(Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28)
Jan 28, 2018 – UBC Digby – J G White
This week I bought an Almanac for 2018. It happens to be Canadian, the Harrowsmith Almanac. I am curious about the Long-term weather forecast, yes. I’m not interested in horoscopes, and there are none in this book; it’s got astronomy, not astrology. Mostly, I am interested in the comprehensive seed guide.
Farmer’s Almanacs are still respected, believed to have some authority, and some prophetic power.
Here’s a peculiar prediction: Legend says that a July forecast of “rain, hail, and snow” mistakenly appeared in The 1816 Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Robert B. Thomas, the Almanac’s founder, recalled the books and had new ones printed, but news of that forecast had gotten out. He became the subject of much ridicule—until July brought rain, hail, and snow throughout New England!
1816 was ‘the year without a summer,’ after a volcanic eruption that affected the weather across the globe that year, and kept things cold.
To know our future, or some upcoming things: how amazing that would be, we might think. What will the weather do throughout this year? How will the stock markets fare, and our investments? What illnesses or injuries are in store – for which we can prepare, or perhaps even avoid?
There is something in us that longs for the security of seeing more of the path ahead. Those inner longings for more control of the future. Where can we get some prophecy with real authority?
Jesus. You knew I was going to say this.
You’ve heard the story of the Pastor on a Sunday morning who gathered the children to the front, as usual for a story? He produced a small cage with a furry animal in it, long ears, wiggly nose, strong back legs. “What have we here?” asked the Pastor.
After some silence, one of the children piped up and said, “Well, it looks like a bunny, but, knowing you, it’s gotta be Jesus.”
We come today to a story – and we are still in Mark chapter 1 – of Jesus’ impressive authority. He is in the town of Capernaum, up on the north shore of the lake we call the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum ends up becoming Jesus’ home, in a way, amid his travels from Galilee to Jerusalem and around. At least, His home base.
It’s Saturday, the Sabbath, He’s in the community religious education and worship centre, the Synagogue of Capernaum. He takes up the role of a rabbi, a teacher, and of a prophet, speaking for the Lord God. Something about what He says, and how He says it, impresses everyone. They are astounded. Mark, here, does not tell us any of what Jesus said. But the crowd senses in Him an air of authority.
Then Jesus performs this healing, cleansing, exorcism – whatever we call it now, they called it casting out an unclean spirit. And Jesus’ actions lead the amazed onlookers to speak about His teaching, a new teaching? His actions speak louder than words. The people continue to be impressed by His spiritual authority. Here, at last, is ‘a prophet like Moses,’ as had been promised, sometimes hoped for.
Today, in Christianity, we declare this Jesus to be our authority in life. Our Way in life too. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said.
We meet up with people in our lives who, well, who have an air of authority. Who speak, and you listen when they speak.
I remember a dear ole couple, years ago, Harris and Mary. People of great faith. Harris had retired and returned to his tiny home community. He was a member, and deacon, in a little Baptist Church of 20 people. But he and Mary also came every Sunday morning to the bigger, town church. In fact, they were the tellers every Sunday – counting up the offerings. I remember one winter Sunday morning when the snowstorm was so bad no one bothered to call me, the Pastor, to know if the service was cancelled. It was so obvious. But who drove their big car to town, to the Baptist Church, at 11 am? Harris and Mary. Harris was one of those men of few words – very few words – so when he did speak, you listened.
The voices you and I heed today are sometimes quiet, sometimes bold, sometimes trendy, sometimes traditional. Who’s your authority? What do you give authority to in your life?
A Farmer’s Almanac, as you plan your garden and your travel this year? A horoscope to guide your personal path? Are there authors, well-known speakers or teachers who you look to in 2018? Do certain friends or people in your family have a big influence on what you do? Are there problems and anxieties that run a lot of your life? Or do you decide to be your own best guide? Check-in with yourself about who and what guides you. It is worth doing.
That story in Mark 1 tells of a moment when a crowd was impressed by a new kid on the block, a new itinerant prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. Could he be the prophet like Moses?
