Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Overcoming Fear and Coming Out of the Cave; Prophetic Ministry as A No Exit Strategy in the 21st Century Church

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Delivered at the Black Pastors Symposium, The General Board of Discipleship Global Conference
The United Methodist Church
Nashville, Tennessee, January 5, 2011

I want to thank Rev. Vance Ross, Debra Carvin and members of the planning team for inviting me to be your guest speaker at this hour. It is an honor and a privilege to be in ministry in the United Methodist Church, and to serve with so many gifted and caring colleagues who have given their lives and souls to serving the people of God in the present age.

I stand before you this day as a humble servant of our Lord; as a continual seeker of truth; as one who has known what it means to spend time in the fiery furnace, to seek refuge in the cave; to have those trials by fire; to wrestle with his own limitations and frailties; and to speak a prophetic truth that often falls on ears that do not always want to hear in our post 911 society.

We must admit today that since terrorists commandeered those planes into those twin towers that bright sunny day things have changed in America and things have changed in our world. Today we see in our nation a rising cacophony of fear; fear of life and fear of death; fear of terrorists and fear of losing our nation’s sovereignty. There is fear of the present and fear of the future. Living with this angst and worry about the world in which we are called to do ministry, there is a kind of lingering dread that often unknowingly engulfs and overshadows us as we seek to do meaningful ministry in our time.

This “code blue,” “red alert” fear has taken hold of many of us, and at times immobilized and even oppressed us. And while many people have been conditioned to cower or even flee from these realities, we must be mindful that fear cannot dwell where faith lives.

It is our great task, then, as the called of God, as priests and prophets, pulpits, prelates and pew, to exhort the people of God to triumph over fear with faith, to call the people back to the sovereign, omnipotent and loving God who still has all power in his hands; who orders our steps and empowers our service; that we might unequivocally and categorically shine forth the radiant light, the irrevocable promises and hope of Christ in a dying world. As John 1:5 reminds us, “A light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

While we know scripturally and relationally that fear cannot dwell where faith is, we are all flesh and blood, guided by our heavenly benedictions but subject to our earthly limitations, where our vertical possibilities are often eclipsed by our horizontal disabilities. Thus the difference between faith and fear, configuring into the sign of the cross may simply be the difference between lying down in silence or standing up in protest against the ways in which fear domesticates our resolve to live as free and faithful persons in Christ. It may be the difference between doing what God has boldly anointed and called us to do versus refusing to do them in the words of Kierkegaard because of” fear and trembling and sickness unto death.”

As Christians we affirm the cross and understand it as a quintessential emblem of our faith. For some it is an insignia of fear; a solemn reminder of our fate dare we cross certain social and political lines; a symbol of mathematical subtraction and capital punishment where ultimately we lose, reserved for those who speak truth to power rather than a symbol of addition, adding value to our lives, where ultimately we all win, signifying moral courage and a determined faith not to be adversely and unduly affected by fear in our times.

We understand that the horizontal and the vertical beams of the cross coalesce into an axis where our earthly and heavenly tensions play out; where there is continual stress between flesh and spirit; the material and the spiritual; between mind, body, spirit and soul and it is precisely there that we glimpse the still points, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, the harsh realities of reckoning between our mortality and immortality; our death and resurrection; our redemption and our condemnation. The cross is a primordial sign of our faith symbolizing the tension between our two realities; our horizontal shortcomings as human persons and our vertical overcoming as the faith community and the people of God.

And as flesh and blood in ministry, there are times when we cling too heavily to the horizontal because after all that is who we are, where we live each day; down here on the ground; that is where we have our meetings and discussions; in community; under the watchful eyes of our leaders, keepers and sponsors; that is where we get the assent and adulation of our colleagues and receive from our lords and elders our earthly rewards; that is where we are comforted, clarified and confronted.

