“Call and Response”
We serve a God who calls things that are not yet seen into being. This God spoke into a formless void at creation and called forth light out of darkness. This God whom we know as God of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca and Israel continues to speak into our lives and is present with us in special ways.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were made to feel worthless and beat down due to circumstances and situations in your life? Well, Israel was in that kind of hopeless situation; they were in exile and homeless. Their call and vocation was in serious doubt if not out right dead. In the midst of this seemingly dark tunnel of life, God showed up and called a servant. This servant spoke the unspeakable under those kinds of circumstances; he spoke on behalf of God, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).
But before we proceed let, us also make note that the servant who was now speaking had experienced his own discouragement and had suspected that his “labor had been in vain and his strength spent on nothing and vanity” (v. 4). We see however that he quickly came to acknowledge that his fate and that of Israel was in the hands of the Lord who had honored them and was indeed their strength. We do not know how he got there only that he acknowledged that fact. The Lord called Israel from the hopeless situation back to him that he might gather them to himself. They were not only being redeemed from their terrible reality, they were also being set apart for a mission. Their obedience to the mission would be far reaching because as a result of their obedience, hope would be given to the hopeless and others would be inspired to fulfill their own calling as well. We have a wonderfully written mission statement, “Loving God, Loving people, Living as Disciples.” The mission is clear but how are we going to embody this mission is not yet clear.
On Christmas Eve, I led us in some reflection on the theme of the light of God coming to shine forth through the darkness we live in. During advent, we anticipated the coming of this light and at Christmas we read from prophet Isaiah that people who lived in darkness have seen a great light. Sunday holds much promise in community, as it is also the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It seems rather fitting to be dealing with the words of the servant and the struggles to accomplish the work of ministry. The on-going struggle for justice, the epidemic of violence in our society, which became evident in the senseless killing that took place the previous Saturday in Arizona that took the life of many people including the life of a little girl demands some response form the church. But how do we respond?
I could not help but see Dr. King’s story as an example for us. When he sensed his calling, the reality looked completely impossible much like the Servant in Isaiah 49. I listened to a speech given by Ambassador Andrew Young at Duke Divinity School, which I will simply paraphrase here. He said that had someone told Dr. King where the nation would be today, he would have simply said, “son go on out and loosen your tie, get some air, eat some food and rest a while.” In other words the conditions under which his ministry calling and location was was an impossible one but he heard the call and acted on that call and others saw their responsibility as well and rose up and joined the cause and we as a society have made great progress since then even though the journey is far from over. Poverty still persists and injustice continues, bad neighborhoods abound, shrewd business people continue to exploit the unfortunate and the uninformed etc but we are making progress. A day like tomorrow ought to remind us about our own sense of call and we need to name concrete and specific ways we are preparing to live our calling.
God’s plan requires our willingness to be participants in the world around us. What is the message that we bring for this Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Dr. King looked around and saw injustice and his convictions about God’s vision compelled him to name the injustice and to proclaim what was possible but was not yet a reality. Because of this prophetic pronouncement and the courage to live it out, Jessica and I don’t only hold hands, but share our life together in marriage for almost a decade. We must learn to see as God sees and as the Lord moves us through the Spirit, we must speak and embody that possibility in our net yet world.
Psalm 40:6 proclaims, “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Then there is a proclamation of “glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; … God’s new song in our lives…of God’s steadfast love.” The worshippers here are challenged to awaken to God’s larger vision, and imagine those persons with whom they are called to share God’s vision in our hurting and broken world.