By the Rev. Darren Miner
The readings today are a problem for any preacher. We have an Old Testament reading about prophets and false prophets, a letter from St. Paul about food offered to idols, and a Gospel story about an exorcism. There would seem to be no discernible common theme. So how should a preacher proceed? Well, the best this preacher can do is to say a few words about each of the readings and then try to persuade you that each reading is, in fact, a divine guide to watching cable news!
The reading from Deuteronomy is simple and straightforward: After the death of Moses, God will continue to guide his people by sending them prophets. But there is a problem: some self-proclaimed prophets will, in fact, be false prophets. How then are we to tell the difference between the true and the false? One criterion is given in the reading itself, namely, that a true prophet will speak only in the name of the one true God. The second criterion, which is omitted from today’s reading, is that what the prophet predicts should prove true. Consequently, this means that a prophet can only be known to be a true prophet after he or she has developed a good track record for predicting the future. Despite this second criterion, we should keep in mind that the main purpose of the prophet is not, in fact, to predict the future, but to provide divine guidance when the people or its leaders have strayed. A prophet’s predictions are merely proofs of the prophet’s divine authority.
The reading from First Corinthians is anything but simple and straightforward. The issue at hand is eating food offered to pagan idols, a problem for any Corinthian Christian who wished to attend a civic celebration at one of the city’s temples or even to buy meat at the public market. Paul uses some convoluted rhetoric to persuade his audience to stop eating idol food. He starts out by agreeing with his opponents. He acknowledges that they are right: it is not inherently sinful to eat food offered to pagan idols, since these idols have no spiritual reality. But he then argues that they should refrain from partaking of idol food anyway, because it might offend other Christians who think the practice to be ungodly. Even worse, exercising their right to eat idol food might encourage people with less theological understanding to follow their example and to violate their own consciences by eating idol food too. And this violation of conscience would be a sin. The upshot of St. Paul’s teaching is that love trumps liberty. It can even trump being right!
But there is a problem with St. Paul’s advice to be considerate of weak consciences for the sake of love. His advice clearly has its limits. Suppose a visitor to the church mentions that he believes that white people ought to be seated in the front and people of color should be relegated to the back pews. Should the usher then divide the congregation by race, so as not to offend the visitor? I don’t think so! Or what if a parish is about to interview a woman to be its new rector, but the search committee finds out that one lone parishioner firmly believes that women cannot be priests? Should the search committee cancel the interview and seek only men for the position instead? Again, I would say no. In both cases, to yield to the one who took offense would violate the truth that we are one in Christ Jesus. Yes, on the one hand, we should be considerate of the consciences of others; but on the other hand, the church cannot let itself be held hostage to weak consciences in violation of revealed Truth.
Finally, let’s look at the exorcism story from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is in Capernaum, where he has set up house. It is the Sabbath, and he is in the local synagogue teaching. A man troubled by an unclean spirit reacts to Jesus’ presence. The demon addresses Jesus by name and announces that he knows Jesus’ true identity. Now, the demon calls Jesus by name for a very specific purpose. You see, in ancient times, it was commonly thought that knowing the name of a spiritual being gave one power over that being. Here the demon tries that trick with Jesus. But it fails utterly! The demon can gain no hold over the Holy One of God. Jesus simply speaks the word, and the demon is expelled, albeit kicking and screaming on the way out. With the demon dramatically expelled, the onlookers finally recognize what Jesus has been doing among them: giving them a “new teaching—with authority.” And they are all so dumbfounded that no one thinks to complain that Jesus has violated the Sabbath by performing an exorcism.
Now, what are we to make of today’s readings? What do they teach us about how to live our lives in the present-day world? Well, as I said at the start of this sermon, they teach us how to watch cable news! Deuteronomy warns us to beware of false prophets and ungodly liars who would presume to mislead God’s people in his Name. Keep that in mind when you turn on your TV and watch cable news! You will find many a false prophet on each and every cable news channel, from MSNBC on the Far Left to Fox News on the Far Right. From St. Paul, we are advised to avoid offending our brothers and sisters in the faith (so far as it is possible) and to value love above being right. Again, keep that in mind when you watch cable news! Ignore the pundits and the politicians who foment division and hate. And instead of worrying about whether or not your side is winning the current argument, ask yourself what love demands of you in this situation. Finally, from Mark’s Gospel, we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of all. And as members of Christ’s body through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are freed from the dominion of the Evil One. He cannot touch us, if we but abide in Christ. And again I say, keep that in mind when you watch cable news! The news that we are force-fed on TV is almost all bad. And this surfeit of bad news can make you spiritually sick. So, when you are feeling particularly oppressed and burdened by the many evils of this world, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, and trust that the Holy One of God will set you free, just as he freed the man in Capernaum with the unclean spirit.
So, you see, I was right after all! Today’s readings were, in fact, all about cable news, just as I said at the start.
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.