Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee
So this past week was a bit strange week for me. “What was so strange” you may ask? It was strange because I kept finding myself falling into a reoccurring theme this past week. Over the course of the week, I found myself over and over again coming to the significance of words. In our study of Baptism we spent a substantial amount of time seeking understanding of the words in the Baptism Liturgy. Like what does it mean to renounce spiritual forces of wickedness, and what it means to reject the evil powers of this world? Even going into what are the evil powers of this world. What does it truly mean to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression. And it continued as we reflected deeply on the meaning of confessing Jesus Christ as Savior. What is our WHOLE trust in his grace. Looking at the significance of this word Grace. Paying attention to how in this liturgy it moved from a singular into a plural when we incorporate ourselves individually into the catholic church of Jesus Christ.
And then again on Thursday, you can ask Diana as were working on our announcements, sign up sheets, and bulletins, the amount of times we changed the words because the connotations were quite different. I thought maybe Diana was going to give up on me if I were to ask her just once more to change a word or two.
And then yet again on Friday, I was doing a training for the Fire Department called NIMS training. NIMS stands for National Incident Management System. It is a system that was required to be put in place by all agencies in the US in 2003 by the President to bring about some unity to all the different agencies working an incident. Whether that incident is putting together a massive event like a debate for presidential candidates or it is a response to a disaster with multiple agencies coming together to work. Anyways, one of the most important aspects of this training was finding a language that all agencies could use that is simple enough for everyone to understand. This system trains every agency worker the same language, and is taught to describe the event in plain English rather than using specific agency codes. The number one reason for ineffective response to emergencies was not lack of resources or people, but rather it was a lack of communication.
And finally, the last thing that caught my attention as I reflected on words, is the younger generation’s fascination with the new online game Words with Friends. It is an old game of scrabble, but with the ability to play from your phone. I know quite a few of us in the congregation that play this game together and I thought about how great it is for us to be learning new words and their meanings.
And so, I suppose you could say I began to really think about the words we choose to use in the way we talk about things. From the words that we use to understand our faith, to how we bring out information to others, to the criticalness of how we use language in emergencies, and even the ability to have fun with words, all of these remind me of how our words have lasting impacts on us and those around us.
Today in our Old Testament Lesson from Deuteronomy we are made privy to a conversation between God, Moses, and the people of Israel. God promises to bring up out of them a prophet like that of Moses. And God continues to speak about the role of a prophet. So as we have spoken about the importance of words, what does this word prophet really signify to the people of Israel. Well, the word Prophet is twofold in its meaning. In one understanding it means “one who is called”, while the other meaning is “One who calls”. Both of these translations are imperative to understanding the role of a prophet. “The prophet, who is called by YHWH, calls the community back to the covenant.” Now, on the surface level, this doesn’t sound so bad. But often times the word of the Prophet to bring the people of God back into right covenant is no simple task. The Word of YHWH is a powerful word, a word that as we may recall in Genesis brought all things into being, “God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” It was from the Word of God that we and everything else are created. And the prophet of the OT is to reveal God’s word to the people of Israel because the people rightfully said, “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die!” The people recognized their need for God in their lives and his Word, but they themselves could not face God. And so, at times the Word of the LORD is painful, but is for our well-being. And it is the prophet, who is entrusted to bring about even a painful Word from God.
Another thing to note is that a prophet is not a stranger to the community in which he/she came from. But rather, the prophet is from one of their own. One who has grown up in their tradition, “the prophet understands through personal experience the longings and brokenness of the people.” And because of this, the prophet can and does offer words of true meaning and value to the community in which he or she is in. “And so consequently, the prophet is called out form the people to announce to the people YHWH’s word—a word that creates justice, brings hope, and brings the promise to fruition.”
Lastly, and most importantly a prophet prophesies. Now you may be thinking Pastor Josh, that’s just silly. What else would a prophet do, but prophesy? But this word prophesy is often misunderstood. Prophecy is often understood as statement of that portrays a future. But another meaning of this word, and I believe a better understanding of this word is “To bubble forth” or to “flow forth”. To prophesy is to truly let the words of God flow from your own mouth. I think of the passage from Ezekiel 37 when God has Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones lying around him. Ezekiel is not portraying a future to these lifeless bones, but rather Ezekiel is allowing God to speak through him and calling these bones back to life. The word of the Lord in the Prophet is a powerful word, a life giving word. The prophet of the OT speaks on God’s behalf.
In our Gospel lesson today, the people in the synagogue noticed something different about the way Jesus taught. It says, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Now this is not to say what the scribes were teaching was wrong, but rather Jesus takes on the role and embodies this role of Prophet into his very being. Theologians often look at Jesus to function in three major roles. We understand Jesus to be High Priest as he offers up prayers for all people. We understand Jesus to be King, one who rules over all of creation and the cosmos of heaven and hell. And finally we understand Jesus to be that of Prophet. Jesus rather than speaking for God, Jesus is set apart as one who speaks for God and speaks as God. This is what I believe the people in the synagogues noticed. That the word of the Lord, the word of God that Jesus taught with was one that spoke with authority over all things. We see throughout scripture that the words of Jesus do some amazing things. With his words he healed sick, he caused loaves of bread to multiply to feed thousands, he rebuked a storm, and the winds ceased to blow. And ultimately, and most importantly we see in this passage even the demons submit to his words. This lesson from the Gospel of Mark is one of great importance as we come to understand and allow the words of Jesus to be that of authority in our lives. When we as a church come to take the words of Jesus as spoken in the Gospels, you may just find that these words may begin to rebuke the demons and evil that hovers over your own life.
And finally, one of the base assumptions we must believe is that God has not stopped talking. We see God speak in creation, again to the fathers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We throughout our scripture see God interact with Joseph, Moses, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Isaiah. We witness in the New Testament something awesome when God himself calls out one of his own as he took flesh among us in Jesus and spoke to us throughout his life. We hold to the truth that God continued to speak through early church fathers like Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Marty, and Augustine. God continued to speak through others throughout history such as Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Wesley. In our recent decades we have had prophets like Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonheoffer. And today, who has called out to be a prophet? But non other than you, you who are the church, you who God has chosen to speak in his name. You, who in your baptism accepted the freedom and power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. You who give your lives in public service by risking yourself for the betterment of others. You who advocate for the poor. You who call out our neighbors and this community to accountability through their deeds as well as word. We are a people who are to live by our word, by our confessions, and most importantly by God’s Word. The things that made Jesus’ word any more powerful is that he did not just say those words, but he embodied them. He lived out his words with justice, mercy, and compassion. We, the church are called to be like Jesus, we are called in our baptisms to be Prophet. “It is not because I am the preacher that I speak this word to us today, but rather it is because I speak with the hope that our words, when infused with the power of the One who speaks through us and on whose behalf we speak, will cause something to happen!” Let us now with our mouths and our hearts confess these words from the statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada. I am going to ask us to pause momentarily between each phrase to consider the meaning behind that statement.
Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church:
to celebrate God’s presence
to love and serve others
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.