9 When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. 10No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practises divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. 12For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. 14Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.
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. 16This 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.’ 17Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. 18I 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. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But 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.’
I have not always had the greatest confidence.
I mean, I think, I have always known who I am, more or less – as far as one can know that, but I am sometimes concerned about how others may perceive me. It’s human but it’s a bit more than I would like.
Take that to the role of pastor in the church. I like to know what to expect, and more importantly, what others expect of me. If there is a pulpit exchange I like to know the space I will be in, the liturgy that will be used, and I arrive early to meet the people of that congregation. It makes perfect sense to me but it also makes things more predictable.
More challenging I find being a pastor in a largely secular setting. For seven years I served on the board of a hospice society, and for a number of years in a row I was asked to say grace before dinner at the annual fundraising gala. I think that by and large I did a pretty good job, but I never quite understood my role as I realized that when I said grace that evening, for many it would be the only time they would say grace. And besides, there were always people present who adhered to other faiths.
What I want to talk about though, is not multi-culturalism but seeking certainty and predictability.
I have a friend who was born in New England. His mother was born in Germany (I think), his father in Russia. When he was 10 his father died and their mother took him and his sister to Germany, where he lived for the next 10 years. He then immigrated to Norway where he has been living for the last 40 years. When someone asked him once about moving to a new place, he answered that for generations his family had not known stability, not only his parents but his grandparents, too. So moving somewhere else fit within those expectations.
There are people who come to faith in God in hope of predictability and stability. And yet our God calls us into a living relationship and to following an itinerant Messiah who sought not comfort but came to bring God’s Kingdom, God’s reign.
Our reading from the Book of Deuteronomy speaks of Moses as God’s prophet and speaks of God’s promise to ‘raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own people.’ (v.18)
We hear this word as speaking of Jesus who was raised from among us, son of Mary and Joseph, carpenter from Nazareth.
The people hear this word as they stand on the threshold to the promised land. Before our reading, they are given a warning not to engage in divination, witchcraft, oracles or the like, things other nations engaged in – often at the cost of the lives of their children – to gain a sense of certainty about the future.
We are very grateful about the progress of science that is bringing us vaccines. And while some still engage in some of the practises our reading describes, more of us rely on science to bring us the certainty we long for. It may be good to remember that science has not only brought us vaccines but also the nuclear bomb, pollution and pollution related illnesses, including cancer.
Our reading does not promise us the kind of certainty we may long for, and certainly not the kind of certainty that fortune tellers or science may promise. But our reading promises us a relationship with the living God who leads us through all uncertainties and through all times, including this one.
There is a prayer in our hymn book that expresses this:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(ELW Evening Prayer, page 317)