Wednesday, July 1, 2009

At School with the Prophets

Each morning for the last year, right after I set my tea-water to boil and read morning prayer, I open my bible to the prophets and transcribe a chapter longhand in my journal. I began in Isaiah last April, and I've walked my way through to Ezekiel, interspersing Isaiah and Jeremiah with Paul's prophetic and apostolic letters to young churches.

The prophets have profoundly changed what I understand to happen when the church gathers together. I grew up in a Montana bible church where a sermon was a lesson, a chance to understand what the text says and then learn how to apply it to our lives. These words--understand, learn, apply--speak a basic separation of God's story and our stories that can only be bridged by the intellect and the will. If the Spirit shows up, he comes as one who enlightens--another intellectual word.

But the prophets, they don't preach principles and applications. In Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Paul, the Spirit speaks directly to the audience. He busies himself with politics and the private idolatries of the residents of Jerusalem, he confronts the cheating business practices of those claiming to be Yahweh's people and derides the charlatan successes of local political powers. More, Yahweh tells his story in a way that swallows up the stories of Judah and Israel. The prophets tell the only story in town, they tell the truth.

That's what happens when the church gets together: If we listen--if we quiet down and listen--we hear the Spirit speaking in ways specific and salvific. In our prayers and liturgy, our passing of Jesus' peace, our sermons and sharings, God is ready to speak. If only we would let go of our stories, our plans and projects and needs and concerns, we would hear the Spirit's whisper of the coming kingdom and the resurrection life now filling the common cup, now filling our veins.

I've been reading a great book by Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way. I'm a big fan of his unfolding series on spiritual theology. (If you check the sidebar list of suggested books, you'll find Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the first book in the series.) In this volume, he mulls over the ways and means of following Jesus. Jesus does not ask us to follow him in any old way. God's new resurrection life has a particular shape, a Jesus shape. It's a good book.

Peterson spends a lot of time with the prophets--Moses, Elijah, Isaiah of Jerusalem and Isaiah of the Exile. They come out of the wilderness, they come out of the city, they live in exile, and they demand that Yahweh's people follow Yahweh in Yahweh's way. They denounce the imperial aspirations of kings, the commercial rapacity of merchants, the self-satisfied comfort of aristocrats, the panicked grasping for security that causes slave and landowner, beggar and king chase after Baal, god of the thunderclouds, and his consort Asherah, goddess of fertile fields and pregnant bellies.

It's not that the people didn't worship Yahweh. Beggar and king alike would identify themselves with the Yahweh cult (Peterson points to Ahab as a prime example). But their fears and their hopes take first place, and they begin to worship Yahweh in the way the people around them do, as one god among many, as one way to get things done.

I'm not going to list the ways that our hopes and our fears cause us to read the Jesus story, the ways that we write our own stories over God's story. We each can list the lies that rule in our hearts, that drowned out the Spirit's voice.

What I want to know is, "Who are the prophets of our generation?" Who is confronting your church in Chicago or Montana or Macedonia or Russia with God's life-swallowing story lived by Jesus? Let's make a list.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Josh, for sharing a glimpse of one of your spiritual disciplines... this might be one I need to try myself, as I am still figuring out how to approach the bible from a slightly different angle than "understand, learn, apply."

    My professors here at Regent are amazing prophets in my own life, calling me back to God and living prophetically a life that values theological education for the whole church. I thank God for them.


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