Annoying prophets

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I expect you can guess what make me think about annoying prophets this week. The Extinction Rebellion protesters see themselves as prophets – and we may well agree. Some people certainly seem to find them annoying. But how do we judge who is a true prophet? Thinking about this reminded me of a story about a really annoying prophet…

Ahab asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to attack Ramoth?”

“I am ready when you are,” Jehoshaphat answered, “and so are my soldiers and my cavalry. But first let’s consult the Lord.”

So Ahab called in the prophets, about four hundred of them, and asked them, “Should I go and attack Ramoth, or not?”

“Attack it,” they answered. “The Lord will give you victory.”

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Isn’t there another prophet through whom we can consult the Lord?”

Ahab answered, “There is one more, Micaiah son of Imlah. But I hate him because he never prophesies anything good for me; it’s always something bad.”

“You shouldn’t say that!” Jehoshaphat replied.

Then Ahab called in a court official and told him to go and get Micaiah at once.

The two kings, dressed in their royal robes, were sitting on their thrones at the threshing place just outside the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying in front of them. One of them, Zedekiah, made iron horns and said to Ahab, “This is what the Lord says: ‘With these you will fight the Syrians and totally defeat them.’” All the other prophets said the same thing. “March against Ramoth and you will win,” they said. “The Lord will give you victory.”

Meanwhile, the official who had gone to get Micaiah said to him, “All the other prophets have prophesied success for the king, and you had better do the same.”

But Micaiah answered, “By the living Lord I promise that I will say what he tells me to!”

When he appeared before King Ahab, the king asked him, “Micaiah, should King Jehoshaphat and I go and attack Ramoth, or not?”

“Attack!” Micaiah answered. “Of course you’ll win. The Lord will give you victory.”

But Ahab replied, “When you speak to me in the name of the Lord, tell the truth! How many times do I have to tell you that?”

Micaiah answered, “I can see the army of Israel scattered over the hills like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These men have no leader; let them go home in peace.’”

Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good for me? It’s always something bad!”

Micaiah went on: “Now listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne in heaven, with all his angels standing beside him. The Lord asked, ‘Who will deceive Ahab so that he will go and be killed at Ramoth?’ Some of the angels said one thing, and others said something else, until a spirit stepped forward, approached the Lord, and said, ‘I will deceive him.’ ‘How?’ the Lord asked. The spirit replied, ‘I will go and make all of Ahab’s prophets tell lies.’ The Lord said, ‘Go and deceive him. You will succeed.’”

And Micaiah concluded: “This is what has happened. The Lord has made these prophets of yours lie to you. But he himself has decreed that you will meet with disaster!”

Then the prophet Zedekiah went up to Micaiah, slapped his face, and asked, “Since when did the Lord’s spirit leave me and speak to you?”

“You will find out when you go into some back room to hide,” Micaiah replied.

I wonder what’s the first thing that strikes you about Micaiah? Really annoying? Courageous? Willing to be the odd one out, speaking truth to power, physical danger. Might make you think of London protests – although it’s also true that in certain groups questioning the beliefs or tactics of XR would also be a brave action.

Micaiah’s first concern was to speak the truth – even when it was inconvenient, and unpopular. He was known for it. In fact it seems that deep down that’s what King Ahab wanted – he knows that Micaiah’s first message isn’t his real message – he pushes him for his real prophesy.

For Micaiah, this is not just the truth as he sees it or others see it – this is the truth as God has revealed it. Micaiah believes that God has revealed to him what will happen to Ahab – and how all the other prophets will lie to him.

I wonder if Micaiah had any doubts about what God was saying to him. Other prophets, like Jeremiah, certainly do. Most of us don’t have the certainty that Micaiah had – maybe he had to have it in his situation. Maybe that’s also what the XR protesters feel – there’s no place for an uncertain message. But maybe that’s also a danger that absolute conviction might make some people listen to them less.

Thinking about what it might mean to be a prophet today there are three things that I think might be important.

The first is a passion for the truth – a passion to pass on what God seems to be saying in this situation – whatever that situation might be. A conviction that this is so important that it takes precedence over getting on with people well, or feeling comfortable, or a quiet life.

But I think the second important thing is humility. If we are going to be fully open to the truth, then we need to be open to God, and open to every possible pointer to truth, wherever that might come from. We need to listen to the obvious voices – and we need to listen to the dissenting voices, and weigh up what they say.

It’s very easy to get into an echo chamber where we only listen to people who agree with us. If we want to learn how to communicate our message in a way which will convince others we need to really listen to other viewpoints, and what lies behind them. I’m not sure that Micaiah was too bothered about that – he knew that King Ahab would ignore him anyway.

If then, in our listening, we feel that there is a clear and vital message that we need to give – then there is the need for courage. Being willing to be different. Being willing to challenge. Being willing to become annoying!

The best prophets are often people of prayer – that’s where they find their openness to the truth, and the courage to act it out. Brother Hugh, who we know from Hilfield Priory, is not a natural rebel – but his prayerful openness has led him to take part in the protests in London – here he is leading prayers on the ‘Faith Bridge’. So we can also pray…

Lord, we thank you for those who are your prophets – speaking truth to power – acting out your love for the world, even in annoying ways. Help us to hear your truth in the vital issues of our time – and in the circumstances of our lives…

We know that there are times when our belief in our own truth becomes closed, defensive or aggressive. Lord give us the humility to hear your words of challenge to us, and to be open to rethinking our understanding and learning with others…

Thank you, Lord, for people of prayer, passion and courage like Brother Hugh. Help us to have the courage to speak and act wherever and whenever you call us…

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