“Your real name is not Jeremy,” a traveling prophet prophesied over me years ago. “No! Your Christian name is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.” And I’ve been weeping inside ever since.
I have never felt quite at home in this world. I’ve always felt I was born at the wrong time. Since God called my name in college, and swept me up into the world of the biblical story, I have felt more at home rubbing shoulders and shooting the breeze with the prophets and the apostles long dead.
They live on through the words of Scripture, and their words have shaped and shook me more than any living influences or current day talking heads. I’m the product of a scriptural imagination, and my deepest longing has always been to invite others into this strange yet exhilarating world and discover their role in this ancient yet still unfolding Story.
I have found a friend and commiserator in Jeremiah the prophet of the 6th century B.C. He was given a tough message to deliver to God’s people in a time of great moral corruption and political chaos. He paid a price for his vocation and shed many tears watching God’s people go astray.
Jeremiah didn’t feel up to the task. (Neither do I.) He suffered with recurring bouts of depression. (So do I.) He was terrified of the backlash if he spoke out about the current spiritual and political state of the nation. (Yep, me too.)
Yet when he kept silent he found that God’s message was like “a fire shut up in my bones; I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer 20:9). (My passion for Jesus’ kingdom burns white hot in me, but I’m often too thin-skinned to speak out.)
God still speaks to his people in each generation through teachers and preachers and modern-day prophets who have been given deep insight into “what’s really going on” in the world. Every church leader who has pledged himself to lead God’s people and proclaim the truths of Scripture is included in this group.
I’m not talking about rogue, long-haired charismatic weirdos standing on street corners and claiming to have a direct message from the Almighty. No, I’m talking about every ordinary pastor in every run of the mill church who has an audience each week and charged with teaching and shepherding a congregation of Christ-followers. These are God’s spokespersons today, and they have a holy and dangerous calling on their life right now.
But “a horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land” of the so-called free. God’s people—Christian leaders and church attenders alike—have been coopted by the political factions and partisan agendas of the state, and have wandered from God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. Most pastors fall into two camps.
First, there are those who have sold out and line up along partisan lines and steer their flock toward the Right or the Left. Their congregation shares their partisan views and so cheers their pastor on as he or she toes the party line with little pushback.
Second, there are many pastors who have a more nuanced and Jesus-shaped political views, but who keep silent about them because sharing them would offend both partisan factions sitting in their pews. They choose to play it safe, keep the peace and not divide the church. The pastor’s job and the unity of the church is on the line, and that is a very difficult position to be in.
But there is a smaller, third group of pastors. Jeremiah and others who embrace the prophetic role of the pastoral office are willing to risk more for the sake of calling God’s people to Kingdom faithfulness. They are willing to get shot at from both sides by critiquing both Right and Left wing agendas. They are willing to shrink their church by letting Jesus’ priorities and values undercut certain partisan priorities and American values.
For these pastors, their personal integrity and commitment to Jesus’ teachings are more important than their paycheck, and they would rather divide and prune the church in order to stand with Jesus than preserve the peace in a church while propagating a compromised and bastardized version of Christian faith.
These pastors often go to bed with wet, tear-filled eyes, feeling isolated and misunderstood by most of their congregants. For every loud and brash prophet you’ll find excoriating others on Twitter or their blog, there is a broken-hearted prophet weeping alone behind his closed office door.
So, Jeremiah’s warnings blast like a trumpet into the noise of this cultural moment, but will God’s people listen to a weeping prophet? Will the current-day church’s priests and prophets speak the truth, or spin the truth or close our ears? Thus saith the LORD:
They have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice.They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?” declares the Lord.“Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way …“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace…Jeremiah 5:27-31, 6:13-15
I’ve held my tongue too often, and I have a holy obligation to speak out on behalf of Christ and to call the church to faithful adherence to Jesus and his Kingdom as we navigate these chaotic days in our country. Let all who have ears to hear, listen.
Next time I will continue channeling Jeremiah’s trumpet blast to the compromised church in America. Eventually I will get down to brass tacks and share how the teachings of Jesus have challenged and changed how I process the hot button political and social issues of the day.