May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each of our hearts be acceptable to you this day, our Rock and our Redeemer. I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but all of our readings today were somehow connected to the idea of being called. We even carried on this theme in some of our music. And when something like this happens, I figure that there is a reason for it.
So let’s start by looking for a minute at the Isaiah text, which talks about an unknown servant. When I was in seminary, we spent a fair bit of time debating who this servant could be. In our reading, the servant is identified as Israel, but then, just a couple of verses later, God sends the servant TO Israel. And some of the confusion arises from different interpretations by scholars of different faith traditions, with Jewish scholars saying that it is obviously Israel, and Christian scholars – like John Calvin – saying that it just as obviously is a foreshadowing of Jesus. However, I think that we can easily get bogged down in details, and not see the bigger picture, which is directed at us.
For we, as individuals, and as a church, are also called and chosen. But do we listen? If we don’t, we are not alone. It is rare that any one person or any one institution listens the first time God calls us. We look around us, looking for hope, or for something that brings us hope, but we see instead a lack of response to the needs of the world. We see justice issues neglected; we see communities in our own country suffering from a lack of clean drinking water; we see children neglected and abused. And we cry out to God, “Why don’t you do something?” But God turns it back on us and says, “Why don’t YOU do something?”
In this season of Epiphany, we have begun a tipping of the Earth’s axis as the days are beginning to lengthen. This is not a surprise, as it happens every year. But we need to remember that Epiphany is, itself, a season of light which also brings with a sense of mission. We have talked a lot about the light of God, and this is the time when we need to let it shine. There is work to be done, and we are the ones who have to do it. Teresa of Avila said it much better than I can, when she wrote: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Like most of the people called, we resist. We resist for many reasons, but I think that the main reason we resist is that we don’t think we are worthy or capable. But I have often been told – and I believe I have mentioned it before – God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called. Each one of us has a mission, and each one of us will be equipped to fulfill that mission. All that God needs from us is willingness, willingness to be participants in his plan, willingness to do our small bit to make a difference. And the most wonderful thing is that, even if we don’t really believe in ourselves, even if we think that we are not able to do this, God believes in us.
In Isaiah, he said, “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 you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” And if that doesn’t give us confidence that he will make sure that we are able to do his work, then I don’t know what can do it.
God is calling us, not only to work among those who are here every Sunday, but to reach out to others, people whom we meet in our daily lives. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are to proselytize on street corners, but that we are to live as God’s chosen people every single day, not just for this one hour on Sunday morning.
We have a job to do. And not just the minister or the organist or the members of the Board and Session. Every one of us has been given a job by God, and many of us feel a little unsure about it. We think that we are not the right ones for whatever the job is. We think that God must be speaking to someone else. But I assure you that God knew what he was doing when he called you, just as he knew what he was doing when he called Isaiah, just as Jesus knew what he was doing when he called Andrew and Peter.
If you noticed in today’s Gospel, two of John’s disciples – unnamed at first – heard John say, “Look, the Lamb of God” when Jesus passed by, and they followed after him. When Jesus stopped and asked them what they wanted, they asked him where he was staying. Jesus replied, “Come and see.” And that is what he is saying to us. Come and see what he is all about. Come and see what he wants from us. Come and see what he will give us.
I am not saying that we have to be like John, who, when he saw Jesus, cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God. Nor do we have to be like Andrew who, when he saw Jesus and heard him speak, went to his brother Simon and said, “We have found the Messiah.” We don’t have to be like the people who come knocking on our doors, passing out tracts. We don’t even have to be like the person at work who quietly says grace before eating lunch – although I have to confess that I like that one. It is a quiet, unobtrusive way of living our faith so that others can see it.
But the thing is that we compare ourselves to Isaiah and to John and to Andrew and the other apostles, and we think that we fall short. Of course, we probably DO fall short, if we compare ourselves to these people.
But you know, when we die, God is not going to question why we were not as good as any of those people. He will more likely ask us if we were the best we could be where we were placed. And we are placed where we are because God believes in us. All we need to do is the same thing – to believe in ourselves. Whenever we have difficulty believing in ourselves, consider this. Consider the ones whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the first place. They weren’t the religious leaders of his time. Most of them were fishermen, uneducated, probably a little rough around the edges. One – Matthew – was a tax collector, surely one of the most hated people of his time. There was a zealot – Judas – who wanted to overthrow Rome, and who thought that this was why the Messiah came. Women followed Jesus – some of them good women, to be sure, but others were not. There was a woman who had had many husbands, and who was living with a man to whom she was not married, and she carried the news of the Messiah to her village. And Jesus trusted them to bring the good news to the world. Obviously, he chose the right people, because we are still sharing that good news today.
Let’s just think about them for a minute, these people whom Jesus chose. You see, scripture shows them just as they were – warts and all, to quote Oliver Cromwell. We see them misunderstanding Jesus, trying to make him fit their idea of a Messiah. And we ask ourselves how often we do the same thing – try to make God fit our idea of who a God is. The disciples often twisted Jesus’ words to suit themselves. In just the same way has the church used Scripture at different times to justify slavery, to prove that women should not preach. James and John sought their own glory, wanting to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand when he came into his kingdom. Sadly, we also do that. I will not give you any examples of this, as I am sure that you can think of them yourself. And worst of all, at least two of the disciples – two of his closest followers – betrayed him. And they all, except for one, deserted him in his last hours. We, too, when it is difficult to be a follower, often deny or betray or desert him. And yet, he chose us.
He chose us just as he chose them because he believes in us. He said that we are the light of the world, commissioned to bring the light to others. Remember that the light has overcome the darkness, and that we are charged to be the small light in a world which often seems full of darkness. Remember the Sunday School hymn – This Little Light Of Mine? We ARE that little light, and we can shine wherever we are. We can shine at home, in small ways. We can shine in this church, doing the various jobs that need to be done. We can shine where we work, living the life we are called to do and showing our light by example. We can shine wherever we are because that is why God made us and that is why we were called.
And the question I have is this. Are we going to do this? Are we going to shine? Andrew did, as did Peter, formerly known as Simon. James and John, the sons of thunder, did. Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus did, and the Samaritan woman by the well. Even the former Pharisee who used to be called Saul, shone. If we look through the New Testament, we will see some of the names of the people who shone then, and if we look around this church, we will see people who are shining now.
And the thing they have in common is the thing that we have in common. God called them, and chose them, and God believes in them. God called us and chose us and God believes in us. At some point in your own life, someone spoke to you about God. Maybe you can’t even remember who it was or when it happened. But someone was a light to your path, leading you to Jesus. Someone showed you that God believes in you. God believed in David – the youngest of his family, who became one of Israel’s greatest kings, despite his faults. God believed in Saul, who persecuted him and later became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. And God believes in each person here. God has a job for each one of us, and all we have to do is to listen to what he is saying.
We can be what God wants us to be, because we have been called and chosen. And that is the most wonderful thing of all. Thanks be to God.