We read also this morning from Deuteronomy 18, with that verse about a prophet or prophets like Moses to be raised up among the people. This chapter holds guidelines for the ministry of the Levitical Priests in ancient Israel, and for the ministry of Prophets. The chapter briefly speaks of aspects of prophecy not allowed, then of the proper actions of a prophet, then of how to discern between true and false prophets.
Wouldn’t we love to make it so simple today! they we’d know what predictions of the future are right! Right?
Well, we might find in this Old Testament chapter that the work of God’s prophets, then, was not all about predicting the future. A prophet to speak on behalf of God is what was asked by the people at Horeb, where they received the Law, the Ten Commandments, and all. Moses was not in the business there of laying out a whole bunch of future predictions. He was giving out the Law, the boundaries of their special life as God’s people. How to live. A prophet like Moses could be expected to teach how to live now. Not how to know your future.
One Bible commentator put it this way: “Biblical prophecy is not the ability to predict events next Tuesday. Rather, it is a form of clairvoyance that arises out of meditation on scripture. The content of the clairvoyance is insight into the nature of God’s security….” (Soards, Dozeman & McCabe, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, 1993, p. 132)
A couple weeks ago Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in the United States. Listen to this oft quoted bit from one of his speeches, a speech that is forward looking, but not predicting the future, rather, inspiring people to work for that bright future in the now, the present.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land.
I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.
So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
King spoke these words the night before he was assassinated. He was longing for a future, seeing it, but happy in the now.
To be safe and secure with God is not all about knowing the future. To strive to know secrets about the future is pretty much always not a way of resting secure in the arms of God.
Author and peace activist John Dear lives in New Mexico. In his book, The Beatitudes of Peace, he offers twelve signs to help us identify a true prophet. Notice that none has to do with future predicting.
First, a prophet is someone who listens attentively to the word of God, a contemplative, a mystic who hears God and takes God at God’s word, and then goes into the world to tell the world God’s message.
Second, morning, noon, and night, the prophet is centered on God.
Third, a prophet interprets the signs of the times.
Fourth, a prophet takes sides. A prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized.
Fifth, all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible are concerned with one main question: justice and peace.
Sixth, prophets simultaneously announce and denounce. They announce God’s reign of justice and peace and publicly denounce the world’s regimes of injustice and war.
Seventh, a prophet confronts the status quo.
Eighth, for the prophet, the secure life is usually denied. More often than not the prophet is in trouble.
Ninth, prophets bring the incandescent word to the very heart of grudging religious institutions. The institution that goes by the name of God often turns away the prophet of God.
Tenth, true prophets take no delight in calling down heavenly [lightning] bolts. Rather, they bear an aura of compassion and gentleness.
Eleventh, prophets are visionaries.
Finally, the prophet offers hope.
(John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life, 2016, pp. 117-119)
I notice that the very first sign of a true prophet, according to this guy, is that the person is centred on the word of God. Looking back to Moses as a model, Moses was all about delivering what became scripture to the people. The whole book of Deuteronomy is deutero – second, nomy – word or law. Moses, before he dies, telling their whole story and the law all over again, to the people.
It was years ago I heard Dr. Roger Cann say something like this, in a question and answer session at some conference I was at. “Don’t look for some new and special revelation from God, when you have not yet used the Bible which you have, right in front of you!” A few of you know Roger, retired in New Minas after a career as a Pastor, Missionary and Baptist leader. ‘Christian, don’t look for signs and signals while you still have scripture gathering dust.’
The story gets told that, just before the death of comedian and actor W. C. Fields, a friend visited Fields’ hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.” Our sacred texts are not just for cramming before finals – before death. Nor is scripture just to help us get our future right. It is for Holy communication now – every day.
A gospel song says (Ira F Stanphill)
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds, who holds my hand
What kind of almanac is the Bible? What kind of forecaster is Jesus? The Bible, and Christ, come from far back in the past, and point out the future – yes – but are put to use in the present.
What prophecy do you and I need?
To know the future? Our future? No.
To live well in the now? Yes.
To have good guidance? Yes.
Seek and you shall find.