To be sure beloved, it is the nature of human communities to be horizontal in character coagulating into aggregates driven by the love of power who rule and have dominion, following the linear projections of history, but as a faith community, that also means that we are not simply horizontal but that we are also vertically driven by the power of love; that we are living downward but reaching upward; that we are moving forward but understanding backward says Kierkegaard,realizing that the vertical must break in on the horizontal; that the ladders on which we climb planted firmly on this terra firma are inherently stairways to the heavens and stars and to higher spiritual ground where God beckons us to become keepers and harbingers of a greater love and light; a moral courage, truth and justice that forever shines in the darkness.

We realize that these two realities signifying the cross; compel us to recognize that we stand between the tensions of these two configurations and regimes; where we are at once sinner and saved; lost and found; comforted and discomforted; accepted and rejected; possessed and dispossessed; right side up and upside down; outsiders looking in and insiders looking out; stabilizers and de-stabilizers, maintainers and transformers of the status quo in the words of Walter Bruggemann; torn between heaven and hell, ever faithful yet still at times ever afraid.

This is part of the immutable tension and calling of the vocation of prophetic ministry in the 21st century and we must not look continually for exit strategies as singular strategies in reckoning the demands our calling. In the practice and paradox of ministry we inevitably and simultaneously look for a way out and a way in. The horizontal is the way in and the vertical is the way out. The vertical is the way in and the horizontal is the way out.

We are are at once compelled to keep silence in the wake of injustices in the Kingdom to keep the peace and save ourselves and then called to proclaim truth boldly to the powers and principalities of the world to save others like the prophet Elijah and then realizing the effrontery and audacity of our temerity; and the threats of death and demotions in rank it inspires to our persons; we hide out in our caves with deflating and depressing second thoughts despite after getting those”two Negroes told”(Jezebel and Ahab) and witnessing, how God, tired of their bulls, slew their prophets in a reign of fire. We are awed and amazed, emboldened and weakened by these events and the prospects of what further events to which God might call us.

Turning downward instead of upward, we indulge the necessities of the flesh, forgetting that we have been spiritually called, biblically called; called through fire and water; called to move heaven and earth; called to speak, teach and reach the most of these and least of these; called to be emissaries of the Son of God; called to live but called to die, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

We are committed like Daniel to going into the lion’s den, but unlike him soon find ourselves looking for the emergency exits. We are overjoyed at the perils and challenges of leadership like Moses but soon disappointed that we cannot enter into that land of promise after many years of selfless service because we have mindlessly struck rocks for water at lunch hour in the midday heat of our desert wanderings.

As we are fearfully and wonderfully made of flesh and spirit, we must be mindful that what we think and say and do reveal the form and dynamics of this ever present reality in the ministries that we live and breathe each day. We are theologists, but we are pragmatists too. We stand and speak but must have our daily bread.

And so, we see and live this cross each day. We carry it and are acquainted with its power and promise as well as its pain and splinters. The carpenter dies on the wood from which he made his living. We witness its horizontal and vertical shadows silhouetting and permeating all of society as the tensions and contradictions are all around us and also within us, as we are called to go to Nineveh but choose a holiday in Tarshish, as we are called to witness to God’s continuing revelation and give bold unction through our proclamative power, but often find ourselves silently sedentary, hiding out in the cave from fear and hunger, fatigue and loneliness.

And even after our “interminable” battles with Gods and prophets of Baal and the skirmishes with the Ahabs and Jezebels of the world challenging their latent hypocrisies and their tyrannies of expectancy, we are called to come up out of our caves and stand on this mountain, to boldly proclaim God still, to encourage the faint of heart and the wounded weary, to bespeak joy out of suffering, gain out of loss and victory out of defeat, but have found ourselves depleted and exhausted, battered and bruised, and have found the cave to be the perfect hiding, healing and holding place.

As practitioners of ministry we must be mindful of the times and world in which we live. As students of history we watch the drama of the political, cultural and religious theater unfolding before us. We are internal and external. We are inward looking but outward working. We live and think and act in the real world. We cannot afford to be oblivious to what is going on in our world, for God so loved the world.

