“Warning Labels”

The image is of a photo of an orange flower barely open and leaning over. Directly below is the text "Asking God for direction is more than okay - it's Best"

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH June 6, 2021

There are false prophets in the world. People who lie – deceive – manipulate. I pray we are all aware of this reality. That said, I do not believe that this constitutes most people and those who are being false prophets today may not even be doing so maliciously. Yet, false prophets do exist in the world. This truth we have been aware of since the earliest of written records in the Old Testament – since the false messiahs in the time of Jesus, and since the false teachers in the time of the Apostle Paul. Yet today, we call this same type of deception – yellow journalism or fake news. However, it is more than just the news I am referring to today. It is also people in general. With over seven billion people in the world – we must realize that each person has their own biases, realities, and opinions. Sadly, many of these opinions are being yelled out across the internet as if they are the Truth. Where it is simply their truth which may or may not be our Truth as disciples. Thus, it has become difficult to know what is false and what is true. However, beloved there are warning labels – warning labels around us every day. We may not always see them. They may be hidden. We may not want to accept these warnings; but they are there for you beloved disciples to witness. So, we may all discern the Truth of God individually.

As we begin, let us pray:

Holy God, invoke in us Your blessings and reveal your living truth as we wander amongst the false prophets of the world. Reveal your truth O’ God and allow us to be an example of Your loving Truth for the world to witness. May these words and our meditations be pleasing to You God.

This reality of false prophets came to me this week as I looked around the world to see the headlines in the news. Headlines that questioned if Herd Immunity will ever exist, claimed the lowest numbers of covid cases since March of 2020, and considered the connection between Dr. Fauchi and the Wuhan laboratories. Yet, stores have taken down the mask signs while our youth under 12 years old are still not able to be vaccinated. Furthermore, our long-term testing of the vaccine is at only six months and we do not know if the infection provides immunity or if the vaccine stops transmission of the virus. These are only some of the things people and the news have shared this week. And I am sure that you can each name a thousand more considerations – claims – and questions which have come out about Covid – 19 over the last week or even the last year. It is a variable “Hot Mess” of information being shared by prophets and false prophets alike. So, how do we find the Truth about Covid – the Truth of God – the Truth we should follow as disciples? That is the question isn’t it – the question we need to ask whenever we are confronted with conflicting truths in this world. We need to know how to discern the truth for ourselves; for the world has an onslaught of information and false prophets around issues like covid – 19. 

Now. we could simply follow what everyone else is doing in the world. We can look at their success and say, “we should follow that pattern because it works.” We could and sometimes we may. However, each human being has their own biases, realities, and opinions and what works for some – may not work for you. This issue is remarkably similar to the one from the book of First Samuel. Here, Samuel has become old; and the “elders” which the theologian Bruce Birch speculates are the “influential and wealthy” of Israel demand Samuel appoints them a “king to govern …like other nations.” I imagine that these elders have heard how well monarchies have worked in other nations and require the same of Israel. However, the issue is that these souls do not stop long enough to hear the warning labels. They let the false prophets of other nations tell them how to live instead of witnessing the three warning labels before them.

The first warning label is found in something these “elders” say right from the beginning: Samuel’s sons “do not follow in (Samuel’s) ways.” And we know this reality to be true. The sons are revealed as greedy individuals who have “perverted Justice.” Their faith seems to be based on monetary gain. However, the “elders” themselves are asking for something which is not the way of Samuel. They are asking for a human king to faithfully follow instead of God. Yet, Samuel when confronted with this conflict in our passage – prays to God. His faith begins where it should: on the divine. And God rewards Samuel with instruction. So, the first warning label is to ask where does any person place their faith – what do they believe in – is their faith based on greed, on humans, or on the Divine? 

The second warning label begs one to consider: what are people actually saying? What words are they using to justify their position – sway your belief – convince you to believe their point of view. Now beloved, the hard part here is keeping our emotions out of our discernment – so far. Simply hear what the person is saying. For even God commands Samuel to “listen to their voice; only.” Where, the “elders” in today’s passage do not justify their position, as I mentioned. They simply argue that this is what other nations are doing. They respond in this way even after Samuel provides a litany of injustices which will happen to the people of Israel. In other words, the “elders” support their position with a desire to be like others where Samuel provides many solid reasons for why kingship is a bad idea. It would seem that Samuel’s words are giving us a clear reason why his and God’s belief is the better position in this conflict.

The third warning label is our emotions: how do we feel when we hear the words being spoken by the person. This part of our discernment cannot be underestimated – nor should it be. It is equal to what is being said and what the person believes in. Furthermore, it is the only part of discernment that only you can answer. For me, when the “elders” say “so that we also may be like other nations” it cries of conformity, a belief supported by Birch.  Though that may be fine for some, it is a problem for me. It is also a problem for the nation of Israel, in their burgeoning nation; for, they have created something special and wonderful; but the elders wanted something “like other nations.” This position of the elders sounds tragic. Conversely, I hear the words of Samuel and my empathy cries out for the people. The people who will be harmed by the “elders” choice and it seems like the choice is clear. The “elders” are false prophets where Samuel is the prophet speaking of God’s Truth.

These warning labels of life though are not just the ways we can discern who the false prophets are in our world or how we can witness the Bible. They are also the Good News. The Good News of how each and every one of us is called to discern God’s Truth for ourselves.  The way of discipleship revealed through the Word as our Church continues to be recreated in the world today. 

This Good News, beloved, are the tools which the Bible provides us in the Old Testament so we may live into our call as disciples in the New Testament. The call from authors like the Apostle in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. The call for us to discern as disciples or prophets who believe in the eternal things of a living resurrected God. The call for us to “speak.” 

Yet with the myriad of information before us, how do we discern – let alone speak on the Truth of God. Well, beloved, we begin with the Good News. By using these tools, we may discover the false prophets and the Fake News in our world. However, we must come to this calling with an open heart and witness from where a person’s faith stems – what are their words – and how do those words feel to you. These are the tools of discernment for every disciple. Tools used without judgement but with a desire to discover God’s Truth amongst the myriad of information before us.

These tools are needed more today than ever before – more today as we come back out of the quarantine and discern when we will each be ready to re-engage worship, fellowship, and our ministry together. More today as we discern faithfully how we are each called to speak as God’s disciples. For, the warning labels will help us discover who we are as not only disciples of Christ but as a Church in this post-quarantine era. They will help us decide how we are going to speak as a community of faith. And, we are speaking with words, actions, and inactions, beloved. 

So please know I ask these questions without judgement for I honestly believe we are all called to discern everything for ourselves. Yet, I wonder are people coming to worship because others are or are we staying home because it is easy? Are people remaining distant from our fellowship out of love for one another or are people re-engaging our life together in loving faith as one fellowship of Christ. I hope your answers are more akin to the latter questions? Still, all these questions and so many more are part of your discernment.  A discernment which is difficult and complex – so, many blessings to you as you continue to grapple with how you will each fulfill the call to speak as disciples. Many blessings for there are no easy answers – not yet and maybe never. But I pray that you will hear the Good News to faithfully follow God, hear the words spoken, and consider your own emotions as these warning signs will help you discern God’s Truth and guide your discipleship. May you be at peace in your discernment as we recreate the Church together. In God’s eternal Love we pray. Amen.

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