sermon January 28

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

I am going to concentrate today on the first reading and the Gospel as they tackle the question of how do we know someone is a true prophet – how do we know that they really do speak for God?

Just before I get to that I would like to make brief comments on the Psalm and the second reading for today.

I was struck by a commentator’s characterization of Psalm 111 being God’s curriculum vitae or CV!  Shauna Hannan suggests that if she were to introduce God to an audience then she would use Psalm 111.  The Psalm sets out God’s Position, Accomplishments, Attributes, Relationships and Presence.  We could even use this Psalm to introduce Jesus to an audience.

I also wanted to share with you something I learned about the form of this Psalm.  It is called an acrostic poem, meaning there are only 22 lines and each line starts with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There is the trivia question for today!

The second reading today is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and it focuses on an issue that does not resonate with us today’s and that is; whether one may eat left over meat that was used in a sacrifice to an idol. I liked a commentary from Arland J. Hultgren that says:

“The message of Paul for the church of today is that one may well have freedom in Christ, but it must be used with discretion and, in particular, with care for the sake of the vulnerable.  One’s own freedom in some matters of behaviour can be put aside when a faith crisis for another is at stake. To relinquish one’s freedom is not to lose it; it is one way of using it……freedom and authority will be used to accommodate the views and feelings of all, making way for communal discernment and working toward a consensus.”

Now let’s look at the first reading and the Gospel and try to see the connection between the two.  The first reading was from the Book of Deuteronomy and this whole Book contains the last words of Moses to the people of Israel, almost in a sermon format.  In this reading today the focus is on who speaks for the Lord? In the days of the Old Testament there were many “prophets” and the book of Kings tells us there were 400 prophets available to the king of Israel.  The question put in today’s passage is how do we know a prophet is truly speaking for God? Moses and the people of Israel know that Moses is going to die and the Israelites are asking who is  going to be God’s messenger in the future?  The start of the passage has the very clear statement that “God will raise up for you a prophet” – notice that Moses does not say prophets in the plural – he is speaking of one prophet.  This one prophet will speak the words of God and Moses quotes the Lord: “I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.”  If people do not heed the words of the prophet then God says “I myself will hold accountable.”  He goes on to say that if there is a false prophet then they shall die. We know that Jesus is that prophet.  Who are all these other people who seem to be saying they are prophets?  How do we know whether they are truly speaking words that please God? Kathryn Schifferdecker gives a list of some indicators: “

  1. The true prophet does not seek to be a prophet
  2. The true prophet seeks neither self-promotion nor riches
  3. The true prophet speak’s God’s word, not his or her own
  4. The true prophet bears a “family resemblance” to what has come before. The prophets speak new words into new situations.
  5. The true prophet (and the false prophet) is known by his or her “fruit”….Does the prophet (or preacher) lead others to be disciples of Jesus or themselves? Does his or her preaching lead to repentance and transformation or to complacency and self-absorption? “

As we move to today’s Gospel we see Jesus as the Prophet referred to in Deuteronomy – he is teaching in the synagogue “as one having authority and not as the scribes”,  The emphasis here is that Jesus is teaching with authority.  The scribes are teaching as well but they are teaching based on their knowledge of and adherence to tradition.  As Stephen Hultgren puts it: “Jesus teaches with an independent authority – or rather, on the authority of God. Whereas the scribes are bound to tradition, Jesus is relatively free – free in the way that only one who lives directly from and to God’s authority is free.”

The emphasis on authority is continued in the next part of the Gospel when a person in the congregation challenges Jesus.  I find the innuendo in the person’s question that someone from Nazareth is not worthy of teaching in the Synagogue distressing just as I had found the statement in the Gospel from two weeks ago where Nathanael said: “ Can anything good come from Nazareth?” distressing. In today’s world these comments remind me of the cruel nature of remarks made about the origins of many people who come to our country (and other countries).  The President of the United States making derogatory remarks about other countries is not appropriate, fair or right.

In today’s Gospel Jesus recognizes the remarks of the questioner as being the words of the devil and he commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man and to everyone’s amazement the unclean spirit leaves the body of the man after many convulsions and loud cries. Those gathered watching this exorcism realize that they are seeing something quite amazing.  Jesus is showing them “a new teaching – with authority!”. This is the prophet that Moses was referring to in Deuteronomy. Again, as Stephen Hultgren states: “In a worldly sense, Jesus did not have any authority at all. …. His authority lay in the sheer power of his words and in the example of his deeds. His authority lay in his living as God’s servant.  Jesus used his authority not to obtain power for himself but to serve humanity….sovereign freedom exercised for the good of others”.

We know that we are not the prophet and we know that Jesus was the prophet.  We must try to live our lives by following the teachings of Christ.  We must remember that we are not in this world to gain wealth or power – we are in this world to love our neighbour and to do everything possible to lead a life of love and compassion for everyone in this world especially the weak and downtrodden.

Let’s go from this church today prepared to resist evil and to fight the good fight for Jesus.