The Pas Epiphany + 2 & Confession of Peter
15 January 2017
Psalm 40 pg 755
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
you have enriched and enlightened us
by the revelation of your eternal Christ.
Strengthen us to walk the path of his teaching,
so that by word and deed and in the power of the Spirit
we may manifest the gracious news of your faithfulness and love. Amen.
Have you ever had one of those weeks? One of those days, when it feels like absolutely nothing ever stops, and you feel like you’ve not been able to move forward in your constant ‘to do list,’ much less in the work of the Call that God has put into your hands, into your life?
I can honestly say this has been one of those weeks for me.
My normal schedule, what I can call a ‘normal schedule’ is to begin on Tuesday and carry on to mid-afternoon on Saturday. In that time, I’m working on today’s service, next weeks’ service, todays message, the activities we’ve decided to conduct throughout the week, and responding to the telephone when it decides to intercede in the day.
On top of that, there are meetings in the community, hospital visiting, and meeting with members of the parish that I’m able to fit in to the open spaces in my calendar, whether you come to me at the church, or I meet with you in the community. In addition to all of this I strive to exercise several times in the week, and Tuesday is one of the days I aim for to try to get in about 15-30 minutes of exercise, if possible.
There is also the never-ending stream of parish administration which our part-time secretary and our wardens attempt to help with, but some days it doesn’t even feel like it slows down enough for us to catch up.
It can feel like one day has the ability to blend into the next, and throughout all of this my constant activity is to discern God’s will not only for my life, but for the betterment of the church, every day.
For some reason, this week, things felt like a whirlwind of circumstances, and events, and for some reason, on Thursday morning the telephone truly did not stop ringing. I honestly felt I was being pulled in so many directions that the only way to figure out which way was ‘up’ would be to drop something and that would determine, ‘down’. I had a meeting over the noon hour, followed by some others throughout the afternoon, and I’m told that for the time I was away from the church office phone it never even rang once.
In fact, I didn’t even get a chance to review the readings for today until late afternoon on Thursday – a truly unusual experience, although not completely isolated, in my time amongst you to date.
And what I read from Isaiah for today resonated so clearly with the way the day, the world was working this week, that I stopped reading there, and I began to focus on what Isaiah is saying, what God is saying, today.
Not only to me, but to each one of us, because for as much as I am able to lament the stress of the feeling of such non-stop activity days in my life, I know I’m not the only one who has such days, such weeks, such experiences.
The reading from Isaiah, for today tells us of the frustrations that Isaiah is feeling in regards to feeling ineffective in carrying out his call from God. His call to be God’s prophet to Israel, to bring back the people of Israel to their homeland, if not today, then someday. To give them the hope that one day, God’s will, will be restored in the lives of the Israelites, and the people will one day be restored to Israel, too.
He says “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.” (Isa 49:4a)
He’s been talking proclaiming, doing what God has called him to do from the time of his conception, and he feels that it hasn’t gone in any way that can at all be called successful.
But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. He tells us: “And now the Lord says … ‘it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” (Isa 49: 5a, 6)
His call is expanded from just the children of Israel to the whole known world. To spread the love of God, the expectation that God is interacting with all of creation, not just in Isaiah’s day, not just in the pages of the gospels, but today, as well.
In the meantime, Isaiah has been saying to God, I’ve got too much on my plate, I’m not able to be effective in anything you’ve given me to do, and this isn’t fair to me, to God, or even to God’s people.
Yet, God’s response is to expand the call that Isaiah is living out, to not just the Israelite people, but to the wider world, to the Gentiles as well.
Now in saying this, Isaiah knows that God’s people are scattered across the Babylonian empire. That they’ve been enslaved, at this point, for more than one generation. Yet God still sends Isaiah out amongst them to prophesy their return to Israel, to give them the words of hope that they need to not give up, to be able to look toward the future with the ongoing hope that the Messiah will come, one day. That the future is bright and positive and they’re a part of it, we’re a part of it. There is a light at the end of that tunnel, and it’s God’s light for all of Israel, for all of creation.
