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I’ve recently become a fan of Frank Herbert’s fantasy classic Dune.
In both the novel and the recently released film starring Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson, prophesy features prominently.
Herbert introduces us to a mystical order called the Bene Gesserits, whose surreptitious machinations shape the course of interplanetary politics from the shadows.
One of the tools the Bene Gesserits employ to great effect is prophecy.
The Bene Gesserits play the long game.
They deploy their ambassadors of the Missionaria Protectiva to sow seeds of prophecy throughout the universe to prepare the way for future exploits.
A major feature of Dune centers on a particular prophecy implanted centuries earlier on the planet Arrakis, where much of the action takes place.
The story’s main characters, Paul and his mother Jessica, encounter droves of spiritual devotees on Arrakis who believe them to be the ones prophesied to deliver them from their political subservience.
If you polled a random sample of folks, you’d likely receive a definition of prophecy close to the one we find in Dune, one which is redolent of soothsaying.
Prophecy in the popular imagination pertains to foretelling the future.
There is a propitious scene in the book where the Lady Jessica meets a woman named Mapes, an Arrakeen believer in the prophecy about Jessica and her son.
At the moment Mapes perceives that Lady Rebecca is the mother prophesied, she erupts into a wail that Herbert describes as a sound of both grief and elation.
Mapes says to Jessica, “My Lady, when one has lived with prophecy for so long, the moment of revelation is a shock.” (p. 87).
In Scripture we find a very different notion of prophecy.
The Hebrew prophets and Jesus himself were less concerned with foretelling the future than they were in judging the present.
Prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah bore witness to the injustices pervasive in their sociopolitical contexts in order to call the people to something new, something better.
The Hebrew prophets performed their function through lament.
In lamenting the powers and principalities of their day they called the Israelites to an alternative way of being and behaving in the world.
Through these acts of proclamatory deconstruction they offered a glimpse of something more, something better.
Their subversion opened a path to emancipation.
Through poetic, transformative language the biblical prophets casted a vision that kindles a passion for the impossible.
The biblical modality of prophetic proclamation is much closer to the eruption of shock Mapes names when she encounters Jessica.
Prophetic preaching participates in a “moment of revelation” — not as that which confirms our expectations about how things are supposed to be, but as a word that presages a future beyond all expectations.
Any prophetic preaching worthy of the name is a word of challenge even as it is a word of hope for a world to which God calls us.
In my upcoming course for the Center for Lifetime Learning, we’ll dive deeply into the theological, ethical, and homiletical possibilities prophetic preaching holds for contemporary preachers.
I’ve entitled the course Prophetic, Imaginative Preaching for God’s Changing World.
Together we’ll engage homiletical texts and exemplars on the cutting edge of prophetic proclamation.
I hope you’ll join me for this journey of homiletical exploration. Click HERE to register.
By Jake Myers, Columbia Theological Seminary’s Wade P. Huie, Jr. Associate Professor of Homiletics