Engaging Service

Posted on 21 Jan 2020


Engaging Service
{Read Isaiah 49:1-7}


This scripture passage seems like a bit of a doozy. For a bit of context, we’re in
the second portion of the book of Isaiah. The Israelites have been exiled to Babylon.
They want to go home, be reunited with those who’ve been scattered, and rebuild their
temple. They are wondering if they still belong to God. They’re wondering how to
worship God. They are feeling low, separated, and alone. They need a word of hope.
This text does have a word of hope, for them and for us. It also has a word of challenge,
after all being a servant of God is no easy thing.

What does it mean to be a worker for God? To be a servant of the Lord? What
does it look like? What does it feel like? Well, the prophet Isaiah has something to say
about that. The prophet paints a picture for us here. It’s not the only time Isaiah gives us
an idea of what it means to be a servant of the Lord. It’s not the only time Isaiah paints a
picture for us about servant-hood. Keep in mind that a servant is defined as a person in
service of another so as a servant of God, we’re thinking about what it means to be in
service of God. We’re thinking about what it means to be helpful, to be useful to God
and as disciples this is what we’re all called to do. It’s what we’re all called to be. When
we seek to follow God’s way in the world, we seek to be of service to the one who
created us in love and calls us by name.

If you break down this passage which may seem a little tricky to understand at
first read, it tells us several things about being a servant of the Lord. We can do a bit of
translating here to bring this poetry down to the ground and into our lives. So, here’s my
very loose translation: Listen up, all people, far and wide, the prophet says. The servant
of God was called before time, before birth still in a mother’s womb. God has a great
purpose for this servant and God will be glorified through this servant. This servant has
been polished like an arrow and God is keeping that arrow back in God’s quiver ready
for the right time, the right place, and the right call. When that arrow is let loose, the
servant will have some words to share and work to do. The servant, though, will feel as
though their work is in vain. Days of working for good will not pay off. Hard work on
behalf of God will feel like vanity. The servant will be discouraged and feel defeated yet
confident in God. And when the servant is feeling defeated and discouraged, God
comes back and says, “Guess what? The thing I called you to do in the first place? It’s
too small. I’ve got much bigger things in mind! It’s too small a thing for you to restore the
nation of Israel. I want you to be a light to the nations. My message is going global and
you’re going to be the one to share it.” It’s also mentioned here that the one working for
the Lord will be hated, misunderstood, despised by those in authority and maybe others.
The last promise in this passage, is the big one. One day, everything will be made right.
Rulers and authorities and those with all the power will bow down before the Lord. We
don’t know when that will happen, though, and the text doesn’t give us a clue. So, being
a servant of the Lord means being chosen, feeling useless, being called to something
even greater, being hated and despised, all the while confident in God’s purposes. The
one working for God isn’t guaranteed an easy time of it. The one working for God
doesn’t receive thanks or glory or accolades. The one working for God will be
challenged and discouraged and unsure. Who is ready to sign up?

The thing of it is, we are all this servant figure. We are, all of us, doing God’s
work in this world and we are called to it. And maybe we are in tune with God’s call in
our lives and a have a clear vision of what that is. Maybe we aren’t quite sure yet how
our particular gifts and shortcomings will be used for God’s purposes in this world. The
image that has stayed in my mind all week is this image of a polished arrow in God’s
quiver. Did you notice that bit from Isaiah’s words? The worker of God is a polished
arrow in God’s quiver, ready to be used by God in whatever way God sees fit. That’s
you and me. Polished arrows. Prepared and ready to do God’s work in this world.
Prepared by God with words to speak and gifts to share and all of who God has created
us to be ready for service. Ready to participate in God’s redemptive work.
The call of this particular servant in the context of Isaiah is to bring back the
scattered exiles of Israel. It’s to restore the people to one another, to their homeland,
and to God. It’s a call of reconciliation and restoration and healing. You and I may not
feel ready or equipped for such a call but we are assured that, whatever the call, the
Lord has made us ready and is continually equipping us. I wonder what it would be like
for each of us to live and move in this world with the confidence that God has made us
for a purpose and that God is preparing us for the work of reconciliation and restoration.
I think it would make a difference. I think we wouldn’t discount ourselves as much as we
do or worry about what others think as much as we do. I think maybe we’d stop
comparing ourselves to others and have a good grasp on our particular gifts. The
difficult days, which are sure to come, are much easier to bear when we are confident in
God. Someone said to me this week that they can’t imagine living a life without a sense
of God’s purpose. They wouldn’t want to live that way. I don’t think I would either.

