Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: ‘Fake News’?

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
2 August 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

Every week we say the Nicene Creed in our service of Holy Communion

It was adopted at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and is a touchstone of the Christian faith

But, like so many creedal statements, we so often say the words without giving them much thought

There is one particular line that jumps out in relation to our readings this morning

“I believe in the Holy Ghost… who spake by the prophets”

The Church believes that the Holy Spirit enabled the prophets to speak with authority

Indeed the Old Testament has no less than eighteen prophetic books

Prophetic ministry is often overlooked in our own times

With one or two exceptions, few people come into ministry today with a prophetic vocation

However, the prophets of the Old Testament played a vital role in the Jewish faith and, subsequently, in the history of our own Christian Church

First of all, the Prophets were unashamedly political and the first to criticise injustice in society

One of the earliest and most vociferous was the prophet Amos

He wrote during the 8th century BC in the reign of Jeroboam II and does not hold back when it comes to criticising the State

He spits out his contempt for those who “trample the heads of the poor into the dust”

Those who

“Sell the righteous for silver [and] push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6-7)

He delivers the judgement of God upon the rulers of Israel and it makes for wonderful reading

He is not alone in his concern for social justice

The prophet Isaiah condemns the elders and princes for “crushing the people” and for “grinding their faces” (Isaiah 3:14/15)

Writing similarly, the prophet Micah condemns the rulers of Israel for their treatment of the underdog, which includes

tearing their skin, breaking their bones in pieces and chopping them up like meat in a kettle” (Micah 3: 2/3)

Where do we ever hear such words today?

Secondly, prophets were quite prepared to tackle heads of State about their own shortcomings

The prophet Elijah was scathing about King Ahab’s abandonment of God’s commandments

He put it very bluntly,

“Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster upon you” 1 Kings 21: 20

The prophet Isaiah confronts King Hezekiah and Nathan confronts David about taking Bathsheba as his wife

Nathan does not hold back

“You had Uriah the Hittite killed in battle. You took his wife as your wife. You used the Ammonites to kill him. So warfare will never leave your house”

Can you imagine speaking to a Prime Minister like that today?

But as well as defending the poor and rebuking Kings, the prophets also foresaw the future

They foresaw that Israel would come to grief for rebelling against God

The prophet Isaiah stated, on behalf of God that, Israel “will be overthrown by foreigners (Isaiah 1: 9)

Jeremiah states this morning that God’s wrath “has gone forth [like] a whirling tempest” and

The prophet Zephaniah prophecies that

“The Great Day of the Lord is near…a day of ruination and devastation”

Indeed, they were right:

The Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians in 721 BC

The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II besieged and then destroyed Jerusalem in 587BC 

But the prophets are not all doom and gloom as we are reminded in our Christmas services 

As we will hopefully hear again this year

Micah announces that

“Thou, Bethlehem … out of thee shall he come forth…[he] that is to be ruler in Israel”

From the Prophet Isaiah that

unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor…The Prince of Peace”.

Not only do prophets prophecy but, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, they get it right at the same time

The issue this morning is not just about prophets but the vexed question of false prophets

If you like, it is an ancient version of “fake news”

The Old Testament seeks to address this question in the book of Deuteronomy (13:1-3) where the author suggests that

If a prophet arises saying “let us go after Gods, which thou hast not known and let us serve them…

you shall not hearken unto them”

In other words, if someone is preaching or asking you to do something that is not in accordance with God’s commandments and Gospel values then you know that they are indeed false prophets’.

I suggest we know this in our hearts of hearts, in any event

However, we must not use this as a pretext to dismiss the prophetic simply because we do not like the message

It is so easy to dismiss the truth – you see leaders doing it all the time

At the same time, we should also seek to recover the prophetic voice within our own Church and Society

Today the Church is cautious and platitudinous and often trails behind the best thinking in society

But the prophets were the exact opposite

The prophets spoke about the social justice and international affairs and, in doing so, they re-shaped our view about God

Put simply, God is interested in social justice and politics

It is a cheap shot to say that the Church should not be involved in politics because God has always been in the midst of the fray through his prophets

And, if he is interested in such matters, then so should we

Be on your guard against false prophets but, at the same time, take heed of what the genuine prophets have to say

Even today, the Holy Spirit is at work, and you will “know it by its fruits”