Tuesday of Epiphany IV – Deuteronomy 18:15-20

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

In the late 1930’s George F. Kennan was posted to the U. S. Embassy in Moscow. He was a young, scholarly man who had been trained as an expert in Russian affairs. He was present for the purges by which Stalin solidified his power and terrorized the Russian people. But then World War II came along with an even greater and more threatening evil, Nazi Germany. Stalin and his Soviet armies became our allies. By war’s end, Kennan was the chief of operations at the embassy, managing the embassy on behalf of the ambassador and advising him on all things Russian. American sentiment after the war wanted to work with Stalin to build a better future. Kennan bleakly argued against it. Stalin would never cooperate for a goal which did not serve Stalin’s ends.

Kennan, because of long experience and knowledge, saw clearly what the rest of his own people could not. Stalin was a despot just as evil as Hitler. This is the prophetic role. We often imagine prophets to be people who have some dreamy vision of the future. Quite the contrary, they have a crystal-clear vision of the present and can see where things will lead. Israel was blessed with many of these prophets through its history: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Samuel just to name a few. But the greatest of them was Jesus, who saw with divine clarity that sin would not sever the person from God. He welcomed the sinners, forgiving them. He saw the false piety of the pharisees for what it was and spoke against those who abused the vulnerable. He was the prophet.

That same prophet Jesus speaks today. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23) In your baptism he has taken up residence in you, not just to be a buddy who warms your heart and makes you feel good, but to give you his clarity and the opportunity to speak his words. For you know, having been forgiven yourself, that sins are forgiven in Christ. They loom large before the terrified person, distorting their humanity, driving them to do still more. You know the truth; you can see it. Jesus has died for those sins. They are replaced with the very righteousness of Christ, the perfect obedience which he lived. Speak it. Be the prophet that Moses is talking about in these words.  

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