I recently read a story of meteorologist George Flickinger, who was fired for interrupting a football broadcast to warn viewers about the approach of dangerous wildfires. He broke into the game after local emergency management officials informed TV stations about evacuation plans (The Progressive, March 2006: 11).

Fired! For warning people of danger! For doing his job faithfully! I gather from this sad tale, as well as my own experiences and those of some colleagues, that people only want to hear the truth when it is convenient, and it fits their plans. When the message doesn’t match those parameters, they get rid of the messenger.

Telling the truth, especially the Gospel truth, is dangerous work. It can get you fired. Or crucified.

But the messenger cannot keep quiet. He or she has a calling that is irresistible. Listen to Jeremiah: “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:7-9, NRSV). Or Paul: “…for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16, NRSV)

A prophet of God is held accountable for his or her faithfulness. He or she must tell the truth, must warn people about the consequences of their actions. Ezekiel was told: “Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life” (Ezekiel 3:17, NRSV).

Fired for telling the truth? For issuing a warning that’s not welcome? Better that than face God and tell him I was too busy keeping my job to fulfill my calling as his servant.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.