Friday, December 21, 2007

The Focus of the Prophets

Friday, December 21, 2007 -- Week of 3 Advent (Year 2)
(St. Thomas the Apostle)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 939)
Psalms 40, 54 (morning) 51 (evening)
Zechariah 7:8 - 8:8
Revelation 5:6-14
Matthew 25:14-30

I don't know if this passage has ever jumped out at me before. But in a few brief words, Zechariah seems to summarize the fundamental thrust and themes of the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets, especially those of the 8th century BCE.

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." (Zechariah 7:9-10)

That is a description of Biblical justice. It is a passage that ranks with Amos 5:24 -- "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Or Micah 6:8 -- "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Over and over the prophets instruct the people that if we fulfill the expectations of God's justice, God will bless us. The prophets explained the tragedies and sufferings that befell Israel as God's judgment when the people fail to live into these values. True worship is grounded in just behavior, they tell us. Godly society, economics and politics are expected to share these qualities. This is the measuring line.

There is a lot of conversation these days about the religious factor in politics. Politicians give witness to their own faith. "Evangelical Christian" is a term describing a bloc of voters. To read the papers and hear reports of this year's campaigning, religious values are a key component.

Why then aren't the justice themes of the great prophets the political content of contemporary religious values? Shouldn't the candidates and the Christian religious voters be competing with one another about how we can show kindness and mercy to one another, especially toward the vulnerable, the widow (single mothers), the orphan, the alien (including illegal aliens), and the poor? If political debate wants to be grounded in Christian values, then why do we have candidates bragging about how mean they can be to immigrants and presidents who veto medical care for children in the lower income ranges? Isn't debating what is and what is not torture a form of devising evil in our hearts? What would the prophets say? What would Jesus say? Just say "no" to torture.

How different might our politics be if it were oriented toward the interests of the poor instead of the interests of the rich? It might be an interesting exercise to line up every issue that is being debated in this election year and look at it through a single lens: "Who benefits? The rich or the poor? Who wants this? The rich or the poor?" Then, decide in favor of the poor.

What would it mean to embrace kindness and mercy as our primary cultural values?

These are the themes and values of the Biblical prophets. If you want to take scripture seriously, bring these values into public life. That was the function of the prophets.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here in Washington DC we here those scripture passages regularly from Jim Wallis of Sojourners. They are indeed important messages for their time and for ours.
We always need prophets.
N. Hughes

At 12:10 PM, Blogger scott said...

hear hear!

At 2:20 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

The question is do you want your Saints or prophets running for political office? Could Mother Teresa have done more good as a politician than as a foot soldier for God? It is rare to combine the gifts of leadership with the gift of the spirit. Perhaps Gandhi was the most recent example. I don't see anything to compare to him in the current crop of wannabes.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the good comments.

I remember being struck by the mission of Bread for the World. While acknowledging that charity and direct aid from churches and Christians to respond to hunger and to feed the world was important, necessary, and a spiritual mandate, the practical truth is that with one significant piece of legislation, the U.S. Congress can bring more resources to respond to hunger than all of the religious charity combined. (All of the religious income combined, as I recall.)

I do want saints running for political office. I want people who are grounded in the justice vision of the prophets to run for political office.

I embrace our tradition of pluralism. I'm often pretty underwhelmed by politicians' protestations of piety and belief, especially when they are targeting a voting bloc. But I sure perk my ears when I hear someone who is familiar with the prophets and who is willing to put that into concrete action.



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