Lectionary Readings For August 18. Jer. 23:23-29, Ps 82, Heb. 11:29-12:2, Luke 12: 49-56
Jeremiah's discussion of false prophets who claim they should be listened to because; "I had a dream..." makes me think of some of the drop-ins to the church office over the years. There have been several men who have dropped in to talk to us about their prophecies/visions that they feel God wants them to share. Some First Mennonite people might remember the young man, a visitor, (I think this was about 6 years ago now) who got up during sharing time to talk about the new Bible God told him to write. Another time, at the end of a church service, Tim had a visitor talk to him, at length, about prophecies of doom that he felt called to deliver to pastors. Once I had a man come to the office on a weekday, by appointment, to share his prophecies. All of these "prophets' were unknown to our community, they just dropped in once to say their piece, then disappeared.
Jeremiah is warning about false prophets, but he is also encouraging those "who have my word to speak it faithfully." v 28. How are we to know the difference? Of those I mentioned above, the first young man was obviously suffering from mental issues. He was in need of compassion and help, he obviously had "delusions in his own mind' v.26. (He was disruptive during the service, and left very quickly after it. How would we have responded to him had he continued to come to our church? Are we able to have compassion and offer some support while being firm about protecting the rest of our people from his obvious dysfunction? It's always an interesting balance, feeling out how to respond well in these situations!) The second man had no desire to interact with us either. He just dumped his doom message on Tim and left. That left a bad taste and we did not take him seriously at all-he clearly didn't take us seriously either, because he wasn't interested in dialogue, he just wanted to tell us what to do. It's hard sometimes, not to resent the time this sort of thing ends up wasting! The third man also only dropped by once, and didn't get to know our community either, however, he was a bit different. His "prophecy" was based in scriptures. He discussed various passages with me (I don't remember exactly which ones) and was mostly concerned that churches pay attention to scriptures. I appreciated his message. He pushed me to think, he didn't claim that he had any corner on truth himself, and the idea that we interpret scripture and prophecy as a church community felt at home in our conversation. He never claimed "he had a dream" so that his message would supersede all others, he just wanted to share what was on his heart to share, and leave it to God. It felt like he was trying to speak faithfully. He didn't immediately raise my defences, he engaged me in God's word, and challenged me respectfully. Even if we couldn't see eye to eye on all his points, this felt faithful and good, it felt like church listening to God. Of course, it's also hard to do much with someone like this too-I had no idea who he was, and he knew nothing of our church. That makes it easy to deal with-because I don't have to deal with him again-but it leaves me wondering about something. How do we deal with our own "prophets"? Do we really listen to our own people, who know us well, when they feel called to push us to discussion and discernment? Is it only listening if we agree with them, or can we really discuss and discern things well with each other? (Actually, this will always necessarily be a growing edge for any healthy church. I think we're doing some good things in learning how to discuss and agree and disagree. It's certainly not easy, but it is one of the things we are called to do as a faith community.)
There are so many competing messages in our lives every day. It's hard to know which ones to listen to, which ones to give the time and effort. Jeremiah warns us not to jump on the dramatic "dream" bandwagons, but to listen to the faithful voices, the humble voices, the voices that speak of justice and not personal advancement. There's no easy way to always know what is of God. The people in Jeremiah's time also struggled with knowing which voices to listen to-our situation is not new!