This Sunday’s lessons in the RCL seem to be about the rubber meeting the road. In the first lesson (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), we hear Moses convey God’s command that the true prophets shall be listened to, 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.” No wonder no one wants to be a prophet! Then, in the second lesson (1 Corinthians 8:1-13), we read Paul acknowledging that if his dietary habits caused anyone to stumble, “I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” I can’t even imagine giving up BBQ or bacon or hamburgers or, well, any sort of meat because of another’s conscience. Finally, in the gospel lesson, the congregation at the synagogue initially behold Jesus’ teaching as astonishing because of his authority and conviction, but their admiration becomes amazement when they discover that he has the ability to cast out demons: “What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
All of this week’s lessons have me wondering…what’s the difference between doing God’s will and pretending to do God’s will?
The inherent challenge of figuring out God’s will is that it takes human beings to figure it out, but, because it’s God’s will and not our will, it can’t be left up to us to figure it out. We interpret things like scripture and revelation and history and philosophy to discern what God is trying to tell us, but sometimes we get it wrong. And when we do, prophets get stoned, and people see our behavior and stumble, and preachers proclaim a bold message that has no effect on people’s lives.
When it comes to prophets, church leaders, and preachers, what does it mean to be an effective servant of God? And who gets to decide? What’s the evidence that a leader is doing what God wants them to do? I’ve never met someone who has the power to cast out demons, but I’ve heard some preachers who have the ability to deliver God’s message in a life-impacting, heart-changing way. I’m not worried about whether prophets can see into the future, but I do care whether they can call God’s people to examine the reality of their sinful situation and return to God’s way. And, as I wrote last week, I think Paul’s communal approach to ethics in 1 Cor. 8 is a fruitful pursuit that the church should maintain as we try to decide together what God’s will is.
As I prepare to preach a short homily at our Vestry Retreat this Sunday, I’ll be thinking about what it means to do God’s will, to teach God’s will, to help lead a congregation where God is calling us to go. And I’ll be looking for evidence of that—communal confirmation that we’re not just following our own interests but, indeed, God’s will for us.