GOD SENDS A PROPHET
Two weeks ago we talked about how God changes us. We looked the story of the calling of Samuel and how God transformed him from a timid eleven year old boy into the greatest political and spiritual leader of his day. Last week we used the story of Jonah to talk about how God uses faithful individuals to initiate changes in our communities. This week, we’re going to take it one step further and talk about how God can change our future.
To do that, we’re going to read a passage from Deuteronomy 18:15-20. This passage was written, as was the entire book of Deuteronomy, during the Exodus where God used Moses to lead the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt and into the promised land flowing with milk and honey. On their journey, God, through Moses, gave the people the standards by which he expected them to live their lives.
The book of Deuteronomy is filled with these rules to live by. But then right smack dab in the middle of all of these rules we find Deuteronomy 18:15-20 which has nothing at all to do with any instructions. Rather it yet another call by God to faithfulness. Let’s read what it says.
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
In the midst of all of these instructions for living God says, “Oh and by the way, I am going to send you a prophet like Moses. I will raise him up from among you and I want you to listen to him because what he is going to tell you is important.”
God says that he will raise up a prophet but what is a prophet and what is the purpose of prophecy? We’ve answered those questions before but it’s worthwhile answering them again. A prophet is some who is called by God to speak to the people. Note that this person is called by God. No one sets themselves up as a prophet. A true prophet is selected and designate by God alone.
And the purpose of prophecy is always the same. It is to call the people back to faithfulness. Too often today, we get that mixed up. People think that the purpose of prophecy is to tell the future. That is not the purpose of prophecy. That’s not to say that prophets do not speak of the future. Sometimes they do but that’s done only in the context of calling the people to faithfulness. Last week we talked about Jonah and his prophecy about the great city of Nineveh. Do you remember what Jonah said? He prophecied that the wicked Nineveh would be destroyed in ninety days. That was his prediction. But it did not come to pass because the city repented and returned to God and so God spared the city. Do you see how that was a call to faithfulness? “Return to God or you’re toast,” said God and the people choose to listen to Jonah and become faithful again.
God said to Israel, “I am going to raise up from among you a prophet and I want you to listen to him. Listening is important because of what God says next. He talks about how at Horeb the people refused to listen to God voice. Why? Because they were concerned that if they heard the voice of the Great God of Heaven that they would die. Horeb was the place where God gave the people the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. When God did that, we are told that it happened with great fanfare, with trumpets and smoldering mountains, thunder and lightning. This was a demonstration of God’s power and, quite frankly, it scared the bejabbers out of the people. And because of that they were afraid to listen to God’s voice. That’s why God is promising to send a prophet. Because the people were afraid to hear God’s voice directly and so God will sent a prophet to speak for him. This prophet will speak the word of God and when the prophet speaks, the people need to listen.
God isn’t just changing people and communities. God is changing their future. The prophet, speaking in God’s name will tell the people how to live their lives and if they live the way that God wants them to live, they will the best lives that they can possibly live.
That’s good news. It reminds us that God does not want to live ho-hum ordinary, uninspired lives. God wants so much for us and God has made available so much more for us. Jesus said in John 10:10 (RSV): “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” God wants us to have the best lives we can have. Jesus came so that we can live abundantly, not just in this world but in the next as well. And because God wants us to live fully, God wants to change our futures. God doesn’t not desire that we live in pain and loneliness, fear and worry. God desires that we live with joy and hope and great anticipation.
But that is not always easily done, especially for those with mental health issues. This past Thursday was Bell Let’s Talk Day. This was the eleventh year that this programme has taken place. Bell Let’s Talk Day is a day to encourage people to talk about mental illness, to get beyond the stigma and to seek healing for those who experience it and their families. The hope is that, in doing this, we can change someone’s future. For the rest of this message I want us to be part of that conversation. That’s very important to me because I too suffer from mental illness. I’ve shared this with our church before on Sunday morning but it’s time to do it again, especially this year when living in the midst of a global pandemic has further exasperated mental health issues for a number of people.
Statistics tell us that mental illness affects out of every five Canadians. In fact, it affects far more than that because those people who are suffering from mental illness are surrounded by family and friends who are also impacted. My hunch is that everyone listening today has been affected by mental health issues in one way of another.
