Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley
In my late father-in law’s house there were two sacred rituals of the day, watching Neighbours and then the weather forecast. The phone ringing at that time would be ignored, the pans could boil dry while he settled down to watch. He loved all the weather forecasters and indeed used to copy Michael Fish’s woolly jumpers, but above all he adored Sian Lloyd. She was to him a goddess and oracle. Sian was always right, and even if you were standing with him in a force ten gale, wet to the skin, he would always say stoutly that Sian had said it would be nice and that it would be, somewhere, sometime. With her lilting Welsh voice and battery of scientific charts, Sian made him feel that the future was predictable and safer.
We all like to feel that the future might be predictable. That if we only knew how to read the signs, then we could know how things would turn out. Waiting for events to happen, waiting to see how things unfold is terrible, and some times, when someone is ill, or there is a worrying situation, people turn to anyone who offers to tell what the outcome will be. And goodness me, people really want to know the future! As I have probably remarked before, the huge queues on a Sunday morning are not outside churches but outside psychic fairs. There, all kinds of crazy methods of prognostication are offered to those credulous enough to pay.
I suppose it has always been the same. False prophets vary in style over time but they have always been around. The traditional gypsy asking for their palm to be crossed with silver has been replaced by a numerologist. But the outcome is the same, false information about the future is offered and paid for. In the passage from the Old Testament, Jeremiah has been angered by people parading around as prophets, muddying the spiritual waters with false predictions. He uses this wonderful phrase that they “prophesy the delusions of their own minds”. This suggests that the “false prophets” didn’t mean to mislead but were misguided and dangerous. I suspect that it is the same with a lot of astrologers, the so called psychics of today. Many of them are genuinely good people who just want to feel important and be useful by making up predictions. They play upon the vulnerabilities of those who are feeling uncertain about their future, to the extent that they will believe anything.
For an age of agnosticism, people seem all too ready to
believe a lot of nonsense.
A really prime example of this credulousness is the modern
fashion for psychic investigation. In a pathetic attempt to fill the TV channels
there are hoards of ghost shows, where a motley crew of psychics, “sensitives”
and paranormal investigators gather in a so-called haunted venue. Nothing ever
happens… week after week, no-one sees a ghost, takes a picture of one, records
their voices. Nothing, Nada, zilch. Apart from some berk in a cravat going into
a kind of trance and making stuff up, nothing. Why do people go on watching?
Because, I believe, everyone knows in their hearts that they have a spiritual
dimension. There has been a decline in church-going; people are not encouraged
at home or in school to read the Bible; they are too idle go to church or to
pray, so they watch so-called ghost shows to find out if they have immortals
Three hundred years after the Age of Enlightenment, with all our scientific advances, why are people still throwing away good money to have their Tarot cards read? Because they can’t bear the uncertainties of human existence. Do people ever learn anything concrete from Tarot cards? The name of a Derby winner? Where Lord Lucan is? Whether Marconi shares will plummet? No, because if it worked, fortune tellers would all be riding around in sportscars! False prophets, useless predictions. Thousands of pounds each month are spent on psychic telephone lines, paid into the greedy hands of charlatans. Because people, especially at difficult times, long for certainties and outcomes.
We can’t know what will become of us. It is hard. But it is a fact of life. We have to live, not knowing if we will die before our partner. Not knowing if our child will be safe, back-packing in Thailand. Not knowing the outcome of the thousands of worries that we have in our lives. And despite the false prophets, there is still no satisfactory way of finding out what will be. We must live with our ignorance and place our trust in God. In the passage from Luke, Jesus is plainly impatient with those who wilfully miss the point about foretelling the future. We don’t know what will happen in the then, but we do know how to live the now. We have a set of guidelines on how to navigate human life, which tell us how to live good lives, how to interact with our fellow humans and how to serve God. Forget what will happen, what may happen! Do not let that distract from the realities of your spiritual journey. Read the Book, follow the instructions! Although following the Christian Way is challenging: the truth isn’t mysterious or veiled. The principles are embodied in Jesus and the life He lived: love God and love each other. And the truth is tried and tested. Those who have gone before us, Paul calls them the “cloud of witnesses”, have lived the Way, have tested the method, have suffered, have prayed and have loved God and been loved by God. They have lived lives worthy of our respect and are worth copying. These wise good people died in the faith that they would continue in the light of God’s love. It takes effort, discipline and thought to live the Way of Christ, but Jesus is a certainty that we can cling to and His life and death gives us a future worth having.