January 15, 2017

“Listen”

 

49 Listen to me, coastlands;
pay attention, peoples far away.
The Lord called me before my birth,
called my name when I was in my mother’s womb.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of God’s own hand.
He made me a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in God’s quiver,
    saying to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I show my glory.”
But I said, “I have wearied myself in vain.
I have used up my strength for nothing.”
Nevertheless, the Lord will grant me justice;
my reward is with my God.
And now the Lord has decided—
the one who formed me from the womb as his servant—
to restore Jacob to God,
so that Israel might return to him.
Moreover, I’m honored in the Lord’s eyes;
my God has become my strength.
He said: It is not enough, since you are my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the survivors of Israel.
Hence, I will also appoint you as light to the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

The Lord, redeemer of Israel and its holy one,
says to one despised,
rejected by nations,
to the slave of rulers:
Kings will see and stand up;
commanders will bow down
on account of the Lord, who is faithful,
the holy one of Israel,
who has chosen you.

“Who has chosen you.” Those words ring so loudly. Much like last week’s passage from Isaiah 60, this week’s passage from chapter 49 has the same epic quality to it. The same heroic nature and “against all odds” tone resonates throughout the later books of Isaiah, because, in all fairness, the chosen people had their backs against the wall and were slaves of multiple empires. When you live like that, you want that chosen one who will be the hero.

 

I think we need heroes today. We love them. I love them. Other than a couple here and there, I’ve probably seen every comic book movie that has come out in the past ten years. They speak to my nostalgia, as I am sure they do with many of you, but they also speak to a longing to feel like we matter.

 

In today’s world, it is easy to feel like we don’t matter. I look at the national scene, especially with so many decisions that will affect my life personally looming ahead, and feel a sense of helplessness. I often wonder, “what can I do to help?” Not just personally but also in my role as clergy and as a Christian. I wonder how I can bring Jesus to the world in ways that matter: caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, sheltering those out in the cold, offering hope to those who turn to vices to pass their day.

 

Then, I turn to Iron Man. If we could only get that one super smart billionaire to make clean, renewable energy and fight crime on the side. I get the feeling Bill Gates would pass on the opportunity. Or I look to Spider Man, where one kid in the wrong place at the right time uses awesome power and youthful naivety to save the city over and over. Maybe they speak to the sense of chosenness I long to feel and help me express it.

 

Could I – one person – really make an impact?

 

I imagine most people do not overly concern themselves with having lofty dreams of helping others, and truthfully, that’s a good thing. Lofty goals are only good for so many. We are a people in the billions. Doing good means doing good in a reasonable fashion. One accountant may not save the economy, but they can find flaws and miscalculations that affect one company. One farmer can innovate in a small way that gets translated into a new practice in farming over time. Ripple effects are the primary method for creating change.

 

Making small changes that inform and influence others is ultimately what the church is built on. We don’t need another messiah. The one we have simply cannot be beat. However, we must not let his awesomeness excuse us from embracing the call he placed on us. We are chosen, too. We do things in our community that help others discern how they can affect change in theirs.

 

Not every community needs a food bank, but I’m sure every community has some item of great need that does not come swiftly as it does in other places. When one church has a garden, another will have a playground for kids to play in safety, where another hosts 12-step programs. All of them start with the idea of, “we have space that can be useful,” but each uses that space depending on the needs of the community. All of those places are chosen by God to do good works but they respond based on discernment and listening.

 

As we walk on this journey of vision for our future, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions. The first is, “are we actually willing to embrace being chosen?” The second question is, “How much are we willing to do?” The third is, “What does our community need done?” All of these questions can and will be answered by God, but we have to listen first.

 

In every one of the hero movies, there is a moment when the hero has that “ah-ha” of the good their powers can accomplish. For us, it is not so easy. All of us have gifts, skills, and resources, and I am sure we all probably have different ideas about what to do with them or whether we do anything at all.

 

The step that will move us forward is probably the hardest thing that most of us do in our lives: stop talking.

 

We get so caught up in believing that the way of action is simply making a decision and doing something. God speaks to us when we listen, and sometimes, that takes a lot of silence and a lot of patience. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah gets so caught up in being in the presence of God that he completely misses God’s actual words. Through a fire and an earthquake, he cowers, but then God speaks in the aftermath, the silence.

 

It is easy to get caught up in the noise of life, but we are the chosen ones. We are called to be diligent and to wait for the arrival of God.

 

Today, we are going to practice silence in a big way. So rarely in our time together in worship do we practice silence, yet silence is where God speaks most. We do worship well, but it is a lot of talking – even in our times of prayer – that we don’t actually practice silence as a group.

 

[After the offertory and the hymn, we are going to do as we always do and celebrate the wonderful sacrament of Holy Communion, but with a twist. We are going to celebrate it in silence. Feel free to read along and to pray through the service. It is a prayer, after all. You are a community that will journey together. You will learn to pray together. You will be silent together.]

 

When God speaks, we will serve and celebrate together. You will experience the pure joy of loving God through the love of our neighbors. Let us take this time to listen and to pray in silence. Let your face and your actions be your words.

 

Amen and amen.