I first started exhibiting signs of mental illness in 2009. Over the course of just a few months I went through a drastic change in my personal behaviour. It became increasingly difficult to leave the house. I developed a phobia about driving on multi-lane highways. I became agoraphobic which is the fear of open spaces. I was only with great difficulty that I could go into shopping malls. I experience panic attacks, flash backs and constant nightmares. At one point I was having so many nightmares every night that I was afraid to go to sleep. I tried to function on one and a half or two hours of sleep every night but I didn’t function very well.
The thing that’s hardest to deal with is that I had great difficulty getting up on Sunday morning to lead worship. At times I didn’t think I could do it. I remember sitting in my office on Sunday morning literally crying before worship because I didn’t think I could find the strength to go out there before all those people. But there were a few people in the church who recognized that there was a problem and those faithful people talked me through it and got me out there week after week. Once worship started I was fine. It was getting there that was so incredibly difficult.
I describe that time of my life as the pit and if you’ve ever been there, you know exactly what I mean. There is a deep darkness that seems to pervade every aspect of your life to the very bottom of your soul. It seem like it will never end and although you may want to climb out of the pit, you have no idea how to do that. And you are desperately afraid that this is the way life will be for the rest of time.
But I was also afraid to let others know what was happening within me and so I put immense amounts of energy into looking normal to most of the world even though inside I was a shambles and sinking fast. The amount of energy it took to hide my reality from the everyone else left me exhausted almost all of the time and, as we all know, when people are exhausted, they don’t act normally.
The worst part was that those who bore the brunt of my mental illness were those who are closest to me – my family. At home, I became increasingly irritable and difficult to get along with. At times I was violent though I’m glad to say that, by the grace of God, I never hit or physically hurt anyone. That’s not to say that my behaviour didn’t leave emotional scars. I said things and did things that would surprise you. When I look back at it now, it even surprises me because, to be completely honest, I don’t even recognize the man that I was back then. That person feels alien, distant, someone else altogether. He must go by a different name because he couldn’t possibly be me – but he was and he still is. And that is something that I had to come to grips with.
The really odd thing is that back then, as I was going through these experiences, I didn’t think that I had a problem. I didn’t recognize the changes. I thought I was okay and that it was everyone else who had problems. That went on for months as the symptoms grew worse and the pit became deeper and darker.
But I also remember the day when that began to change. It was the day that I decided that I didn’t want to be married to Ruth anymore. If you know Ruth, you’d understand what a truly stupid thought that was. But at the time she felt too distant. She didn’t understand me anymore. Why was she always at me for this or that or the other thing? How come she was never happy? She just kept putting me down. I’d had it. I was going to leave her and start life over, fresh and new. And, of course, the kids would understand all of this and they would be perfectly fine with it.
But then, it the midst of the emotional fog, I heard a prophetic voice in the back of my head that said, “Kim, that is not my plan. I have given Ruth to you to be your life partner for better, for worse, for richer, poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as you both shall live.” That word of God had spoken to me telling me that it was not Ruth who had the problem. It was me. It was after that experience that I made the first tentative steps that I needed to make.
Veterans Affairs was fabulous and I will forever be thankful for they were able to do. I was referred to the Operational Stress Injury Clinic at Parkwood Hospital in London, Ontario. I remember my first appointment. It involved a number of challenges, the first of which was just getting there. Remember that I had a fear of driving on highways and the clinic was 150 km down the 401. Somehow I did it, white knuckles all the way. Finally I was in the parking lot with twenty minutes to spare before my appointment. But then I faced another challenge. How was I going to get through the front door? Stepping through that door was a scary proposition because to do that was the final admission that I had a problem, that I had a mental health issue that I needed to address. I still didn’t want to do that and so I sat in the car torn about what to do. Two or three times, I almost drove away but I didn’t. And finally that little prophetic voice in the back of my head said, “Kim, it’s time to go in but know that you are not going in on your own. I am with you always.” I got out of the car and I went in. That day changed my life because it was the beginning of my healing.
Ultimately, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, depressive disorder and other unspecified disorders including agoraphobia. Part of this had to do with my military experience, part of it was because of civilian ministry and another part of it was just life. The therapy I received was helpful and within about six months things began to improve. The panic attacks and nightmares became less frequent. I became less irritable and irrational. But it was well over a year before I was back to anything that could be considered reasonably normal.
