It isn’t fun being the bearer of bad news. I’ve never had to tell someone that a loved-one has died. I’ve never had to tell someone that she has cancer or that he has six weeks to live. The kind of “bad news” that I have to deliver seems far less substantial than that, but it still isn’t easy to say. “I think you have a drinking problem.” “Your life is a mess.” “She isn’t the problem; you are.” “Your overprotective love is suffocating your children.”
I’m learning how to tell people that something isn’t right. I’ve been ordained for nine years, and I’m still learning how to be a prophet. And that’s probably a good thing for everyone.
As we see in today’s reading (Jeremiah 20:7-11), Jeremiah was wildly unpopular. After proclaiming the harsh, sharp, disastrous word of God—that the temple would be destroyed, that the holy city of Jerusalem would be overthrown, that God’s people would be carted off to Babylon in exile—Jeremiah was arrested and beaten by the authorities. He was locked up in the stocks. Finally, upon his release, Jeremiah faced a choice: learn to keep quiet or risk further persecution. He chose the latter.
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
A true prophet knows reticence, but a true prophet knows the incontainability of God’s word. When God has given you something to say and you hold it in, it is like a burning fire within your bones. But, when you let it out, sometimes it hurts…because we want people to like us, and people usually like those who say affirming rather than critical things.
Why are we so scared of being prophets? Why am I still uncomfortable looking at someone and telling him that his choices are ruining his life and the lives of those he loves? I think it’s because we’re all still afraid of sin.
Do we believe that God loves us? Do we believe that in Jesus Christ God has forgiven us of all our sins? Yes, of course we do. Then why are we still scared of sin? Why do we get defensive when we hear someone tell us that we’re making a mess of our lives? And why do we cringe when it’s our job to say that to someone else? No matter what we proclaim as Christians, I think there’s a part of us that doubts God’s limitless love and forgiveness. I think there’s a part of us that wonders whether God will be mad at us because of our sin. That’s human nature. But Christ has set us free from our sin—not just all the things we do to screw up our lives but also the very natural human instinct to doubt God’s forgiving love. And, even though we are already forgiven, our hearts and minds cannot be set free from the burden of our sin unless we confront it, confess it, and claim God’s forgiveness for ourselves.