If by human nature we stand in organic tension between spirit and flesh, and in our ministries we stand in the organizational and organic tensions of static order and dynamic change; between what Alfred North Whitehead called preserving change amid order and order amid change, our reality is compounded even more by these mounting tensions in American society. And there too we behold the faint and stark contours of the crosses ever present shadows. We live the cross triumphantly, boldly but also hide timidly and tepidly within its shadows.

So we have painfully observed the last decade a seismic shift from what Karl Popper calls a free and open society and movement from what Adlai Stevenson called a free striding people with a free swinging stride to a nation engaging in what Cain Hope Felder called the “hermeneutics of suspicion, threatening to dismantle and unravel the very fabric of American style democracy and descending into the maelstrom of wariness.

We have seen the tension and are living it each day; the most powerful and freest nation fast becoming a nation marinating in constant fear politically playing the cards of the boogeyman; rather than the four aces from the hand of the man from Nazareth.

In many sectors of our society, we are now playing not to lose rather than playing to win. We are terrified and horrified, as we renew our passports, look for Osama been hiding, go through the x rated x ray machines at the airports. This climate of fear is precipitated by a financial system bordering on a second catastrophic collapse, the fiscal bailout out of a financial elite who recklessly created the financial crisis; a mortgage meltdown instigated by Wall Street “banksters” and gamblers, wholesale looting of the national treasury, the alleged theft of two recent national elections; the exportation of millions of jobs overseas while awarding those same corporations tax breaks; a Supreme Court decision allowing transnational corporations to shamelessly and without disclosure funnel unlimited amounts of campaign cash into the coffers of politicians; the buyout and pay off of the American political process; the corporatization of America and subordination of individual human rights; the emergence of a new species of politician some of whom are anemic, fearful, mendacious, without conscience, or vertebrae, who must have so “damned much money” to get elected; who are compelled to look good to the people who elect them and are good to the people who finance their campaigns (Zinn) ; increasing polarization and displacement of the American Middle class, the diminution and demolition of unions; the demonizing of migrant workers and the criminalizing of undocumented workers, the cooptation and propagandizing of national media; the perpetuation of a permanent war economy garnering exorbitant profits to Defense contractors and war profiteers; the emergence of a permanent black, native, Hispanic, Chicano, Latino and white urban and rural under classes, and the “accelerating disintegration of Arctic sea ice which means that summer ice will probably disappear within the next decade, where the dark open ice will absorb more solar radiation than reflective white ice, significantly increasing the rate of global warming.” ( Chris Hedges)

The fires of fear are continually stoked in this nation, as the value of the dollar diminishes, as a global power elite move us toward a new world order and a new world currency, as dissent is censored, dissenters are jailed and stigmatized and human rights activists are raided and ostracized and the power of cultural, religious and political critique is curtailed faster than the cybersyncs at warp speed in nanoseconds.

With these trends, America is perhaps transforming from a representative democracy into kleptoplutocracy; which may be an oligarchic attempt to consolidate all power into the hands of the international corporate state and a financial elite to control the destiny and fate of world populations.

Meanwhile, says Chris Hedges, we have segments of the Christian community coalescing into a curious hybrid of Dominionism and Republicanism, where the apocalyptic fringe of the Christian Right and theology of conservative evangelical Christians are merged with the politics and ideology of the Republican party into the denigration of same gender loving people; where the language of violence and hatred are screeched over the airwaves augmenting Orwellian doublespeak whose codified language subliminally evokes subtle forms of open racism. It is this climate of fear that we observe the rise in persecution of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent, the preemptive launching of an unjust war in Iraq, escalation of wars in Afghanistan which costs 326 million dollars a day which drag and drain our national treasury.

Moreover, in this climate of volatility and fear we have observed the near gutting of prophetic Christianity, and a strange silence of the liberal institutional church; the demonizing and excoriation of the prophetic black church evidenced in the recent public lynching and character assassination of one of its most prolific proponents Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The liberal Protestant Church, and the prophetic black church historically two of the true fortresses of freedom in America; epitomized by the ministries of so many great souls in the United Methodist Church and other mainline protestant denominations, (Catholic too) the Berrigan Brothers,  Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloane Coffin, Henry Hitt Crane, Vernon Johns, Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and others have been been  the most strident voices for social, political and cultural change in America.

