Sunday, February 05, 2012

Epiphany 4B

“...any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I, the Lord, have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Yikes! Makes me want to watch my words even more carefully than I do!

But that’s what the people had asked for. They wanted someone to speak for God, because they worried that hearing directly from the Most High God might cause them to clutch their chests and do a face plant into the dirt.

A prophet, in the bible, as most of you know, isn’t someone who merely foretells the future. The prophet isn’t a fortuneteller. The prophet isn’t someone who sits at tables on the street, who, for a small fee, will tell you how your how much money you will make or who you will marry.

In the bible, a prophet is someone who speaks for God. A prophet is a preacher. The prophet’s mouth opens and it’s not the prophet’s words that people hear. It’s God’s words that reach their ears. They figured it was easier to hear from God through a human vessel, rather than endure the thunder and fire of the Almighty.

And God, knowing the human fondness for putting their words into God’s mouth lays down the ground rules for the one who will speak for God:

“They are right in what they have said. 18I 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. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But 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.”

That’s a pretty tight leash for any preacher. And for the listener. It’s like God is saying, “Sure, I’ll send you a preacher. And that preacher will speak for me and I will make sure that the preacher`s words are true. But here’s the thing, you have to obey EVERYTHING the preacher says.”

That part warms the heart of any preacher, even if the first part makes them sweat.

And before the people entered into this bargain they asked for some details, and I don’t blame them: “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?”

Good question. God answers: If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.”

For some reason, this last part was left out of today’s reading. Maybe the folks who put together the readings (or lectionary as we call it) didn’t think those verses were important.

If they didn’t find these verses important, I certainly do. They’re incredibly important. They completely reverse the relationship.

God is asking God’s people to listen to the prophet with a critical ear. God is telling them not to put blind faith in the prophet assuming that everything the prophet says is true. God is making sure that the prophet doesn’t take advantage of the power of such a high calling. God is instead, putting the power to discern God’s will in the hands of the people.

It is the people who are to decide if the prophet’s words are true. It is the people who are to decide if what they are hearing is actually coming from God or if it is the fanciful musings of a preacher with a personal agenda. It is the people who decide if what they are hearing from the prophet is the direction that God wants them to travel.

In other words, God puts the prophet and the prophet’s message in the PEOPLES` hand. God puts the prophet and the prophet’s message in YOUR hands.

Think of that. Think of the power that God has put between YOUR eight fingers and two thumbs. Think of the responsibility and trust that God has placed on YOU.

YOU are the ones who decide whether or not the Word that comes from this pulpit is from God or is just my own personal ramblings. YOU are the ones who listen with an ear toward God’s future for this family of faith. YOU are the ones who discern whether or not my words or any words spoken in this place carry the weight of being GOD’S Word.

And that’s a bigger burden to carry than I one I bear. I merely speak. You judge. You discern. You decide. And after I close my mouth, I stand at your mercy.

And this discernment doesn’t stop after I live this pulpit. After worship, we’ll go downstairs, drink coffee, and have some nibblies (I hear there’s Krispy Kreme donuts waiting for us).

And then, we get to the business of talking about God’s future for this congregation. Our Annual Voters Assembly is a chance for us to confront - head on - the challenges this congregation faces, and to listen for God’s voice, directing us toward new day, filled with new possibilities for outreach and fresh opportunities for growth.

I don’t see these yearly gathering as a chore, a piece of business that we need to get through as quickly as possible before heading out for lunch.

I see these annual meetings as a time to celebrate what God has done with and among us. It’s a time to discern where God is taking us in the next year and beyond. It’s a conversation between all those who care about the life and future of St. Paul’s and God`s direction for us.

And we need YOU to be part of that conversation. If you don’t think I mean you, you’re WRONG. I mean YOU. EveryONE of you. I mean every person who’s walked through these doors seeking a Word from the Lord. I mean anyone who has sat in these pews. I mean anyone who has entered this place of worship wondering if anything good can still come from Nazareth. I mean YOU. St. Paul’s needs YOU. YOUR voice. YOUR insight. YOUR wisdom.

So, don’t walk out these doors without sharing what you think God is asking us to do. Don’t worry about offending others with your opinion. Don’t think that what you have to offer doesn’t matter. God has put you here - in this place - for a reason. God has put you here so that your voice may be heard within this family of faith, so that this church can move forward in mission, greeting the future with open arms.

God has put an awesome responsibility in your hands. It’s because God trusts you with the wisdom that God imparted to you, when God took you by hand to the waters of baptism, and joined you to Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that you can be a resurrection people, participating in God’s New Creation that is unfolding all around us.

So, today, after we finish the business we do here, let’s continue our worship downstairs, listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice in the discussions among God’s people, keeping our ears inclined toward God’s future for this particular family of faith, so that - together - we can meet whatever needs and opportunities come our way.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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