The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18.15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8.1-13
Mark 1.21-28

So did you ever wonder where we crossed the line from directly communicating with God to having prophets and other intermediaries do our communication for us?

It seems that as time has moved forward we have less folks who have direct conversations with God (at least that are recorded and generally accepted). And it also seems the "authority" to read / teach / interpret scriptures has fallen to a select group of folks as opposed to the general public. It would be interesting (and require more time and skill than we have) to map the trajectory of how humans moved from interacting directly with God to most humans depending on a select few to interact with God on behalf of the group and then (especially since the Reformation) moved back (at least for us Protestants) to each person with a bible (and some without one) feeling confident to speak in the name of God and who claim to know God's Opinion / Will on any issue that comes up.

It is interesting to see how our own comfort level and confidence (maybe even Authority) has gone back and forth on this activity that most of us Christian hope to be able to participate in. Well, this week we see a couple of different positions on this issue....

First, in Deuteronomy, we see Moses offering some extended commentary to the Israelites on the commandments he received. This section is a place where Moses is explaining the "proper" worship of God--who can do it and how they are to do it, etc. In this section Moses reminds the people what they asked for before. It refers specifically to Deut. 5.23-31 where the people tell Moses they are afraid of hearing the voice of God themselves...they are afraid they will not be able to hear the voice of God and continue to live, and so they ask Moses to be the go-between for them. They ask him to speak for them and to then tell them what God says back. And so in this particular section, Moses is reminding them of their request and explaining how it will work--he tells them that God will raise up a prophet that will speak the words of God. The people should listen to the prophet of God and obey God's commandments that come through the prophet. And then there is a little caveat about how to discern a prophet of another God--(according to verse 21-22) if a prophecy does not come true, it did not come from God, and if a person speaks in the name of God without being commanded, that person will die. Seems like a delicate and dangerous job description.

In Psalm 111 we see the psalmist speaking strictly in third person. This writer is not (in this case) speaking directly to God, but instead is speaking of the wondrous deeds and mighty power of God. It is interesting to note that the first 10 verses are praise upon praise and then the last verse tells us "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom..." Hmmm. Here is another case made for really being careful about being in relationship with God and not being too cavalier about it. There is a deep respect present here...the kind of respect we have for the strength of nature--most of us would not dare to beg a tornado or hurricane or earthquake to come after us, and in this case the psalmist does not directly confront God.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians we see him sort of fulfilling the "prophet" role. He is talking to them about a specific question of practice--eating meat that was sacrificed to idols--and its effects on other Believers. Paul is interpreting the Jewish law in the new light of the life and teachings of Jesus. This seems to be a situation where the Corinthian community had some conflict about what would be the best practice...who had the correct interpretation and understanding of the teachings of Jesus, and Paul steps in and offers what he understands to be the Word of God on the situation.

And in this week's gospel lesson we see Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry / teaching career. As he begins to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum the people were amazed because he taught (the Scriptures) as one having authority, not just as a scribe or average Jew. He is even met by a guy with an unclean spirit or demon who confronts Jesus and questions why he is there. Jesus's interaction with this unclean spirit blows the rest of the observers away because Jesus was interpreting the scriptures With Authority that none of the rest of them had.

-Who speaks for God?
-Who talks to God?
-Is it us or someone else?
-Who has the authority to teach / interpret the scriptures?

Almighty and ever-living God,
you are beyond the grasp of our highest thought,
but within the reach of our frailest trust:

Come in the beauty of the morning’s light
and reveal yourself to us.
Enrich us out of the heritage of seers and scholars and saints
into whose faith and labors we have entered,
and quicken us to new insights for our time;
that we may be possessors of the truth of many yesterdays,
partakers of your thoughts for today,
and creators with you of a better tomorrow;
through Jesus Christ, the Lord of the ages.

Henry Sloan Coffin

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