This is a story – a parable, if you will – of a woman and a preacher. To my knowledge the woman didn’t know the preacher; nor he, her. Dressed in suit and tie, he stood weekly before a congregation of thousands. Bedridden, she watched him preach on TV. Who knows how much of his sermons she understood. She had long since been diagnosed with an illness doctors didn’t call schizophrenia, but treated with schizophrenia meds.
One Sunday morning, the preacher preached from this text:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him (Deut. 13:1–4).
The woman who watched the TV preacher loved God. She had taught her children to love God. She had served God faithfully in church roles that fit her passion and her gifts. She had read, studied, and freely marked her Bible. Among the many passages she had underlined is this one from Psalm 9:
I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High (vv. 1–2 KJV).
The woman had praised, loved, and believed the Lord. She had also believed a prophet named Rejection … Seeking the Lord and validation, she never fully knew either.
The preacher carefully cultivated a public image of devotion to Jesus alone. Yet in and out of the pulpit, he revealed a mixed allegiance – loyalty to God entwined with loyalty to a system that has promised him power and status. Yes, he too sought the Lord and validation.
What a contrast between the preacher and the woman! He looked successful. She looked broken. He appeared popular. She had few friends. He spoke from an influential pulpit. She had no voice.
Yet they were alike in this: Both had declared their love for God. Both had sought to follow God. And both had done exactly what the preacher’s text warned against. Instead of following God fully, both had also followed a believable, wooing voice that left them with a deeply divided heart. She had believed Rejection. He had believed Religion …
Adapted from We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, © 2011 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.
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