“Called to be a Light to the Nations” Isaiah 49:1-7

We live in a world that is troubled.  Many people around the world live in abject poverty, injustice is prevalent, wars rage on in many countries, debilitated neighborhoods are within sights here at home, we have failing schools, illiteracy and disease plagues us, shrewd business people continue to exploit the unfortunate and the uninformed and sin and darkness continues to control peoples’ hearts. A midst these realities as God’s people we believe that God has a mission that we are called to. Like the servant in Isaiah 49, God has called as as agents of good news!.  We are on a mission from God to speak God’s word of salvation.

Things may look dire and hopeless but God still reigns. The realities may not seem promising in terms of the call of God as was the case with the servant who was discouraged and disappointed and felt that his “labor had been in vain and his strength spent on nothing and vanity” (v. 4). It is however interesting that at that point of defeat an epiphany moment occurred and the servant awoke to a new reality and saw new possibilities.

It was then that the servant acknowledged that this whole enterprise is not about him! He discovered that his strength was in the hands of the Lord (v.5) and as a consequence, his mission was not only to restore Israel, but “also to be a light for the Gentiles, and to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth”(v.6). What a moment of recon in the servant’s life and calling! What a moment in our calling as ministries of the church in this broken world!

We have noted that the Lord called the servant amidst terrible situations to be an instrument of hope and restoration for God’s people who had been exiled and that that restoration was also worldwide.  Their condition although different and distinct, bears some resemblance to our current context and like the servant whose obedience brought about redemption for God’s people, we have been called for God’s mission and our obedience to that mission will bring hope to the hopeless all around us and will inspire others to fulfill their own calling as well.

On Monday we commemorated Dr. M.L King Jr. who was inspired by God’s story of redemption. When he received his calling, things did not look good as we were reminded this week by pictures of the time and testimonials from freedom marchers that are still living. Dr King might have felt like the servant felt in Isaiah 49 and like perhaps some of us might feel in our respective ministry contexts in many ways but even more closely in the current debates in the Mennonite church USA and by extension world wide Mennonites.  I once 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 that we would be where we are today as a nation, 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 the servant’s ministry calling, Dr Kings’ and ours might have “mission impossible” signs written all over but like the servant in Isaiah 49 and all of us today under the inspiration and empowerment of God may we hear the call and be inspired by God’s story of deliverance to act on behalf of those who cry for liberation from all kinds of obstacles that impede human freedom and dignity. Along with other like-minded people like Dr King, may act on God’s call and perhaps others likewise may be inspired as well to rise up and joined the cause and see God’s salvation extend to the ends of the earth.

In spite of the realities around us, I believe that God has called us to be bearers of his light, which means darkness, will be dispelled as the light shines on. Dr. King looked around and saw injustice and his convictions about God’s vision of restoration compelled him to name the injustices for what they were and proclaimed God’s vision of freedom, which was not yet a reality amidst intense pressure to give up. We must learn to see as God sees and as the Lord moves us through the Holy Spirit, we must speak and embody that possibility in the world. God called the servant not only to restore Israel but also to be an agent so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  Salvation has been reduced to simply going to heaven when one dies.  The word is more comprehensive than that.

Christopher Wright defines it thus, “Salvation is holistic.  It touches the whole of life, the whole of human need.  It encompasses individuals and nations.  It addresses the depths of the human person and the breadth of human society.  It spans the realms of the physical and the spiritual; the past, the present and the future; the historical and the eternal; this life and the world to come.” (Salvation Belongs to Our God)

Jesus said, “as the father sent me so I send you” (John 20:21). Like the servant and like Dr King and many other witnesses past, God has called us as ministries of the North American Church and as individual Christians to be agents of God’s good news!  May we go forth and live out our calling and may God’s light shine in the darkness through us and as scripture assures us, darkness will not overcome! (John 1:5)


Presented at the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries (CIM)  Chicago, January 22, 2014


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