Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published in 1837 one of his classic children’s tales about two swindlers who posed as weavers, offering the emperor a magnificent new outfit. They cleverly told the monarch they were using a luxurious, fine fabric that was invisible to anyone who was foolish or incompetent. While they pretended to measure, fit, and dress the emperor, no one in the court—including the king himself—dared to speak up to admit that they couldn’t see any new clothes.
The vain emperor arranged an elaborate procession before his subjects to display his new royal outfit. People along the parade route were shocked but silent; no one wanted to state the obvious. Finally, it was a child—oblivious to the consequences of speaking the truth—who blurted out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Jeremiah was still a boy when he was called by God to speak out as a prophet. You can read the account of his calling in Jeremiah 1:4-10. He became one of the most significant prophets in the history of Israel, often delivering difficult messages to royal and religious leaders. Because the prophet was willing to speak up, he became the target of venomous resentment and mistreatment, including a lengthy period of imprisonment.
It can be hard, dangerous, and costly to speak up. But that is part of our calling as followers of Jesus. Our Lord knew that the road ahead for his disciples was perilous. He reassured them and us that the hairs on our heads are numbered and known to God, that we are infinitely more valuable than the sparrows caught up in the care of the Father. Speak up, Jesus challenges us. “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops…. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:27,32 NRSV). According to Acts 18:9, “One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.’”
This weekend millions around the world commemorate the courage of a 16th century priest who spoke up against the unbiblical and unjust practices of Rome. Martin Luther never intended a whole new branch of Christianity. He wanted to work on reforms from within the Roman Catholic Church. However, 500 years ago his boldness to speak up stirred a Protestant Reformation that reshaped the history of the Church in the western world.
This Sunday at North Lake Presbyterian Church we worship God with deep respect for the prophets and others before us who have pointed out that “The Emperor’s New Clothes” are truly revealing. And let’s consider our own calling to speak up faithfully when the moment demands.
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey A. Hosmer