Much of my recovery, however, had to do with life style changes. There is no magic pill that will make everything better. There is no one thing that will fix us. Healing is a process and it is multidimensional. And it’s hard work but it’s hard work that is totally worth it. I talk about my five F’s. They are fitness, food, faith, family and friends. I know that if I pay attention to all of those five things and keep them in balance, that I’m going to okay. I know that if one of them goes off the rails, I will still be okay. But if two of them start floundering, I’m in trouble and I need to do some intentional work to get back on track.
I still see a therapist every three months. She is wonderful and it is most helpful. We talk about where I am in my mental health and how I am doing and she often asks me about my five F’s. I’m glad to say that it’s working for me and it has now been a few years since I have had a serious relapse. But I also know that this is something that I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life because it is part of who I am and if I don’t look after myself I could it could easily fall back into the pit again and so I remain diligent and watchful for signs that I might be slipping.
A huge part of my recovery has been because of my faith. Through faith, I know that even if I feel alone that I am not alone. There is a God who loves me and wants me to live the abundant life that he has planned for me through Jesus Christ. I also am surrounded not only by a supportive group of friends and family but also a supportive church community that includes many of those friends and family.
In Deuteronomy, Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you… You must listen to him.” I don’t pretend to be prophet but I do pray that my story will speak to you today and provide a reason for hope.
Mental illness is something we need to talk about. It does not go away on its own. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are in that pit looking up and wondering how you will ever get out, please reach out and talk with someone. If that person is me, then please pick up the phone and give me a call. You can find the church number on our website.
God doesn’t want you to live in the pit. God wants you to live the abundant life that he planned for you. You can’t change your past. What has happened has happened. It is part of who you are and it is part of the very fabric of your being. You can’t change your past but, with God’s help, we can change your future.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Thank you, Father God, for loving us when we are most unlovable. Give us love enough to love others as you have loved us. We thank you for your many blessings and the ways that you inspire us through the ordinary things of life. We thank you, on this day, for special things.
We give thanks for our special relationships with our families. There are those who support us and care for us. There are those with whom we share common blood lines, common names and common commitment. What a blessing these can be.
We remember, this day, our special friendships. May our friendships be strong, O God, that they may be a blessing to others. May our friendships be open, O God, that they may be a haven for others. May our friendships be gentle, O God, that they may bring peace to others, for Jesus’ sake.
There are those in midst, in our congregation or community who are struggling with mental health issues. Let us, as individuals and as a congregation, lift one another up for we never know when it may be our turn to be tested in the faith. Keep us strong in our love for one another.
We also pray for the sick of our congregation and community, those in need of healing. We lift up Richard, Bob and others who come to mind for us. You their needs, O God, and you can bring hope to any and every situation.
Bless us, O God, as we walk through these days. Bless us with hope and healing and forgiveness and grace. Enable us to live the abundant lives that you have planned for us. And help us also to enable those around us to live fully in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 31, 2021 / Epiphany 4
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
Great are the works of the Lord, worthy of honour and praise.
The love of God lasts forever.
Holy and awesome is the name of the Lord;
whose praise endures forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy and awesome is your name, O God. You are as mighty as the great pine forests and as gentle as a cooling evening breeze. You are as majestic as a bear standing on a snowy hilltop and as colourful as a rainbow in the summer sky. You give to those who honour you and keep the covenant of your making. The works of your hands are faithful and just. They stand forever and ever, grounded in justice and truth. Enter our worship and renew us by the power of your amazing Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to you with our prayers of confession. Despite our best efforts, there are times when we wander and fall short of your expectations for us. Our intentions are honourable but our actions are sometimes inadequate. Be patient with us, O God. Forgive us and offer us a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. In experiencing your forgiveness, enable us to forgive others. When our sisters and brothers fail to meet our hopes for them, give us your measure of grace and compassion that we may live in peace within your Creation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Sometimes, we are very hard on ourselves. We see our shortcomings and our sin and we realize just how flawed we can be. It is amazing to think that even when we are at our worst, God still loves us and desires to forgive us. That is the gift of grace given to us by Jesus Christ who is our Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Loving God, blessed be the hands that gave these gifts. Blessed be the hands that use them. Blessed be the power of Jesus’ name which gives us the courage to put all that we have to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.
With caring hands and watchful eyes may we leave this place. With loving hearts and open ears may we depart. With greater courage and firmer persistence, may we go into the world to be your people confident that you are with us.