Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (NRSV)
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 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.” 17 Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 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. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 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.”
Over the past couple of weeks, leading up to tonight’s big Super Bowl game, the leading stories have all seemed to share something in common. They were all about access. Over on the Patriots’ side, we’ve been hearing about the scandal that has been nicknamed “Deflate-gate” in the media. An NFL investigation has led to speculation that a New England assistant may have used his access to a dozen game balls in order to make unauthorized reductions in their air pressure, thus giving his team’s offense an unfair advantage.[i]
Meanwhile, across the field, a Seattle player accomplished a rare feat by making the front page for what he didn’t say. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is engaged in an ongoing battle with the league over the access that he is required to provide to reporters. But when he was faced with a half million-dollar fine if he failed to appear at the team’s Super Bowl media day, Lynch chose to put in an appearance.[ii] Yet, when asked a variety of questions during his press conference, he responded with the same answer twenty-nine times: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” And as soon as Lynch had put in the required four and a half minutes with the now irritated members of the media, he called “Time” and left.
In addition to the big news coming from the two teams, another story about a special regulation outside of the stadium has also been in the headlines. As a result of FAA rules put into place after 9/11, aircraft that have no transponder and no filed flight plan will not be authorized to fly anywhere within a thirty mile radius of the stadium in Phoenix during tonight’s game.[iii] And while this was once seen as a prudent move, failure to adjust the language now means that a child piloting a radio controlled aerial drone in neighboring Scottsdale could actually face federal charges.
And access is really just as relevant in our lives as it is to each of these stories. Think about the topics that are likely to dominate the political speeches of the next two years. Central to the debate over immigration is the question of whether or not those who have entered this country illegally should have access to government services. Politicians also continue to argue over the government’s role in ensuring that its citizens have access to affordable healthcare.
Recent proposals to offer two free years of community college tuition to American students has reignited the conversation about the access that we provide for higher education in our nation. While we are hearing that the nation’s economy is on the path to recovery, reports that the wealth gap between middle and upper class households has reached a thirty-year record high[iv] have left many to question what needs to be done to assure that American families gain access to a greater portion of the overall wealth that our nation is accumulating. And this past week, the Koch Brothers announced their intention to spend nearly one billion dollars in the upcoming election cycle, leading many to ask whether such unlimited spending buys the donors unfair access to our leaders in government.
Of course, the discussion of who should or should not have access is certainly nothing new. Even Moses takes up this issue in our lesson from Deuteronomy this morning. The Israelite community found itself faced with a difficult question: “What do we do once Moses is gone?” Of course, Moses was the hero who had led his people out of Egyptian captivity. But he was also something more. He enjoyed communion with God to a degree that was unparalleled among the Jewish people. Moses was God’s prophet, through whom the Lord had spoken the Law by which they were to live. But when Moses is gone, who would take his place?
In answer to this question, the Lord spoke through Moses, promising to raise up from among the people a prophet like Moses. The promise of another who would have the authority of their patriarch filled the people with hope. In fact, the promise of this prophet is one that the Jewish people still wait to see fulfilled, even to this day. Neither Samuel nor Jonah nor Isaiah nor any of their fellow prophets were considered the realization of this hope.
But while they wait, we know that our prophet has come. Our Lord Jesus did indeed speak the word of God, which he received from his Father in heaven. And we who have faith in Christ must heed this word that calls us to action. It is the word that we remember in Christ’s Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”[v] Even as Christ establishes his supreme sovereignty, his word bestows authority on all of us who follow, granting us the power to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that our Lord Jesus has commanded us.
Now, it only remains for us to determine how we are going to respond. We can’t stand here staring at the door to the mission field like it has a great, big foreboding sign: “No Unauthorized Personnel!” Friends, we are the Authorized Personnel! Our authority is bestowed upon us at the font and table. It is given to us by the words of Holy Scripture and the presence of Christ made real through the Holy Spirit who abides with us. In all of these things, we are made ones with authority!
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Souper Bowl of Caring. It is a program that was begun by the youth group at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, when the young disciples decided to stand up as those who were authorized. In 1990, they partnered with twenty-one other churches in their community to raise $5,700 for local charities. Not bad. And yet, this was only the beginning of their work. In the years since the program began, churches around the country have collected more than $90 million dollars in support of the soup kitchens, community pantries, and other charitable organizations in their communities…all because these young people stood as those with authority!
It is the same way that we stood with authority yesterday when we welcomed our Brothers and Sisters in the community to come and receive the hospitality of this church through our annual Soup Supper. But we also invited them to share in the ministry we offer through the gifts we can all bring in support of our local ministry partners. Each year, when the event is over I am grateful to hear so many voices celebrating the hard work that this entire church puts into this project and the success of our efforts. And each year, I wonder, “Why are we surprised?” This is exactly what happens when we are all drawn together to exercise the combined authority that we possess as church!
The result is exhausting and time-consuming. But it is also uplifting and exhilarating! And it is also reassuring. As we seek to move forward in ministry together, a moment such as this one assures me that this is an empowered congregation! We are God’s called people! And at this table, we are sent away, authorized to continue the Lord’s work!
So, Brothers and Sisters, let us continue to celebrate the great product of our combined efforts. But as we do so, I pray that we won’t just sit around now and wait until next year for the chance to enjoy this feeling once again. Let us look right now for the places where we are being called to speak with the authority of the voice of God and to act with the love of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. With courage, let us continue on in joyous service to the Lord!
To the Lord who speaks to us, and strengthens us, and blesses us with peace, be all glory and honor forever. Amen. (Psalm 29:1, 11)
[v] Matthew 28:16-20
This sermon was delivered at Bowling Green Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 01, 2015 (The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany).