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Facing Adverse Reactions To Prophetic Living

April 22, 2018

FACING ADVERSE REACTIONS 

TO PROPHETIC LIVING

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

April 22, 2018 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

 

Ezekiel 2:1-7


2He said to me: O mortal,* stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation* of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

 

Acts 4:5-12


5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John,* and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners*stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,* whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus* is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
   it has become the cornerstone.”* 
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

 

Think about “adverse reaction.”  In pharmacology, an adverse reaction is any dangerous or unexpected reaction to a drug, whether it occurs suddenly or develops over time (see, https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=26227).  This is different from a “side effect,” which is the term used for problems that happen in addition to or beyond the desired effect of a drug.   

 

This sermon is titled Facing Adverse Reactions to Prophetic Living because prophetic people are, in a manner of speaking, similar to drugs prescribed to treat people who suffer from disease.  In the passage from Ezekiel 2, the Spirit of God emphasized to the prophet that the exiled people of Israel to which he (the prophet) was commissioned to minister was a rebellious house.  The society was morally and ethically sick.  It had been sick for generations.  The sickness had persisted despite divine efforts to challenge the people and their leaders.  The national defeat by the Babylonians and exile was divine judgment on the moral and ethical stubborn and impudent refusal to hear and heed divine imperatives of love and justice (see, Ezekiel 2:2-4).  

 

At Ezekiel 2:6 and 7, we read what Ezekiel learned about adverse reactions he could expect from being God’s prophetic agent and how he was to respond to those adverse reactions.  

 

And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briars and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.  You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.”  

 

Here is Eugene Peterson’s contemporary wording of that passage in The Message.

 

But don’t be afraid of them, son of man, and don’t be afraid of anything they say.  Don’t be afraid when living among them is like stepping on thorns or finding scorpions in your bed.  Don’t be afraid of their mean words or their hard looks.  They’re a bunch of rebels.  Your job is to speak to them.  Whether they listen or not is not your concern.  They’re hardened rebels.

 

  The passage from Acts 4 shows how that message to Ezekiel played out for the first followers of Jesus and provides instruction about some of the adverse reactions that happen when we live and act as prophetic people.

 

Peter and John were agents of the liberating power of the Holy Spirit in keeping with their prophetic call as followers of Jesus by healing a man who had been lame from birth (see, Acts 3:1-10).  The desired effect of their prophetic intervention in the life of the man was that he was healed.  The sight and news of the formerly lame man joyfully walking into the temple with Peter and John and praising God was surprising (Acts 3:10), and attracted attention to the man and to Peter and John, the agents of his liberation from lameness (Acts 3:11).  

 

So this gave Peter the opportunity to explain that he and John were not the power that healed the man.  Instead, that healing power operated through them from God through Jesus – who was rejected and crucified before God raised him from death (Acts 3:11-16).   Peter went on to explain that Jesus was God’s successor to Moses, revered in Judaism as sent by God to liberate  their ancestors, and stood in the prophetic line with Samuel and the prophets after him, people who were agents of moral and ethical healing and correction (Acts 3:22-26).  

 

While Peter and John were addressing the crowd about the liberating power of God that worked in the name of Jesus to grant healing to the man who had been lame, they were confronted by religious and cultural authority figures and their enforcers (the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees).  They were displeased and caused Peter and John to be arrested because they “were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:1-4).  The man who had been lame was also arrested. 

 

On the next day, Peter, John, and the healed man were placed on trial before what appears to have been a delegation from the Sanhedrin Council, the ruling religious body in Jerusalem, the capitol of Palestine.   Annas was the high priest.  Joseph Caiaphas was son-in-law of Annas (and became high priest after him according to Luke 3:2).  The inquiring panel included other members of their family who were in the priesthood.  And their inquisition and interrogation body included the Sadducees, a group of priests and other influential people who did not refused to believe in the resurrection of the dead.   

