Sermon: When Prophets Get Cranky

August 14, 2022

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Luke 12:49-56

by Eric Anderson

“Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

We sort of expect the prophet Jeremiah to be cranky. Even without knowing the history of his time – which was, in short, a series of crises and disasters that he tried to prevent (unsuccessfully) – he’s best known for strident denunciations and for having reason for lamentation. And, of course, we have the words of Hoyt Wayne Axton’s song in our heads:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog
Was a good friend of mine
I never understood a single word he said
But I helped him a-drink his wine
And he always had some mighty fine wine

Jeremiah of Jerusalem probably didn’t have fine wine, but he had a great deal of experience with saying things that other people didn’t understand. Of if they understood them, they didn’t accept them. Or if they accepted them, they didn’t do anything about them. He lived in a dangerous time, when three major empires of the Fertile Crescent were contesting for power: the Egyptian Empire, the Assyrian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In the end, the Neo-Babylonians overwhelmed the Assyrians, the Egyptians withdrew from Mesopotamia, and the Babylonians dominated until they were conquered by the Persians after less than a hundred years. Along the way, however, they conquered the city of Jerusalem twice, ended Judah’s existence as a nation, and destroyed the Temple of Solomon. That all occurred during Jeremiah’s lifetime.

When you’re trying to prevent national disaster and people don’t listen to you, when you’re trying to prevent disaster and people claim that their abuse of power is justified, when you’re trying to prevent disaster and people insist that God has assured their safety no matter how they behave, well. You get cranky.

Not even a good meal of ‘ohelo and a nice long flight will soothe all that.

It’s a good thing Jesus never got cranky.

Oh. Wait.

“I came to bring a fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

Now, that might be just a nice campfire. Or a cooking fire. Right. A cooking fire. Let’s forget about destructive fires.

“I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

Well. Baptism can be simply a nice bath. Everybody feels stressed when they’re waiting for a nice bath. Right? Right.

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

I’m not going to be able to explain that one away, am I? Even if I ignore the more famous rendition of this from Matthew 10, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” I’m not going to be able to explain this one away.

Emerson Powery writes at Working Preacher, “The Jesus of this passage is a bit unsettling” – a bit, Dr. Powery? – “and we would do well to let him be so. It is easier, of course, to present the ‘meek and lowly’ Jesus as the one who desires personal friendship with twenty-first century individuals. But that Jesus is not the one of Luke 12. The Gospels also present a Jesus who occasionally struggles with his mission, who expects his followers to understand the ‘season’ they are in, and who leaves us with as many questions as answers.”

Prophets get cranky when people don’t listen to them. Prophets get cranky when they urge changes in course to avoid disaster and people don’t accept it. Prophets get cranky when their words are acknowledged and nothing actually changes.

Prophets get cranky when people are offered a choice between truth and lies, and people choose the lies.

So do Messiahs. Or, well, one Messiah.

As much as I believe in a loving, forgiving, gracious God, I also have to believe in a righteous, discerning, and ultimately cranky God. It’s not like God hasn’t given instruction in righteousness and discernment. The prophet Micah famously wrote in chapter six verse eight,

“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?”

But the prophet followed it with these words in verses ten through twelve:

“Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked
    and the despicable false measure?
Can I tolerate wicked scales
    and a bag of dishonest weights?
Your wealthy are full of violence;
    your inhabitants speak lies
    with tongues of deceit in their mouths.”

Perhaps “cranky” and “prophet” are just synonyms, you know?

I just can’t help but compare Micah’s lament to our contemporary condition. Cheating in economics and commerce has not ended. Remember the crash of 2008? It was primarily the result of selling a kind of investment – buying the income on a loan – as if the loan was low risk when it was actually high risk. When borrowers began to default on those loans, when their mortgages went into foreclosure, the value of the bonds based on those loans collapsed. A cascade of bank and insurance failures led to a global recession.

It’s funny, though, the way that nobody actually gets held accountable for wrecking the national and global economy.

It’s been an interesting week for lies in the United States. The execution of a search warrant on Monday – which one could I be thinking of? – elicited a lot of reaction through the rest of the week. People who disparaged the phrase “defund the police” when that was proposed as a way of discouraging law enforcement agents from abusing people of color, those same people suddenly began saying, “Defund the FBI.”

You know, the same people who’ve described January 6, 2021, as an ordinary day of visitors to the US Capitol?

No wonder prophets get cranky.

Fortunately, people will reassure us that the climate isn’t changing. Except, of course, that it is. Global sea levels have risen 8-9 inches since 1880. It’s been rising faster through most of the 20th century. Rebecca Lindsey of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration writes at

“If we are able to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. sea level in 2100 is projected to be around 0.6 meters (2 feet) higher on average than it was in 2000.

“On a pathway with high greenhouse gas emissions and rapid ice sheet collapse, models project that average sea level rise for the contiguous United States could be 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) by 2100 and 3.9 meters (13 feet) by 2150.”

Right now high tides regularly isolate a couple of the bridges in Lili’uokalani Gardens. Imagine what a couple feet would do.

Imagine what would happen to Hilo’s Bayfront.

And yet people refuse to read the signs of the times.

It would have been a shock if Jesus hadn’t got cranky.

Part of our hope lies in the crankiness itself. Prophet, Messiah, God – they all get cranky about human behavior, about human misbehavior, about human deceit and fraud, about human unwillingness to read the signs of the times and choose change, because God through Messiah and prophets deeply cares about human beings. If God didn’t care about people, God would have made no efforts to provide guidance, no efforts to offer correction, no efforts to dissuade us from our self-destructive paths. But God did, God has, God does.

Further, if God didn’t care about people, God would not have come to us as a Messiah, a Messiah who did not attempt a violent insurrection, a Messiah who submitted to torture and crucifixion, a Messiah who would not let death have the last word but insisted on resurrection. If God didn’t care about people, the Last Supper would truly have been the last supper. Jesus would not have returned to share fish and bread with his followers and friends.

If God didn’t care about people, God would have ceased speaking long ago. God would leave us to the optimistic prophets, the gaslighting prophets, the lying prophets who tell us that wealth equals virtue, that power equals greatness, that what they want is what is right. But God has not ceased speaking. God has continued to widen the circle of inclusion in the communities of God’s people, calling forth the gifts of those so long excluded so that the followers of Jesus are richer in wisdom, in communion, and in love than they had been before.

If the prophets were never cranky, if Jesus were never cranky, if God were never cranky, then God wouldn’t care. But they are. And God does.

Let us read the signs of the times and assure the cranky voices of the prophets that God’s will will be done.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Why is the prepared text different from the sermon as delivered? Frankly, we’re not always certain, either.

The image is The prophet Jeremiah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem to King Zedekiah by Joseph Stallaert (before 1903) –, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on August 14, 2022

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