Scripture is filled with stories of people who felt ill equipped and unsure, not good
enough and unprepared and yet God called them into God’s story to bring about justice,
healing, reconciliation, and restoration. They may not have had an easy time of things.
They probably faced struggle and challenge along the way. When we are chosen for
something whether it’s a spot on a team or a promotion at work or any new venture, it
comes with responsibility and it requires hard work. I know we’d rather the road be easy.

I know we’d rather feel ready and good enough and good at before we are called but
that doesn’t seem to be the way of our God. God uses our strengths and our
weaknesses because God brings about good from both. Every time we say ‘yes’ to God,
we are stepping out in faith and trusting that in the One who calls us and claims us and
names us before we are born. There will be difficult days. Sometimes it will feel like all is
for nought and all is in vain. Even on those days, it is my hope that we can trust in the
promises of God that our laboring is not in vain. Our hard work and our sacrifice and our
struggle is not for nothing. It’s not always easy and we may not always be around to see
the end result. We may plant seeds of restoration and peace and they blossom long
after we’ve moved on. We continue planting anyway and we stay attuned to God’s spirit
ready to go where God leads.

The prophet reminds us here that God always has something more in mind. God
is always moving forward and calling us forward, too. It’s too light a thing, the prophet
says, for the servant to restore Israel. That’s small potatoes. It’s not insignificant but it’s
not all there is. God’s vision is bigger and includes more and more people and places.

Just when we think we’ve accomplished the goal. Just when we think we’re done and
can take a minute. God says, no, no. I’ve got something more for you. My message is
going global and you’re going to be the one to share it. It’s understandable for us to limit
God’s call. It’s understandable for us to limit ourselves. God never does. So many
endings for us are really just the beginning of something else. So many accomplished
goals are the precursor for something more. Just when we think we’re finished, God
continues to call us and polish us and equip us to be a light to the nations. You see, it’s
never about us on our own. God certainly brings healing and restoration and peace in
our own lives, families, communities, churches but God doesn’t stop there. We are
healed and restored and fortified so that we can then go outside of ourselves to shine
that light for others. Here’s what’s next, says the Lord. God’s purposes are not for one
nation or one people, one group or one tradition but for the whole world.

What we do here at Decatur Presbyterian Church isn’t just for us. It’s not for the
preservation of our way of doing things or the preservation of ourselves. Always, we are
called out. Always we are to look outside of these doors and outside of these walls.
There are many places of hurting and injustice, conflict and despair. We are called to
those places whether they’re here amongst ourselves or in our own families or down the
street or around the world.

We are called time and again to look outside of ourselves. We are called time
and again to go out…into the community, into the world, into places we don’t know. “I will
give you as a light to the nations”, says the Lord. Where is God calling to you to share
good news of reconciliation, healing, and restoration? Where is God calling you to shine
some light and share God’s love? You can start small. You can start in your own family,
with your own friends, at school or work, and in your own neighborhood. Stay open,
though, to the places you may be called to go and to the people you may be called to
reach. There will be hard days. You will encounter challenge and opposition and
misunderstanding. You will have set backs. We are promised, though, that all will be
made right. That monarchs and rulers, powers and authorities will one day bow down
because of the Lord. In these days it feels as though things are a little bit darker
than usual. Light can be hard to come by. I had the privilege of stepping in this week to
facilitate our FIRL groups and I asked them where they’ve seen light recently. American
firefighters deployed to Australia, they said. Food being dropped from airplanes for the
animals there, they said. In the example of other members of this church, they said. In
finding a permanent residence for a person with no home and in our children, they said.
In newborn babies and in those we love finding their way in the world. In chosen
families of all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen light lately. I see when young people, risking
ridicule and threat, stand up for what they believe in whether it be gun control or
women’s rights or climate change or the rights of LGBTQ persons. They have more
courage than I do. I see light when the church sets a larger table and chooses to live in
faith rather than fear. I see light when we own up to the ways in which we have hurt
people and say ‘we got it wrong.’ I see light when people of privilege step aside for
those without privilege. I see light when black and brown bodies are treated with dignity
and respect. Where do you see light? Where can you shine light? That’s our call,
servants of the Lord. God is equipping you and calling you and sending you out. What
does it mean to be a worker for God? It means shining light in the dark places of the
world, it means risking ridicule and maybe even threat, it means there will be difficult
days, it means standing ready when God isn’t finished and it means that God will be
glorified. You are a servant of the Lord, a polished arrow, called for a purpose before
you were born.

Rev. Alex Rodgers

Assoc. Pastor for Faith Formation and Congregational Care

Decatur Presbyterian Church