The recent attacks against Reverend Wright are another effort to create fear by send warning shots over the bow and shock waves within the liberal church. It is a means of bringing down the prophets; of silencing them by delegitimizing their critiques of worldly abuses of power. It is a means of muting dissent of those individuals and institutions that have historically given voice to the voiceless, the downtrodden, marginalized and the oppressed in our society and world and who continually exhort us not to confuse the nonprofit status of the church with its non prophet agency in the world.

It has been the providence of the prophetic church and liberal Christianity itself, I might add, to speak truth in love to power in the name of Jesus Christ; to point to the alternative realities; to configure and herald the unconventional life giving and life supporting systems; to empower the people of God to envision themselves as co-transformers of the world in which they live. The call then is not simply to maintain the church and society as is, but to positively transform them into realities that will cooperatively, harmoniously and nonviolently reflect the will, purposes, and love of God in a world whose resources are increasingly confiscated and dissipated and where 2-4 percent of the world’s elite own and control 80 percent of the world’s resources.

It is still to transform those existing realities from unjust systems of oppression and injustice into just systems of love, truth and justice, life, liberty and happiness that maximizes the actualization of human potential and creates genuine human community.” It is to boldly combat all forms of terrorism that would have us surrender our rights as citizens and beat silent retreat to our caves. It is to stand in the gap and call attention to our current crises born of our worst sins and fears; the food crisis and social crisis, the energy crisis and climate crisis, the crisis of the extinction of species and the increasing violence at all levels in the family and schools, to wars of various kinds.”(Ulrich Duchrow)

Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that God’s love on the interpersonal level has its moral equivalent in justice on the collective social level. The love that we are called to express interpersonally through Christ has its moral imperative in social justice in society. He tells us that societies cannot “love” their citizens like individuals love each other. But societies can ensure that distributive and retributive justice in the words of John Rawls, are realized for all of its citizens. Social justice is the moral equivalent to personal love. All systems of justice are rooted in the concept of divine love for the people.

This justice is part of a larger vision of God for the people of God in the kingdom of God which is all of society. Part of the prophetic responsibility is to give image to this vision; to give voice to these concerns; and help under the aegis and auspices of God to bring them into reality. The prophet’s role is to call attention to the freedom and autonomy of God in human history and to act in accordance with the moral imperatives and vision of divine reality to herald God’s kingdom and to create a more just world. Dissent is often the voice of God crying in the wilderness, bespeaking the horrors and tragedies of man’s inhumanity to man. The proclamatory pronouncements are part of our prophetic responsibility. Thus saith the Lord…. Make straight a highway for out God for every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked places straight and the rough places a plain. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar-when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod Tetrach of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias Tetrach of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphus, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

The attack on Jeremiah Wright and the dissemination over the national air waves of a few clips from his sermons taken out of context was a clever and distorted attempt by the national media to make subtle if not direct connections between Reverend Wright, the prophetic black church and international terrorism. That he would preach in such a frenzied, vitriolic and possessed manner saying that God might damn America is exactly the demented diatribes and demonizing of America that comes from the rueful rantings of terrorists. The primary task then was to link the politics of Obama with the theology of the prophetic black church with the ultimate aim of delegitimizing Obama’s run at the presidency while silencing forever the prophetic wing of the liberal protestant Church and its capacity to be a spokes institutions for justice and and freedom in a world where mega churches and the Gospel of prosperity has more prominent and legitimate currency.

When the prophetic black church is indirectly criticized in the national media in the name of Real Politik, when its leaders are touted as virtual despots, and the church becomes a Gulag, where its litanies and incantations of protest are muted and banished; where silence to oppression and injustice becomes a sign of loyalty and patriotism; where dissent is summarily dissolved; where those voices of empowerment, transformation and uplift which have given voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless in the three great documents of freedom and in the Judeo Christian tradition are repudiated and rebuked, we cannot afford to turn a deaf ear. We should stand and speak our concerns. We must not abandon our highest spiritual and social traditions; abolish our prophetic birthrights, or surrender our faith to fear; or run to our spiritual half way houses to hide out when we should stand on God’s mountains and speak the truth of God in the love of God.

