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Called as a Light to the Nations

Notes & Transcripts

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?

                                    (long pause)

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 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!

… so, First - The present situation for the people of God and we will look at it in an expanded or amplified view of the passage from Isaiah:

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”

There is a word of caution against when we strive for ‘our plans’… our efforts – they are revealed for what they are:

            “But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”

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”

This message reveals a great deal about God’s relationship with us, and therefore it is revealing about us, our identity and purpose… and about who God is…

We are called – equipped and gifted by God – In God’s timing – God’s representatives – in partnership with God – cared for by God

This all builds and leads into our second part, which I am sure for those that think of God as all powerful, living somewhere in the clouds in charge of everything and we are merely the created people – This second part is a startling message:

It is: What God’s word is calling God’s people to do!

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) –is 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 Matthew records Jesus’ words:

“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.”

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 tradition - it is ‘the time of year’ for the Annual General Meeting

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

 

God reverses the 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."

I want to tell you a story about when I first started to take my faith seriously

            When I was 13 and went to confirmation classes, with all the other 13 year olds at the church

                        I was awaked to the greatness of our God

I was transformed by God’s love, as told to me in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus – for all of us … and I was awakened in that moment… that it was for me… I was personally convicted of God’s love for me…                                    Well like every other evangelist before me

I did what everyone else does when they come to that awareness

I went about telling everyone about what the bible has to say – I told perfect strangers about Jesus Christ

When I was at school at lunch-time I would gather my friends around me and I would share the gospel message… and they would ask questions and I would proclaim the truth…

…Well, I said I was going to tell you a story… and that is precisely what that was

            It never happened like that at all

I was never a bold young evangelist with the burning desire to share my new-found relationship with God and share the Gospel

My true story is a lot more simple than that – I was raised in loving home by two Christian parents and I have always been a believer, and I have never, until the call to ordained ministry and then only once trained in seminary, only then do I remember verbally sharing the gospel – and generally in safe, familiar and comfortable settings

        But that image of the embolden evangelist is a strong image – and for many of us a really scary one

                  We don’t want to meet up with anyone like that and we certainly don’t want to become one

So the message for today is for many of us an intimidating one – Evangelism for many is the “E” word

 

Yet it is clearly our duty - God, through the prophet Isaiah, is telling us that “it is too light a thing” that we should be just for the building-up of ourselves alone

God is telling us that evangelism has always been God’s strategy

And we are God’s hands and feet – and our territory is all around

Jesus says “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10:16)

Rest assured that there are many ways to witness to the Gospel

Today – after worship – we have a Ministry Fair – and I hope that everyone will be able to come downstairs, enjoy a coffee or tea and sandwich and see the wonderful depth and breadth of the ministries that Farringdon is involved in

            Many ways in which we can live out – in word or in deed… the Gospel

For some committees it is building a strong foundation, which this church community of worship has a great deal to offer for those interested

For others, it is ministries that are open to the wider community

All are gifts from God for God’s people, yet by our hands, and our feet, and our mouths

So… “Listen to me - pay attention you peoples” - look around, and see a world in need of what we have to offer as God's hands and feet – God’s agents in the world

                  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 may we be unified to God’s Epiphany

The Light revealed - God’s 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” - Amen

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