Monday, January 28, 2008

The Pastor as Prophet

I'm at the Bishop's Convocation in Greater New Jersey right now, and I'll have comments to share about that later in the week.

But for right now, I've been thinking a lot about the pastor as prophet. Are pastors prophets? Two comments to consider:

In Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “I am not surprised that most prophets are itinerants . . . I think the real clue to the tameness of a preacher is the difficulty one finds in telling unpleasant truths to people who one has learned to love . . . Once personal contact is established you are very prone to temper your wind to the shorn sheep. It is certainly difficult to be human and honest at the same time. I’m not surprised that most budding prophets are tamed in time to become harmless parish priests.”

In contrast (of sorts), Rev. Grace Imathiu, preaching at the 2007 Festival of Homiletics on Ezekiel’s call, asked, “How does a priest function when they are stripped of traditions, robes, when being a priest is more than just keeping the status quo? A priest in exile is a priest without safety of liturgy, office, family, class. That priest is Ezekiel. Whenever there is a crisis in the life of a priest, there is the opportunity for God to break in and the priest to be transformed into a prophet.”

Sometimes, I deeply resonate with Niebuhr's comments. I set out answering my call thinking I could be a prophet, but fear many days that what I am is a harmless parish priest. And indeed, feeling bound to my congregation does make it hard to be as blunt as I'd sometimes like to be about where God is calling us....

On the other hand - not opposing, perhaps, but from a different perspective, is this beautiful piece from Grace Imathiu's sermon: Perhaps there is still hope for God to break into my life and make a prophet of me.

Pastors, are you a prophet? How so, or how not?

Lay people - Do you see your pastor as a prophet? Are you open to your pastor speaking prophetically? What would that mean to you?
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