When the liberal protestant church in general and the prophetic black church in particular, two of the last frontiers of protest, are ethically marginalized and politically delegitimized we must take watch. When its voices are intimidated and silenced, when its clergy and laity beat retreat to their caves, when protest, outcry or dissent are no longer registered, we had better take heed. It is the silence within the church that delegitimizes the moral efficacy of the social critique. It is silence outside the church that hastens and legitimizes its banishment from society.

It is the role of the prophet to critique the existing order out of love of God and the love of the people of God, and I might add love of Country and its future. It is the role of the church to call attention to these trends and preach, reach and teach the world of God in ways that will herald God’s kingdom and positively transform our current existence.

Thus we must be careful, as the institutional church, as the organizational church and the organic church to borrow a term from Antonio Gramsci not to construct and endorse those permanent cultures of silence within and outside the church; where support of the systematic quieting of those voices of protest that are essential for the long-term viability of the church, society and democracy are not opposed. We must be aware that our silence does not instigate our own acquiescence.

But the tensions of the cross, of which we spoke earlier, also permeate the church. For should not the church as Christ’s earthly representative, speak even to the injustices and disparities created by those powers upon whom the church’s financial well being depends? Will there not come a time when those in leadership must draw the moral line by “slapping” the hands that feed them out of obedience to the Lord; when the church must still say “Not by might but by my spirit, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream even to those who would rather have that justice roll down like bottled water?

Thus we the church, out of our love of God and our love for each other, should never abandon our prophetic birthright by assenting to the creation of a climate or culture of complete and permanent silence in the face of fear; where true and genuine dissent is smothered, where holy boldness is not given holy license; where slavish submission to the various forms of despotic power is not wholly consented in our nation, communities, our world and in even in the church!!!.

For the regimes of silence that have been artificially created in the interest of simply maintaining the status quo, will one day come back to haunt us, as they have in the past in those institutions, nations and countries, where legitimate and forthright critiques have not been allowed to flourish; where voices of change, protest and progress were curtailed and cut off; where deafening silence was required as a sign of obedience, piety and fealty.

Such regimes of power, as Michel Foucault has observed, create their own clinics for the insane, construct their own mantras of manipulation; canonize their own behaviors and beliefs whose tentacles reach into every major power centers of every society and the world. Centralized power means the power to homogenize and legitimize “truth” from a few chosen sources. These cultures and regimes of silence evoke their own oracles of knowledge; exalt and enshrine their own Delphic writs of fear and terror that stifle the progressive movement of the purposes of God in human history.

The people of God then must not turn closed eyes and deaf ears to these trends. We must not ignore the cries of those in need and hide out in our caves. We must recognize these efforts, and painfully call them out as they cloak and guise themselves in various forms of legitimacy.

Furthermore, we can easily see how this climate or culture of fear impacts clergy at the local church level, where resources for ministry dry up and congregations dissipate in size. I have at times been admonished from the pew not be too political, lest the purse be withdrawn by major donors, which is curious in light of our United Methodist Social principles and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our current financial challenges make such entreaties palatable so as to pay the mortgage and reduce the debt. And we are often torn and divided for our material necessities often eclipse our social and moral obligations.

I have been told that what happens in society has nothing to do with the church and its ministry; to stay out of politics; to essentially stay in my cave and come out when told. The church here then becomes a vacuous entity devoid of true sacramental power that has no vestment in or power to change society. The church here abandons its sacred post to preach, teach and reach Christ in a dying world for fear of offending its patrons. Stay out of the world, they say, as if the kingdom of God and the ministry of Christ were to only become virtual realities.

