Worship for Sunday, January 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

[Moses said:] 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.”

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 111

 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
 Great are your works, O LORD,
  pondered by all who delight in them.
 Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever.
 You cause your wonders to be remembered;
  you are gracious and full of compassion.
 You give food to those who fear you,
remembering forever your covenant.
 You have shown your people the power of your works
  in giving them the lands of the nations.
 The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
all of your precepts are sure.
 They stand fast forever and ever,
  because they are done in truth and equity.
 You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever;
holy and awesome is your name.
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
  all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

The Word of the Lord

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:21-28

[Jesus and his disciples] 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.

The Gospel of our Lord

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The ELCA prides itself in having well-educated pastors. Our seminarians take classes like: “Congregations as Catechetical Community ” and “Systematic Theology Part 3 – The Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Triune God.” (I actually really liked that last one . . .) Plus the ELCA requires 2 years of Ancient Greek and 1 year of biblical Hebrew.

I have heard seminary professors – bishops and my fellow pastors brag about all of the nerdy – academic stuff ELCA pastors are expected to know. And most ELCA pastors are pretty well-educated.

But I had been a pastor all of 15 seconds when I realized there were terrifyingly huge gaps in my education. Seriously – massively – huge gaps. Gaps big enough to drive a freight train through!

I discovered one of these wretchedly awful gaps in my education on the very first evening of vacation Bible school – the very first year I was a pastor.

For some unknown reason – kids started showing up way too early. And soon there were tons of bored kids needing to be entertained. The fine Lutheran lady who was in charge of VBS informed me – since I was the pastor – the hoards of children were MY PROBLEM.

I remember vividly the wave of horror that washed over me. There were no seminary classes on how to cope with bored children. I was prepared to debate theological questions – and how to conjugate Ancient Greek verbs. But I had no idea what to do with a massive hoard of bored kids. Besides that – kids terrified me. They always had.

“Run – Kerri – run!” was my only thought. But I was wearing sandals and everyone knew where I lived. It was hopeless. I was so totally stuck and terrified!

The church was big – but our yard was the size of a postage stamp. When I suggested a time of silent prayer in the sanctuary – the kids actually boo-ed!

I was completely and utterly unprepared. I didn’t have anything other than my own wits. And honestly I wasn’t so sure I had those anymore.

So I took a deep breath and prayed for enlightenment. Then – it happened. The one and only time in my entire life I have been divinely inspired! I shouted “All right – get in line and follow me.” And by some miracle every single kid got in line and followed me.

And so it began – we spent the next week playing “follow the pastor.” We stomped like giants. And roared like lions. We waddled like ducks. We hopped like frogs and slithered like snakes. If I did it – the kids did too. If I was a chicken – a long line of little Minnesotans clucked and flapped their wings too. It was awesome and fun and funny.

“Follow the Pastor” was our favorite VBS activity. But this game also caused me to reflect. These kids were ALL following me. They were ALL listening to me and doing what I told them to do – no questions asked. If I told them to do it – they did it. And honestly – that scared me.

Being a leader is serious business and so is choosing who you will follow.

We live in a society in which competing voices constantly pull us in opposite directions. Our leaders boldly make conflicting claims about facts and the truth ALL of the time.

When this happens – we are faced with serious questions like – Who is right? Who should I be listening to? Who is speaking the truth? What is the truth?

We are not alone in asking these sorts of questions. The people of Ancient Israel asked them too. They wondered who they should listen to and follow.

Today we read God’s answers to their questions. God tells us how to recognize true prophets. God tells the people of Israel what to be looking for in a leader.

One of Saint Stephen’s leaders wears a plunger on her head at VBS and takes way too many pictures . . . hmmm…

Moses had been their trusted – faithful leader for as long as most of them could remember. For decades Moses had told folks what they should and shouldn’t do. Moses proclaimed God’s Word to them. He was their pastor for worship and their general in war. Moses was like George Washington – Abraham Lincoln – the Attorney General – the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Secretaries of Defense – Commerce – Health –Education and their bishop – all rolled into one.

But Moses won’t always be able to lead them. Moses is human and he will die one day.

God wants his people to know how to recognize the true prophets he will send to lead them in the future. God declares a true prophet will always have some very important characteristics. God lays out the requirements we should look for in a true prophet from God.

Thankfully Saint Stephen’s finance chair and the church secretary are wayyyy more dignified!

First – the Bible tells us God will raise up prophets from among their own people – just like Moses was. Moses was Hebrew – he understood their culture and he spoke their language.

Second – a prophet will speak what God commands – even if his message makes him unpopular. The prophet’s message won’t always be a message that makes folks feel good or happy – but he will speak it anyway.

Moses had to do this time and time again as he led the Chosen People. Moses rebuked and corrected folks even when it made them furious with him.

Third – what the prophet speaks will happen.

Our church council youth representative is a snake handler . . .

And again we see this in Moses’ life. When Moses warned Pharaoh that Egypt would suffer plagues of locusts – flies – hail – thunder – boils and death – all of these plagues happened just as Moses said they would. When Moses told the people where to find food and water in the wilderness – they found it.

We still seek to do the Lord’s will in our lives. We too want our church to be guided by God’s will. We want our lives to reflect God’s will for us. And so we are called to listen carefully for the voice of our Lord.

Our church president – he looks nice and normal!

And so today – I ask you to join me in praying for our community and for our church.

Let’s study God’s Word and read our Bibles. Let’s seek God’s will and God’s blessing for our lives – our community and our church. Let’s pray and listen for God’s answers to our prayers – because God is listening and God will answer. God will walk with us and God will guide us. God will care for us. We are not in this life alone! Truly this is Good News. AMEN.

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