Sunday Sermon: A Prophetic Voice

There is a lot of noise in society today. There is a lot of talking in our world today. 

Just turn on the cable news networks and this becomes apparent. There is a lot of noise in our world today. Our news presentations feature a steady stream of people constantly talking at each other. This talking is presented to us as debates, when we know that it is far from it. 

What we are given is a form of loud talking that is often more about selling a point than entering into a discussion. Those who spend a lot of time talking on television often are simply wanting to defeat their opponent, give out a few talking points, and get retweeted or posted instantly. The process makes it hard to understand what is being discussed and difficult to discern the truth in the topic. 

We’ve grown familiar with this kind of noise. Not just because it is all over our television screens, but also because it is featured prominently in our churches today. There is a lot of noise in the church. Noise of people talking at each other claiming to have God’s truth on their side.

All of us have seen this even if we do not know exactly what we are looking for. Take a walk through the aisle of a bookstore, read some blogs, or even just turn on the television and you’ll see that the church is impacted by the same attempts to talk and be heard as we see in our public debates. It is not hard to miss the noise of people want to be heard and described as being on the “right side” of God. 

What we often see are two sides debating and claiming that they are the only ones who speak for God. Sometimes these voices are contradictory and hard to discern what God’s word is for us. On the one hand, we have pastors and theologians who argue that God wants you to prosper financially and to be happy. On the other, we have pastors and theologians that the life God desires is for us to live simply and sacrificially. No matter the topic or issue, there seems to be people on various sides articulating a message they say comes from God. 

How are we to make sense of all the talking? How are we to make sense of all the discussions? How can we tell who truly speaks for God?

Our passage, this morning, from Deuteronomy 18:15-22 gives us some guidance and suggestions on how we can hear God’s voice in the mist of the noise. What we hear from this passage is a word that seeks to articulate how to discern God’s truth. What we find is that God still speaks, today, through the noise of the day and that we do have a way to hear that voice for ourselves. 

This passage, though, comes in the middle of Moses’ great sermon to the people of Israel at the end of his leadership with them. Deuteronomy records the oral tradition of this speech that was written down several hundred years later. By the time Deuteronomy is written, Israel finds itself in a period where there is not an absence of prophets. There are people all throughout the Ancient Near East who claimed to speak on behalf of God. When the oral tradition surrounding Moses’ words were finally written down, the people of Israel wondered about how they could tell who the prophets of God were. Keep in mind Moses was not only their leader, but was also their prophet who spoke to them about what it meant to follow God.

As we engage this passage, we see that there is a reminder that a prophet is someone who is called by the Lord for a specific work. A prophet is someone who plays an important role within the community of faith. God calls a prophet to speak a word of truth to a community. It is not always an easy word to be heard. In fact, a prophet is often called to challenge the basic presuppositions of the community and to help them grow closer to God.

The prophet represents and speaks truth, which is one of the key virtues of a community of faith. It joins justice, learning, and trust to make up the components of a faith community. Each of these are represented by key offices and roles of the community: judge (justice), king (learning), and priest (trust).  

Scripture gives us accounts of men and women who served as prophets and who told of a challenging word from God. Jeremiah warned the people of Israel that they were going to be defeated by the Babylonians and placed in exile. Esther presented the case for the people of Israel to the king, even at the risk of her own life. Moses articulated for Israel and taught about what it meant to be a community of faith. There were others. Each were prophets who stood for truth and proclaimed God’s truth no matter the consequences. 

Jesus, himself, lived within this tradition of prophetic voices calling out for the people to hear God’s word. Jesus took upon himself each of the key virtues of the community, especially this role of a prophet. He spoke about what it meant for the kingdom of God to be present within the community, and also what it truly meant for us to lay down our lives in order to gain our life in Christ. Jesus’ words are difficult, challenging, and prophetic. 

Voices today fall in this great line of speaking God’s truth. Truth that is often challenging and hard to hear. I think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke of God’s truth for justice for all. I think of people like Mother Teresa who spoke for the need of compassion for the least of these. I think of people like Kentucky’s own Wendell Berry who has spoken for the need for caring for God’s creation. 

Each are a reminder of how we need prophetic voices. For without the voices of brave men and women who proclaim God’s truth it is easy for us to get lost in the weeds of life and without guidance to know how to live and how to follow. We need people who cannot be silent at the sight of injustices that exist in the world and who have a passion for proclaiming God’s truth in the midst of the storms of life. 

We need prophets still today who remind us of God’s great desires and passions for us. This doesn’t make it easy to hear the voices of truth in the midst of the noise. We live in a time where it is easy for people to have a voice. As long as people can find ways to communicate there will be multiple people competing for our listening ear claiming to have God’s truth and word for us on any given issue or topic. It is only a situation that is heightened, today, through the deep polarization that exists not just in our communities, but also in our churches.

There has to be a way to hear the prophets through the noise. A way to understand what God says to us through the books, videos, blogs, and social media posts so that we can discern what is truly coming from God and what is not. We have that through the final words from Deuteronomy. 

Not only are we told that God will raise up the prophet, but we are also given a way to discern who is truly speaking God’s word. At the root of these given help we want to prayerfully consider what is being said through the lens of what is provided us. First, is the prophet directing us to God? Second, is there any truth in the prophet’s word?

The second point is the one that is hard to prayerfully discern, because a prophet’s word may not be one that comes to realization in the present moment. Thus, we want to seek out if what the prophet says can be traced back through Scripture and has been accepted as true throughout the generations. There has to be a history or a lineage of the prophet’s words that can be seen through Scripture, and understand by our tradition of how we have wrestled with the word throughout time, how we have thought about it, and how we have experienced. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, builds on this by saying that if we come across something that is new then it cannot be true and, at the same time, if it is true then it is not new.

Prophets, then, are people who speak God’s truth and connect it throughout the history of understanding. We need people who are prophets who speak with a passion for God’s truth in the midst of the issues that plague us today. We need prophets who will speak about the injustices of human trafficking. We need prophets who will speak God’s love for all people. We need prophets who will call us to seek an end to the drug issues in our areas. We need prophets who will stand up and proclaim truth. 

In the noise of the day today, there are prophets who are speaking these truths and are speaking God’s word in the midst of these situation. It may be hard to hear at times, but they are speaking to us about what God desires. We have a way to separate the noise from the truth, by seeking if what is being said can be traced through Scripture and history.

The noise of the day should not keep us from hearing the prophets. They are speaking. They are speaking to us. May we hear what they are saying and may we heed their word with a passion that comes out our faith in God.

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