Should Jesus have stayed out of the world? If so, why are we called to do ministry in the world? Why did Jesus die to save the world from its sins? Was not his ministry an attempt to positively change the world? Has our Cartesian, compartmentalization of spirituality short changed our capacity to be effective change agents in the world; to see the practice of spirituality as horizontal and vertical involving the inner calling and the outer demands of living in that world, John Wesley said, “as my parish.”

Moreover, there is fear among many of our colleagues about their future in ministry and whether the denomination will be able to sustain larger numbers of clergy amid such diminishing resources. Sometimes it is easier to go into the cave and not rock the boat and slowly die than herald a new heaven and earth and new change that is coming from the hand of God.

The urgencies of our exigencies propel us to speak hope and renewal amid the ruins of empires; the disintegraton of the olds system whose traditionalism have at times enhance and prospered, but also at times strangled and ossified life-sustaining traditions.

It is logical and sometimes feasible in such circumstances to look for exit strategies; to hunt for alternative path ways out of what appears to be a no win situation. Already battered and bruised, we take no delight in receiving more punishment for our valor. After a weekly round of the put downs and the beat downs in various forms of battle within and outside of the church, we have just enough energy to sit down and heal and get it back together to re-enter the fray. After getting weary in the work and sometimes weary of the work, some days the cave is our only refuge; where we can think and reflect, heal our wounds and just plain old sleep. Someone asked Bishop Tutu what he did in his spare time and his response was, “sleep.”

It is true that we can take temporary refuge in the caves for healing and respite but not permanent residency in them where we fail to move to God’s next order of business. Going into the cave for temporary rest is good. Going into the cave for permanent refuge in fear so as to abandon our prophetic responsibilities and avoid punishment and banishment is not good.

And so we have the prophet Elijah hiding out in a cave after a furious slaughter of those pagan prophets, boldly boasting their worldly idolatries. The prophet boldly slaps the faces of power in King Ahab and Queen Jezebel by consuming the higher sources of their legitimization and their pagan providential powers.

And so we have us, the called, appointed and anointed of God, serving the larger church, with its great and noble traditions, but a church at times infected and affected by the malaise and atrophy of the larger world, but still called amid its own frailties and fragilities to make prophetic pronouncements to that world.

We are called to stand up and speak out to those pagan Gods; the Gods of war and greed and hatred and dishonesty; the Gods that isolate and polarize and annihilate people because they are different and thus affirm and point others to the God of love, truth and justice; the god of peace, mercy and grace.

Prior to this showdown with worldly power, Elijah had been sent to the Widow of Zarapeth. God sent him to someone who was not an abundant resource. On the lowest rung of society in terms of material supplies, God sent the prophet to a woman of indigent means, in the midst of famine and drought that she could demonstrate to him that God still had the power to perform miracles in a world where resources have dried up.

By sending him to the widow, God is saying that what was limited is now unlimited. By sending him to the Widow, God was reminding Elijah that the traditional systems of power will one day fail in their capacity to provide; they will meet their logical ends; the King nor his imperials systems can bring sufficient rain to end the drought; he cannot prevent the famine by bringing bread. He nor they can restore fresh running waters to the brooks, streams and tributaries. They can no longer claim to have all the answers to the problems of life in their world or have the power to control all of reality; or the power to enshrine themselves imperially as the only reality; or the power, like God, to claim omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence, hegemony, sovereignty, and autonomy.

God sent the prophet Elijah to the widow to remind them, says Walter Bruggemann; that there is an alternative reality; that there is another possibility; there is an additional realm of divine ability that can provide every need when the systems of this world have become depleted, exhausted and defeated, and can no longer sustain us. “There is a river that shall make glad the city of God, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved, and God shall help her and that right early.”

If God had demonstrated to the prophet his power to provide inexhaustible and indefatigable supplies of sustenance and energy for the widow and the prophet, that same God has the power to keep Elijah and sustain the power of his witness after sending him to confront worldly power and consuming their pagan spokespersons. He who has the power to devour and consume everything on earth through the use and misuse of earthly power is now being consumed by a greater power.

