Thursday 13 August 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (19/50) – Standing Up and Speaking Out

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the nineteenth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations… I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 9-10

From Moses to Malachi, from John the Baptist to John in Revelation, the prophets of the Bible bring God’s words to his people. Called by God to speak his words, interpreting events, challenging and confronting, predicting and warning, speaking for their own times, speaking for all times, speaking of Christ, speaking of the final day of the Lord, the words of the prophets come across as immediately relevant, even to the 21st century.

They challenged the rich and complacent – those ‘who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, who trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, who practise deceit with false balances’ (Amos). They will be judged; the Lord will ‘fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty’.

They challenged the priests and religious leaders – ‘and now, O priests, if you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, then I will send the curse on you. You have caused many to stumble’ (Malachi). They will be judged, and Jesus said, ‘woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, for you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven’.

They challenged kings. Nathan confronted David – ‘Thus says the Lord, I anointed you king over Israel, yet you have despised the word of the Lord to do what is evil in his sight’. Elijah confronted Ahab – ‘Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you’.

They constantly repeated God’s commands against injustice and idolatry and his calls for social, economic and political righteousness. They warned Israel and Judah of the judgment that would come through foreign conquest and exile. They affirmed God’s promises and spoke of the final day of the Lord, when Jerusalem’s ‘vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch’ (Isaiah). And they also spoke of grace, repentance and forgiveness. Through Jeremiah the Lord says of his people, ‘They shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more’ (31:34).

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. In Acts 2:17, Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel, ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh… even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit; and they shall prophesy.’ Peter said that was what was happening that day of Pentecost. What should be the role of prophecy in the church today?

2. To what extent are Christians called, like the Old Testament prophets, to challenge religious leaders and political rulers when God’s laws are flouted, when injustice and economic exploitation flourishes? How do we recognise that call and support those who take this on?

3. Read Isaiah 65:17-25 and Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27, and rejoice that in the end judgment is swallowed up in glory.

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