But now Isaiah’s focus isn’t just to the Israelites, who are shown to be living in darkness, outside of the generosity of God, but the rest of us as well, those of us who are considered outside the original covenant.
We are the Gentiles of biblical tradition, you and me, and especially those who’ve never yet heard of Isaiah and his prophesies. We, too, are able to anticipate the Messiah in and for our lives, in and for our hearts. We, too, are able to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and recognize that it emanates from God’s love.
For generations, the book of Isaiah has been seen as a precursor, a hint of Jesus, and his ministry amongst us. At the same time, experts, those whose careers focus on the interpretation and the understanding of the bible’s books, call this passage a ‘Servant Song’, one of the three such passages in the book of Isaiah that can be seen to be God reaching out and calling. In these passages, we can see God calling Isaiah, calling Jesus, calling you and me to the work that takes place around us.
Called to the work of healing God’s creation, of spreading the love, the hope of God for all people, spreading the knowledge that God loves us, right down to our toenails, to the ends of the earth.
When we, like Isaiah, tell God “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all,” (Isa 49:4a) perhaps we are truly tired, bone tired, and we are not seeing what God sees when he looks at our efforts, at our work in God’s name.
The gospel, today, shows Jesus emerging from his temptations in the wilderness, and his first followers coming to him. We see people who have dropped everything in their lives to follow Jesus, to learn what he is able to teach them, teach each of us, about God’s love. And at this stage, perhaps they’re wondering what it is the Messiah will do for Israel, for the plight of the Israelite people, under Roman occupation.
Perhaps, these first followers of Jesus , also, at some point in their lives as the first leaders in the Christian faith, look back on their efforts to follow where God leads, and echo Isaiah’s words, Isaiah’s frustration at not feeling effective in the Call God has given to each one of us.
At the same time, God still today, doesn’t easily take our frustration to heart. God doesn’t allow our frustration to stop the work God has in teaching us of God’s love.
Sure, I have days when I don’t feel I accomplish anything monumental. There are also some days that I don’t feel I accomplish anything at all.
I’m able to feel beaten down by the humdrum of the tasks at hand. At the same time, I, like Isaiah, have given my life to following where God leads, and this is where God has led me to be, to serve, to follow in the same way that Isaiah serves and follows. So, when Isaiah tells us, tells God, that he’s been ineffectual in accomplishing what God has asked him to do – to proclaim hope, I can understand that feeling, on those particular days, as well.
Like everyone, there are good days and bad days, yet this call, for me, for you, isn’t something that is easily walked away from, in life. As Isaiah says “he who formed me in the womb to be his servant I am honoured in the eyes of my Lord and my God has been my strength.” (Isa 49:5)
Isaiah knows that all of life is in God’s hands. He knows that God gives us the talents and the tasks of our days, of our lives. Talents and tasks that encourage us to return to God for rest and refreshment, for ‘recharging’, if you will. Talents and tasks that encourage us to bring God’s love to the whole world.
Isaiah is tasked, originally, to bring Israel the hope of tomorrow, the hope that a life of slavery in Babylon won’t last forever. He brings the hope that God will send the Messiah not just for Israel but for the benefit of all who believe.
And we can see this in today’s passage from Isaiah. God says “it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isa 49:6)
Where we see problems, defeat, lack of progress toward what we see as the tasks we are given by God, God sees as ‘small potatoes’ and gives us more. God sees so much more than we are able to see.
Where we are feeling defeated by the circumstances around us, God desires us to use more influence, reach more people, share more of Jesus teachings, and God’s love, not just today, but every day. Not just amongst our membership, but with the wider community. Not just in northern Manitoba, but across the world.
In the idea that this is a Servants Song, a call to our hearts and lives to serve God as we are able, as we are equipped by our call and God’s need, we can see Jesus reaching beyond the people of Israel to reach those whose hearts are open to receiving God’s message of love.
Isaiah tells us “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” (Isa 49:4b)
We are not alone, in the good and in the bad days of our lives. We are in the company of Isaiah, Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and everyone else who has heard this call to servanthood that Isaiah proclaims, today, that God declares to the world and with all who have shared and continues to share the love of God with all the world.