Readings: Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark:1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 28 2018
Tom Hanks, alongside the Welsh lovely Catherine Zeta Jones, star together in a movie called ‘The Terminal.’ Hank’s plays the part of Viktor Navorski, a resident of an Eastern European land who arrives at New York Airport only to be refused admittance because just after he left his own land war broke out.
He is therefore a man without a country to call his own. Immigration can not send him home to a home that no longer exists and he has to set up home in the airport until they can figure out what to do with him.
His situation is further complicated by the fact that he speaks very little English. As the weeks go by he starts making friends with many of the airport staff, including the aforementioned Miss Zeta-Jones who provides an element of romantic interest to the movie.
How does it all end up? Well I’m not going to tell you that. It’s no fun when people ruin the endings. You’ll have to rent the movie or wait for it to come back on Netflix.
As Christian people we pray each week, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ Such a prayer suggests that we, like Viktor Navorski, are people living in a terminal space between two lands, the one we encounter every day and that which Jesus speaks of as “The Kingdom of God.”
That’s just how it was for the people of God that Moses addresses in Deuteronomy Chapter 18. They were in the wilderness. They had left the oppression of Egypt, but had not yet entered the Promised Land.
Naturally they are a more than a little concerned as to what the future may bring their way. Just the same as we are today. It doesn’t matter what stage of life we are at. We’re all in the same boat.
Kids in Nursery School get anxious about what elementary school may hold. High School Youth agonize over which college to attend. People spend a whole lot of time pondering who they should live their lives with, when they should marry, and then kids come along and grandkids and every new experience has us thinking, “Well here’s a place we haven’t been before.” Where do we turn to get help to guide us through these situations?
There’s one place we are warned not to turn to. Moses counsels the people not to turn to the religious practices that were prevailing in the land. Deuteronomy 18 :10-11 "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.”
Such practices continue to attract the attention of those seeking a word of guidance from beyond. Just dial 1 900 PSYKIC and all your problems will be solved. Hold a séance and speak with Elvis. Turn down the lights and get out the Ouija board. And whatever you do, once you’ve read your tea leaves, glanced in your crystal ball and before you leave the house tomorrow, I’ve heard that the constellation of Ursula Andress in the fourth quarter of the second phase of a new moon, so you better check your horoscope before picking your lottery numbers.
If we are turning to things like that to direct our path... then it won’t be long before we are heading in precisely the opposite way from that God would like us to take. Deuteronomy doesn’t mince words when it describes such practices as “detestable.” When something is described in scripture as being something that God says is “detestable” I think it is fair to say we don’t need to be going there.
But returning to Viktor Navorski trapped at the airport terminal; I'm sure you have also noticed that airport terminals are confusing places, particularly if you don’t speak the language of the country you have landed in.
Everybody at an airport is on a mission. Everybody is either going somewhere or hanging around waiting to go somewhere. There are endless boards with flight information on them, turning back and forwards. There are customs and immigration to navigate and you carry baggage that needs to be dealt with.
When you are at a busy airport you can read all the horoscopes, consult all the mediums and pray all the mantras you want, but it won’t help you find your plane. You usually have to ask some other human being here on this planet, to figure out exactly where you are meant to be.
As the Israelites traveled through the desert, they were fortunate. They had a flesh and blood character who knew where they were going and how they would get there. His name was Moses. Moses was one of the great prophets of God’s people. The Old Testament bristles with examples of prophets who addressed and lead the people in a similar fashion to Moses.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Daniel, even reluctant prophets like Jonah… the list goes on and on of people, flesh and blood people, who through words or actions communicated the reality of God to those they spoke to. When the people listened they were reassured that God was with them. When they followed they prospered and grew!
In our reading today we heard Moses say: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:5). A prophet like me? Who was Moses speaking about?
Scripture does not leave us in the dark. In the New Testament Book of Acts, both Peter in his sermon at Solomon’s Portico and Stephen, during the testimony he gives at the time of his martyrdom identify the prophet Moses said would come as being Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:22 & 7:37)
In the first chapter of the gospel of John, people approach John the Baptist, and ask John, “Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Are you Elijah? Or are you… the prophet?” John says, “No, not me… but I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed!” (John 1:21 & 1:31). He of course was speaking about Jesus.
A few days later Jesus has called Philip to be His disciple. Philip travels to tell Nathanial about his call. Philip greets Nathanial with these words, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth”.
The disciples clearly believed that Jesus was “The One” that Moses spoke about when he said, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.” They were equally clear about the second part of Moses proclamation; “Listen to Him!” Jesus was the One Moses said would come. So listen to Him!
At Christmastime we celebrated that in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ God revealed God’s self in a unique, incomparable, unrepeatable way. “The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)
That means that there is somebody that we can turn to and find where we are meant to be going and that somebody is Jesus Christ. Not ‘Dial a Psychic’ or ‘Mystic Meg’ or some screwy bit of paper in a fortune cookie, but the living resurrected Jesus Christ whom we encounter through the Holy Spirit when we seek to live our lives for God.
The New Testament contains the words that He spoke and the things that He did. Under the touch of God’s Spirit those words come alive to us and guide us and lead us. Through the disciplines of prayer and faithful worship we can attune ourselves to listen to Jesus Christ. Of all the voices you can tune into, all the things around us trying to get our attention, the one we often miss is the most important of them all. The Word of God.
That’s why developing regular worship habits and Sunday School and private time for prayer and Bible reading is so important for a vibrant walk with God. That’s why stewardship and service and utilizing our talents in ways that God calls us to has an eternal significance. Neglect such things, or never even try and fit them into your schedule, and you will be left wandering around like a lost soul in an airport terminal.
“What do I do now? Is there nobody out there who can help me?”
“Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters?”
Moses was crystal clear. Don’t mess with Ghostbusters. Don’t fool around with mediums or palm readers. This prophet he speaks of, the one the disciples recognized as the prophet God promised to send; “Listen to Him.” Listen to Him. Listen to Jesus Christ by reading the Bible and worshiping God in the presence of others. Pray to Him. Communicate with Him.
‘But you know pastor there’s a lot in the bible, there’s some pretty hard stuff to understand.’ I can tell you this. The more you learn the more you’ll discover you have to learn! God’s Word is something we are to feed upon on a daily basis.
If when you were three years old I had taken you to a room full of all the food you would eat until the day you die, and told you to eat it, you would look at me like I had lost my mind! “Me? Eat all that? Right now?” The very idea of consuming all the food we eat in a lifetime at one meal is ludicrous.
It’s the same with the bible and Christian life. It’s a non-microwaveable Word. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not phone a friend. It’s food. Real Meat. Something to get your teeth into and consume and digest. Faithfulness demands … “Listen to Him”, listen to Jesus Christ.
Every day we live we are faced with choices and decisions. The complexity of modern life may have us looking for answers in all the wrong places. So God has provided for us a way to find true direction. God sent Jesus Christ, our flesh and blood prophet. Moses tells us;“Listen to Him”.
“Listen to Him” means tuning in to the Scriptures, opening up our selves to God in worship and service, being sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and abandoning those things that get in the way of being a disciple.
May God help us to listen!
And more than that, to put into practice what we hear from the Holy Spirit!
To God’s name be the Glory.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.