For divine power still trumps the emperor’s power. Divine power presents the alternative reality not shaped by the corporate corruptions of earthly regents and their imperial systems. God still has the power to call, anoint, appoint and send the prophets to set forth the divine imperatives to those responsible for crushing the people of God under foot. Someone must go and speak. Someone must witness to the disintegration of the old systems and the coming of the new. Someone must stand in the gap of the midst of the old ruins and proclaim the coming kingdom.

The system of earthly powers is not the only alternative. It no longer has the power to canonize reality; or the power to valuate and legitimize human persons; or the power to annex God’s power of salvation and redemption. For there is the invisible spiritual reality, behind the material forms of what we see and hear. There is another kingdom ethereal, majestic, heavenly, cooperative and vertical, now breaking in on the miseries of our horizontal captivities and proclivities. There is now a new order emerging; a new power proclaiming, a new people affirming the newness of God. The prophet must go and speak. The prophet must go even against his own urgings, failings and fears, amid her own troubles and trials and sorrows, he or she must go and be in compliance with the will and word of almighty God.

How shall they hear hope in the midst of hopelessness? How shall they know love in the midst hatred; how shall they grasp redemption in the midst the ensuing Tsunamis and their portending annihilations? How shall they hear and know peace in the midst of the roaring and warring perambulations of Worldly powers and their hegemonic systems?

And so rather than let the prophet take the cave as a permanent emergency exit as a perpetual exit strategy, God said, I am not done yet. Why are you lying horizontal in here? You should be standing vertical over there! Come stand on this mountain. Stop hanging your head in misery and defeat. I called you. I commissioned you. I equipped you and it is I who will deliver you! Stop cowering in fear and sickness; stop turning in on yourself; come out of the cave and come out of yourself; come out of your depression; come out of your uncertainty. Come stand on this mountain and see what I will yet do through you.

You can go the cave for a while, but you can’t stay there forever. I will give you what you need even when you don’t see it, like I did with the widow of Zarapheth, and did for my son on the cross, for there is an alternative reality that comes from and points to me. For you must know that through me, the one true, sovereign God, there will once again be water in the rocks and rivers, rainbows in the desert, flowers in the floods, food in the famine. There will be a day when worldly systems shall be surmounted by Godly systems; where the lions shall have community with the lambs, where swords shall be made into plowshares and spears turned into pruning hooks. Just hold on and hold out. Just don’t let fear reside where faith should abide and come and stand on this mountain and point the way back to me. When you take up your cross and relinquish your fear of death and dying and flying then you can be liberated to come out of your cave and stand as I say stand.

Come out of your cave. There are no emergency exits. There are no exit strategies. To banish fear you must do the thing you are afraid to do. So stop looking for a way out of your calling and start looking for a way into my service; for my grace is sufficient for thee; When you take up this cross there is a crown not bestowed by hands of earthly regents; there is a balm not dispensed from the cabinets of worldly infirmaries; there is a joy not bequeathed by material majesties; so get up and stand up, get up and go out, get up and speak out; get up and move on up to higher ground.

For there is no exit strategy for my priests, my prophets, my bishops and my pews. Get vertical!!! Get vertical. Get vertical!!! There is no exit strategy when the new is breaking in on old. There is no exit strategy as you gaze the solitary walls of your hiding places. There is no hiding place. You, I am talking to you! You must go. You must speak. You must do, for as the old is passing away and the new is come, you must tell the world what you hear and see from me. So stop being afraid. Stop hiding out in your cave, and stand on this mountain, and see what I will do and then you will overcome your depression, oppression and recessions. There will be a world of love, truth and justice where all people can experience true love and true community. So Stand. Just stand straight. Stand tall. Just stand! Just stand.


One response to “Overcoming Fear and Coming Out of the Cave; Prophetic Ministry as A No Exit Strategy in the 21st Century Church”

  1. James Hearns Avatar
    James Hearns

    Wow, what a great sermon. I know the sermon was written for the clergy in 2011, however it’s just as relevant today. Thank you for continuing to be a voice for Christ when others have gone silent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *