Drawing on the biblical story of Micaiah and his unpopular advice to King Ahab, Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday urged Presbyterians – and other people of faith – not to be dismayed by the volume of dissenting voices.
“Micaiah didn’t tell Ahab what he wanted to hear,” Jackson said in his sermon at the ecumenical worship service during the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in Portland. “He was encouraged to ‘Let your voice be like one of them, and encourage the king.’ But he replied, ‘As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says, that I will speak.’”
Jackson’s text was 1 Kings 22:1-18, the story of the prophet Micaiah delivering an unpopular message from God, advising the king not to fight the army of Aram to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead.
“As it is in this text, so it is in our nation today,” Jackson said. “We live in a crisis of conflicting voices. In this text you have 400 prophets – and then one prophet – both speaking in the name of the same God, with two different messages on the same subject.”
“In our nation today we have clergy and churches in the name of the same God giving two different messages on the same subject,” he said, citing divisions on issues such as gun control, immigration and Christian/Muslim relations. “All around the country there is a crisis of conflicting voices, not because of political leadership, but faith leadership.
“Our nation today is polarized and divided,” he said. “Two groups [are] speaking in the name of the same God, but with a different message. On one side are those who call themselves conservative Christians, evangelical Christians. Every time I hear that it bothers me, because I guess they’re saying if you aren’t evangelical you aren’t Christian.”
“On the other hand are those who call themselves progressive,” Jackson said, noting that that label is attached to many members of the PC(USA), “and their position on many issues is just the opposite of those who call themselves conservative.”
Jackson offered three suggestions for resolving this crisis of conflicting voices.
First, he said, “Each of us must remain faithful. Too many of us in the faith community have stopped doing the things to remain faithful in the first place. It is not enough to know that we’ve been called. What’s more important is to know who called you.”
His second point: Don’t be “fooled by the numbers.”
“Too many of us get alarmed by the numbers – how many are on our side, how many are on the other side,” he said. “We capitulate: go along to get along. The Lord has not called us to be popular; he’s called us to be faithful. Just be faithful to what God has said to you.”
Thirdly, Jackson said, “Live like you know God.”
“We are alarmed and rattled by a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “I go to bed with the assurance that God still has the last word in his world. In the end, what God has said is going to happen.” “Let’s be faithful,” he concluded. “Let’s speak truth to power. Let’s stand on God’s word and what God says to us. Let us live with the confidence that God still has the last word in his world. We can’t prove God, but God proves himself.”
Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons invited Jackson to preach at the assembly’s ecumenical service a year ago, after the shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Recalling the pain felt after the shootings in the church known as “Mother Emanuel,” Parsons said: “When one part of the body hurts, all of the body hurts. It was a pain that is beyond the imagination. Those of you who’ve been pastors and have Wednesday night Bible study know those who came to that study were the heart of the church.”
“When I heard of the tragedy, I emailed Reginald immediately to offer condolences,” Parsons said. “And so when it came time to invite an ecumenical representative to preach as this service, there was only one choice: Reginald Jackson.”
The service of word and sacrament included an invocation by the Rev. Kamal Youssef Yacoub of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt; a call to worship by the Rev. Robina Winbush, the PC(USA)’s director of ecumenical relations; music by the Gresham High School Overtones choir; and intercessory prayers from the Rev. Lee Hong Jung, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, who prayed, in part: “Give us the peace that the world cannot give. Give us faith to follow you. Let us go into the world with hope, realizing God’s presence anywhere. Let us go in the world with love, reaching the marginalized.”