Prophetic preaching breaks down barriers, builds up God's kingdom | Print |

By Jennifer Harris and Ken Camp
Word & Way and Baptist Standard

Photo: Billy Howard

ATLANTA-Breaking down barriers, healing the hurting, challenging Christians to transcend categories of "us and them" and announcing the coming kingdom of God are just a few of the roles prophetic preachers must fill, according to speakers at a Baptist preaching conference.

Four preachers representative of varied traditions delivered sermons during a seminar on prophetic preaching held in conjunction with the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, Feb. 1.

While other children played house, Joan Parrott and her brothers grew up playing church. The 54-year-old executive minister of University Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., fought to be the one to sit in the center chair of their makeshift sanctuary and preach.

Even as a child, she struggled with the texts from which she preached. One such experience as preacher led her to Matthew 15:21-28, in which a woman pleads with Jesus for mercy and asks him to heal her daughter.

"I struggled with the text," Parrott said. "I couldn't understand why Jesus calls the woman a dog. The Jesus we knew fed the 5,000, plus women and children. He came to Mary and Martha-even when they thought he was late to heal Lazarus. The Jesus we knew had compassion."

The word "dog" referred to the fact that the woman was not a Jew, Parrott explained. The woman was considered a heathen—a Canaanite.

"Some things don't happen in our lives until we get desperate enough," she said. "She's not a part of the church; she is a woman coming out in a man's world and has the audacity to ask Jesus for help." 

Jesus says nothing initially in the story.

"We've got some serious problems, but Jesus says nothing," said Parrott, alluding to social problems in today's world. "When we are pushed to the limit and have nothing to lose, we will speak truth to power regardless of consequence. She had nothing to lose, but she was going to move past the silence of God."

Parrott suggests Jesus was waiting to see what the disciples would do-just as he is waiting to see what we will do now.

"You have a responsibility to make the world a better place," said Parrott. "Many of us who want to do social justice—feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner-we are afraid. The Lord seems to be silent. This woman moves past all fear, moves past the tradition of her time. She falls on her knees with everything in her and worships him."

"There is a 'yes' that goes beyond your understanding, statistics, agenda, denomination, social-economic status," said Parrott.  "Lord, I don't understand. I don't know the protocol. All I know is I have a need, and I need you to touch it. If I'm a dog, I'm your dog. Give me what the children don't want."

God is waiting for people to drop their prejudices and barriers-those things that isolate people from each other.

"The quintessential yes means I have the power to go into the world," Parrott said. "Jesus sees you and wants you to say, 'Yes!'"

"When barriers fall which have separated the people of God for a long time, there is excitement in heaven," said James Forbes, founding president of Healing of the Nations Foundation and retired professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York.

"God blesses such convocations with special grace. So the Spirit comes. Do you feel it? Have you felt it walking up and down these halls? You've almost feel like singing, 'There's a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.'"

Forbes warned that the Holy Spirit is much too efficient to use a gathering like the New Baptist Covenant "just for congratulations for past duties." Instead, God will use the time to share what is on God's heart.

"When God gets mad about something—or you would prefer provoked, right? Upset. When God's heart is pulsing with an extraordinary urging to do something about what is insulting to God, if you're not careful—a prophet! Out of nowhere, God comes," Forbes said.

From the beginning, God has invested in having his children be whole and well, Forbes said. The human body is even designed with an immune system to help keep it healthy.

"My ministry isn't just about talking, it's about healing," he said. "When you get it, you're supposed to pass it on."

Instead of healing being the specialty of select individuals or denominations, every child of God is a healer, Forbes emphasized. "You got healing powers inside yourself. If you don't use the power to heal somebody else, that same power will make you sick. That's why there is so much division, so much separation."

"Look around," said Forbes, instructing everyone in attendance to raise their hands. "All of these hands can go back home and begin to heal."

But for healing and wholeness to happen, people must move beyond categories of  "us and them," said George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.

"There are two kinds of people in the world-those who view the glass as half-full and those who see it as half-empty. There are two kinds of people, said Robert Frost—those who are willing to work, and those who are willing to let them. There are two kinds of people—the ones who suck the life out of every day, and the ones who let the day suck the life out of them. …There are two kinds of people in your church—those who agree with you and the bigots.

"OK, you get the idea. It could go on and on. But that's also the problem. Any time you go down that trail of dividing up the world into two kinds of people, it goes on and on."

The underlying problem with "us and them" is that "it starts to sound a lot more like us versus them," Mason said.

The division of people into clear-cut categories leads far too easily to armed conflict, as in the United States' occupation of Iraq, he asserted.

"We are the good; they are the bad. We are the righteous; they are the unrighteous. We are the do-gooders; they are the evildoers. We are told that nations are either with us or with our enemies—us against them," he said. "Isn't this just a mirror image of the very thinking of those who flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings?"

"We questioning whether Islam is a religion of peace. Perhaps we, as Christians, ought to be asking ourselves if others can believe by our witness whether Christianity is a religion of peace."
Evil must be acknowledged and confronted, Mason said. The challenge Christians face is to "oppose evil utterly without disposing of the people under its sway."

The kingdom of God—where the lion and the lamb live together in peace and there is no division of "us and them"—is both a present reality and a future hope, said Julius Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala.

"We pray for the ideal in the face of the real," Scruggs said. "We behold what is while we work and pray for what ought to be."

God's kingdom—the rule and reign of God in the lives of people—became a present reality in Jesus Christ, he insisted. "The kingdom is in our midst—a present reality."

But not all recognize God's rule or obey his reign, so in a real sense, the kingdom remains a yet-to-be-fulfilled future hope, he added.

"Even in the local church, the kingdom of God has not come in fullness," he said. "We are afflicted with Burger King theology. We want to have it our way, not God's way."

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