, I am not convinced that all who uphold it do so as messengers of God.. Our allies are not all Balaam, driven by the LORD to speak His word and to lay blessings upon Israel.
No, I do not think we have entered a new age of prophecy; I think we have entered a new age of hubris. God seems to have an awful lot to say about politics, and especially about the economy and about taxes and regulation and public policy. It cannot all be true, and I am inclined to believe that little of it is true. “Render unto Caesar what is due Caesar,” Jesus said, referring to a denarius with Caesar's profile upon it, and yet he did not say whether that very denarius truly belonged to Caesar. If Jesus could be so cryptic, how plain-spoken are those who claim to follow him.
And last week you heard an anthem to the trinity; but what only we in the choir saw was that there was a second set of words, words which did not pray to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. They could not bring themselves to say “Father”, so they addressed their first prayer to the “Creator”, setting themselves against the ancient judgement that creation was the act not only of the Father, but was accomplished through the Son and the Spirit as well, Just as redemption comes from and through all three persons of the Godhead. But this refusal to say the words of scripture is also a kind of false prophecy, speaking our words rather than His.
Now, I do not number myself among those conservative Protestants who hold that there is no new prophecy. But I myself am not a prophet, nor even a dresser of sycamore trees (as Amos said of himself). I am a man, baptized, who sings in the choir and who has been allowed to speak a sermon. God does not dictate these words to me in the night. Perhaps they are spoken in accordance to His will, or perhaps not; that is why I pray as I do before I preach. I believe that I have been called to speak to you; I have believed so for some decades; but the words are mine. And I am given to assume that this is true of most preachers, and of political activists, and of all the rest who speak in the name of the Godhead or in the name of the truth which is His being.
And yet Jesus in today's gospel also speaks of prophets. He speaks of the grace which those who repeat his message pass on to those who heed them. Jesus says these words to the disciples, in preparation for sending them out to preach among the Jews; earlier in this chapter he gives them instructions, and then teaching and advice for their journey. In this passage we must remember that the prophets and righteous ones being welcomed are the disciples themselves. He reassures them, and he reassures us: the disciples, and those who speak the Word in this age, but also those who hear them, and in hearing them hear God. When we speak the Word, we speak for the Word, and those who hear that Word hear the Word Himself, Jesus the Christ. And those who uplift those who speak that word are blessed, because they welcome the Christ as they welcome his ministers. And therefore we must hold ourselves open to hearing that word, and open to those who bring it to us. Though we must turn a deaf ear upon that which is false, we must not shut ourselves off entirely.
So keep a glass of cold water at hand for Christ's ministers-- or better still, welcome them by keeping your pledge up-to-date for the summer!