Called to be a Light to the Nations - Epiphany II
Lord, may the words of my Mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you - our strength and saviour - Amen.
Listen to Me!
Pay Attention you peoples!
A little startling, perhaps….But I think effective?
Well, I do apologize to those of you that were looking for a quite, contemplative worship service - But this is how our Old Testament passage starts out
And God through the prophet Isaiah wants to makes sure His message is heard
Twice - we are instructed… no, commanded to listen and be attentive in our listening
Why you may ask why is our attention so important?
Why is God so forcefully trying to makes sure we are not napping in our pews?
Simply put God is going to tell us about our purpose - the reason for the church
And God is going to do it in a timeless fashion
Or should I say in a manner that transcends time
It is a message that was relevant to the Hebrew people in living in exile over 2 ½ millennium ago
It was relevant to the first Christians 2 millennium ago, who saw; in Isaiah’s prophecy; the messianic fulfillment in the person of Jesus of Nazareth
And it is relevant to every church community ever since
IT IS - nothing other then - God’s call and mission for His people
And it is an ideal message for this Epiphany season
So … Listen to Me! ....Pay Attention you peoples!
It starts out similar to other CALL narratives
Isaiah’s explains in a way similar to Jeremiah, Amos, Moses, St. Paul …and of course Jesus
That God had a purpose for him and by extension all of Israel
A purpose that was set out before he was born, while still in his mother’s womb
I say ‘by extension all of Israel’ because the passage slips between the first person in Isaiah and the whole nation repeatedly,
and from that the message is clear - that we are to see ‘the message for one’ to be ‘a message for many’
To help understand this message I would like to break the text into two parts:
First - What does the text tells us about the present situation of Isaiah/ Israel/ the church
The church - the people of God - the new Israel - terms can be used interchangeably
Second - And what does God’s word call God’s people to do!
… First - The present situation for the people of God:
To God’s chosen people - God says that he is all knowing, all powerful and sets the agenda for the world
“called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me”
God’s agenda includes involvement in forming us, preparing us, giving us the gifts that we will need to serve out God’s will
“He made my mouth like a sharp sword”
“he made me a polished arrow”
God is our protection, and the timing is all God’s
“in the shadow of his hand he hid me”
“in his quiver he hid me away”
In God’s plan - we are the hands and feet in this world - We are called to gather the faithful
“Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him”
When we strive for ‘our plans’… our efforts, are revealed for what they are
“But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”
The people’s salvation is a gift from God
“I will give you… my salvation”
God is faithful and comes to people in their times of struggle - in fact at a high point of frustration
“the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers”
In the midst of this message telling us a great deal about the present situation of ‘the people of God’ - and revealing a great deal about who God is
- God’s vision for His people is expanded with a startling message
- our second part: What God’s word is calling God’s people to do!
I think the timing of this message is incredible
God has placed this “reason for the church” at ‘this time of the year’
The time when churches all over the world are considering their plans for the upcoming year
The beginning of the calendar year
The start of planning for the year ahead
And in our Anglican tradition - it is ‘the time of year’ for vestries
Annual meetings that consider - budgets, financial planning, staffing, ministries of the church and missions from the church into the world
…And it is in this time of year that we have God’s call to His people
To this - God says
“Listen to me - pay attention you peoples”
“Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, - who has chosen you.”
He says,… “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
GOD’S CALL - through Israel / God’s people (spread over the world) - to all the nations
This ‘call to action’ is none other then: The Great Commission
Jesus Christ’s parting words - after the cross - after the resurrection - after the comforting appearances and fine-tuning of discipling / teaching
The moment before accession - Jesus instructs us of the same message that Isaiah prophesized centuries before - - St Mark records Jesus’ words:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”
Or if you like the Gospel of Matthew’s version better
“Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God reverses their predicament
Both the people in Isaiah’s time - in exile soon to return to the Promised Land
And the people in the time of the Lord’s earthly incarnation under occupation by the Romans
reverses their predicament ‘of being under other nations’
And calls them to be for all nations
That “it is too light a thing” to be only for themselves
And brothers and sister in Christ - “it is too light a thing” - for us too
The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, among the most influential theologians of the 20th century, is credited for saying:
“The church is the only institution on earth that exist for those that are not yet in it”
Such is God's will for us - yes first to be transformed into his image, to be made holy.
And it is not just our church-life that should be transformed: but our family, work, social, political and recreational life.
And when we live the truth we are "a light for the Gentiles."
We can only pray that God will help us pull our heads out of our...navels,
- look around, and see a world in need of what we have to offer as God's hands and feet on earth
The Church is not a business - but a tool for God’s ministry in the world
Fred Pratt Green writes in a Hymn “When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door, lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer, may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware that the world we banish is our Christian care.”
Today the first day of: ‘the week of Christian unity’ - may we be unified to God’s Epiphany
God’s revelation and gift to the whole world
And may we - as we cast a vision for the upcoming year’s ministry
Strive to fulfill the Great commission - trusting that our Lord is “with you always, to the end of the age”
….Looking with Epiphany eyes - Amen