While I love reading the biblical prophets, preaching from them is a difficult, daunting task.
I imagine many of us who are engaged in regular preaching often avoid the prophetic texts when they appear in the lectionary because the other three lections often seem more favorable for sermonizing.
Yet, the prophetic tradition is a powerful voice for justice that pervades the Bible, and it must be allowed to confront both the congregation and the minister. This is easier said than done.
In preparation for a vacation and a week without preaching, I looked ahead to the lections for Oct. 30, one of which is Micah 3:5-12.
The first four verses of the chapter were conveniently left off, due to their graphic nature I assume, but the remaining verses are no less challenging.
The verses contain a polemic against prophets, pastors and priests who lead people astray by only speaking words palatable to the people who pay them (Micah 3:5-8), as well as a polemic against all leaders who hate justice and distort equity (Micah 3:9-12).
By contrast, Micah is not beholden to any who would wish to control his message through pay or other provision. Therefore, he is able to work toward justice by speaking out against the injustice he sees:
“Listen! You leaders, you rulers, should you not know justice? Yet you hate what is good and love what is evil. You tear the skin off my people and pull the flesh off their bones. You eat their flesh and flay off their skin, breaking their bones into pieces and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a pot. You hate what is just, you disregard what is equitable, you build Zion through violence and bloodshed and the city of Jerusalem through wrongdoing. Your judges decide cases based on bribes, your priests teach a palatable message to receive pay and your prophets share favorable visions for money” (Micah 3:1-4, 9-12).
This is a dark and a difficult text for preaching. This is a text I would usually avoid.
Perhaps it was my internal gravitation toward the topic of justice, perhaps it was the prospect of two weeks’ time to prepare, or perhaps it was the conviction that this has a message that I needed to hear and to proclaim.
Whatever the reason, I’ve chosen to resist the temptation to flee the prophet’s ire and spend time letting the text speak to me, and, hopefully, speak through me a message of critique because this is the only way that repentance and redemption can occur.
The text offers numerous angles and applications for sermonizing, and it is my hope and faith that the spirit will speak through the exegetical, theological, pastoral and homiletical reflections in the days to come.
In the meantime, I offer up this text as a reminder that we who follow the prophet named Jesus must not remain silent while injustice and inequity are present in our churches, communities, states, nations and world.
Micah’s message is a reminder that to see injustice and inequality surrounding us and then step into the pulpit – wherever our pulpit may be and whatever it may look like – and continually offer a palatable message for fear of losing pay or position is to lead people astray and, ultimately, to participate in the injustice and inequality itself.
Preaching from the prophets is difficult because it demands a prophetic message from the preacher – a message that neither the preacher nor the congregation will likely be comfortable hearing.
Preaching from the prophets is risky because it is a lonely vocation and one in which loss of pay or position is a very real possibility.
However, Micah suggests that the greater risk is to remain silent, palatable and pleasing for the sake of pay, position or prestige when faced with the awareness of injustice and inequality.
Doing so causes darkness to fall upon the preacher. It is darkness in which there is no vision, no revelation, no meaningful words to speak (Micah 3:6-7).
It is darkness in which one becomes numb to the injustice and inequality and no longer possesses the holy angst to speak out in righteous indignation.
May we be committed to our daunting and daring prophetic calling, and may we be wise in its enactment and exercise. May we have wisdom to discern injustice and inequality in our world, and wisdom to know how to offer redemption through confrontation.
And may we have wisdom to trust that God calls us to speak against injustice and inequality no matter the cost, and wisdom to believe that redemption is only possible when it is made evident that we are all in need of healing.
To do anything different is to lose our ground of being, which is to allow ourselves to fall into a heap of ruins (Micah 3:12).