 

These people bribed Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.  They plotted and arranged for Jesus to be arrested at night, subjected to an illegal nighttime trial and wrongful conviction on false charges of blasphemy and insurrection against the Roman Empire.  They had demanded that Pontius Pilate sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion.  They were conspirators in the assassination of Jesus, the prophet who Peter and John were now following in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in whose name the man who had been lame now stood healed and praising God.

 

Peter, John, and the healed man faced what we would call a “packed jury.”  The crowd they faced certainly would have fit the “mean words” and “hard looks” that Ezekiel was counseled to expect.  But Peter and John didn’t back down.  They refused to be intimidated by “mean words” and “hard looks.” 

 

“Mean words” and “hard looks” are adverse reactions prophetic people can expect in response to our obedience to the liberating truth and justice in the gospel of Jesus.  Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.,Dr. James Cone,Dr. Allan Boesak,Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,Malcolm X,Mrs. Daisy Bates,Fannie Lou Hamer,Ida B. Wells,Congresswoman Barbara Lee,and Dr. Cornel Westare notable people whose prophetic lives and work have been responded to with “mean words” and “hard looks” from political, religious, cultural, and other critics and commentators.  

 

Here’s the teaching point:  prophetic living triggers “mean mug” and “mean mouth” adverse reactions.  By “mean mug” I am describing mean-spirited looks and mean-spirited characterizations about the impact of our living for God.  

 

Like Ezekiel, Peter, and John, we who are followers of Jesus are prophetic people.  Jesus – God’s greatest prophet -directed his followers (in what is called the Great Commission) to make disciples.  The disciples of a prophet are to be prophetic-minded and prophetic acting.  We are prophetic agents in obedience to the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus.  

 

God has not called us to be “bench members.”  We are not called to be bystanders and spectators to life.  We are called to function like drugs to our society and world.  Our society and world are sick, diseased, and lame.  We are God’s agents of prophetic truth, love, justice, hope and peace.  We are God’s answer, through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the sickness of humanity that affects our society and everywhere else in the world.    

 

Whenever we are living prophetically for God, we will engage in actions and say things that are out of line with the oppressive way things are.  We will live in ways that challenge systems of oppression and domination.  We will live and speak in ways that condemn oppression, oppressors, and the opportunists who profit from oppression.  And when that happens, don’t be surprised when oppressors and their co-conspirators and accomplices “mean mug” you with their words.  Don’t be surprised when they “mean mouth” you with their words.   

 

Yet there is another adverse reaction beyond the mean words and mean looks prophetic people should expect to experience – should expect because it is certain to happen so we should not be surprised by it.  Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the passage from Ezekiel 2 is clear.  Don’t be afraid when living among them is like stepping on thorns or finding scorpions in your bed.  Prophetic living also can trigger mean actions.  

 

Prophetic living can produce reactions aimed at making prophetic people miserable from worry.  Prophetic living can trigger adverse reactions aimed at making prophetic people miserable from being unemployed or under-employed.  Prophetic living can trigger adverse reactions intended to make prophetic people miserable from being ostracized, miserable from mistreatment, and miserable from malicious treatment that can even involve threats and actions of bodily harm or death.  

 

However, the message of these passages is even more clear.  Don’t be afraid!  Don’t be afraid of their mean looks.  Don’t be afraid of their mean words.  Don’t be afraid of their mean actions.  Don’t allow fear to cause you to back away from your call to be prophetic agents of God’s love, justice, peace, truth, and hope.  Don’t you let these mean-mugging, mean-mouthing, and mean-behaving “haters” intimidate you.  Don’t shut up.  Don’t stop showing up.  Don’t stop acting up!  

 

Adverse reactions are not reasons to stop being God’s healing agents of love and justice.  Adverse reactions are not reasons for us to stop doing what we should and can do to speak truth to power, proclaim God’s unconditional love, God’s scandalous hospitality, and God’s unflinching call for justice.  

 

This is our calling from God.  This is our work in the world.  This is what it means to be followers of Jesus.  This is the true meaning of the Great Commission.  This is what we must expect when we are truly living as God’s prophetic people.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018