Commentary for January 16, 2011
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Isaiah 49 is related directly to Isaiah 42, the lection for last Sunday; both passages regard “the Servant” — here named Israel — who is called by God for the purpose of becoming a “light to the nations, that [God’s] salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:6)
Who is this servant? Various commentators posit that the servant is the nation of Israel, or the prophet Isaiah, or a prophet who would come later…or, the Chosen One of God, the Messiah. Within Isaiah’s text, at various times all of the above are reasonable assumptions. More than likely, the compilers of the lectionary intend for us to read the latter option, especially on this Sunday when we follow the baptism of Jesus with more testimony from John about the role of God’s choosing Christ for this very purpose.
(One may read the comments of Brevard Childs, Isaiah, Old Testament Library, Westminster John Knox, 2001, pp. 383 ff., for an overview of the various interpretations of the Servant in Isaiah.)
A note of interest: both John and Jesus were “named in the womb” and set apart for the work of God. They are, in a very real sense, both faithful servants of the LORD. To follow the naming imagery in baptism from last week, how are we called by God, set apart and named, even while we are still “in the womb?”
I always enjoy preaching a sermon from this psalm text, one that I have entitled “When Your Life is the Pits.” A great time to realize that when God says God’s presence will be with us everywhere, that means EVERYWHERE (pits included!)
Notice that God’s mercies are “multiplied” in v. 5; the word carries the connotation of “exponential increase.” God’s wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us pile up in a hurry. Think for a moment about the effect of multiplying the number 2 by itself 10 times (2 x 2 x 2 x 2, etc…the answer is 1,024) as compared to adding the number 2 to itself 10 times (the answer is 20.) I like the exponential blessing of God!
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
As Christ has been called by God, we are called, as well. God not only calls us to know Christ and to serve in the ministry of his grace…God also equips (enriches) us “with speech and knowledge of every kind.” (v.5) There is no situation that God ever calls us to that we will not be “gifted” (v. 7) and “strengthened” (v.8) to encounter.
Based — at a minimum — on his encounter with Jesus at his baptism, John gives testimony about his ministry as the “Lamb of God.” This Lamb will do no less than take away the sin of the world. No small feat, that!
Face it…there’s a LOT of sin in the world! An old gospel song says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” If you did the same thing for counting the many sins of the world, you’d be counting for a very long time, don’t ya’ think?
(Try it…just mull over your own sins during the past week or so…or, if you prefer, go ahead and insert the sins of your favorite target like the US Congress, the President, the right-wing nut-jobs, the left-wing wackos…you get the idea!)
John’s simple, unabashed statement is: “This one, this sacrificial lamb who will be led to the slaughter…well, he’s going to take away the sin of the world.” Doesn’t really say how, why, or when — just that he’s going to do it. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Later in the passage, when Andrew and an unknown disciple I like to call “player to be named later” try to ask Jesus about this striking news, the best they can come up with is, “Um, so where are you staying while you’re in town?”
And I love, love, love Jesus’ response: “Come and you will see.” He doesn’t really try to explain all that’s going on, either…no discourse on substitutionary atonement or the theology of the cross…just, “Come on along, boys, and you’ll learn all about it.”
We come to know Jesus as Savior of the world as we follow. It takes a while. Like the first disciples, we have to see it to believe it (and even then, we still struggle to understand.)
Of course, for Andrew, it didn’t seem to take too long. He becomes forever the example of the enthusiastic evangelist as he goes to find his brother and tells him the good news: “We have found the Messiah, the one spoken of by Deutero-Isaiah!” (Just kidding about that last part– wanted to see if you’re still with me!) But tell him, he does.
What is our responsibility and privilege for telling the good news? Dr. Chilton offers some helpful insights in today’s sermon.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Mrs. Gammons was a shy, quiet, reserved woman. With her graying hair done up in a stiff, 60’s updo and wearing a simple gray or blue dress, she looked a lot like Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show.
Mrs. Gammons suffered patiently the indignities heaped upon her by a rather uninterested and unruly gang of farm boys. We hid stray cats and dogs under her desk and threw tiny spit-balls into her hair when she had her back turned to write on the board.
And, miracle of miracles, week after week, she came back to try again.
She had no particular talent for the job; she had never read a book on Christian Education, nor had she ever been to a teacher’s workshop.
She just came in each week and took the roll, putting a Gold Star beside our name for attendance, Bible brought, offering given,and memory verse learned.
After the paperwork was completed, the lesson began.
This went on for 45 minutes or so, and then we were done — mercifully for us and, I imagine, for her. But sometimes we finished early, before the bell, and she would just stare at us with the look of someone who wished to be someplace, any place, else.
She would look up at the ceiling, as if by wishing she could make the bell ring, then she would look at us, and sigh, and THEN:
She would sigh again, and begin haltingly, in her gentle soft voice, to tell us about Jesus. She told us about how much he meant in her life, about what a loving, kind, gentle and comforting presence He had been for her in times of hurt and sorrow.
She talked about how Jesus challenges us, dares us, leads us and helps us to be better people; better in how we treat others, and better in how we treat ourselves.
This was during the 60’s and while many others in our community were saying extremely hateful and racist things, she told us that Jesus loved black people as much as he loved us, and that we ought to love black people, too, and treat them right.
She said that Jesus lived forgiveness and taught forgiveness and that since Jesus had forgiven our mistakes and sins, that we ought to forgive the mistakes and sins of others.
And somehow, not really knowing how or when it happened, when my time in Mrs. Gammons’ class was over, I discovered that I was in love with Jesus, a love that has never left me in the 40-plus years since.
In seminary I learned a lot of things I never learned in Sunday School, but I never had to unlearn anything I learned from her. It’s all true.
Mrs. Gammons was my John the Baptist. She was the one who pointed at Jesus and said,“ Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the Sin of the world!” Mrs. Gammons was my Andrew, bringing me to Jesus and saying, “He’s the One!” Mrs. Gammons was the one who brought me to Christ!
All of us are called to be witnesses. Very often we make it more difficult than it really it is, this witnessing business. It’s mostly a matter of pointing at Jesus and saying, “He’s the One!” We do not need any special knowledge or special training to do that.
Above and beyond everything else the church is called to know one thing and to do one thing. We are called to know and love God in Christ, and we are called to bring others into that circle of love.
That is our purpose for being, it is the reason for our existence, it is the end to which we work, it is our mission, it is our ministry, it is our calling.
Like the Israelites in our lesson from Isaiah, we are beckoned by God to be a LIGHT to the nations.
It is too light, too small, too tiny a thing that we should just talk about Christ and our faith among ourselves, we must share Christ with the World.
It is our calling to be like John, pointing to Christ as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
It is our calling to be like Saint Andrew, bringing our friends to meet Jesus.
It is our calling to be like Mrs. Gammons, telling others about our love for Jesus.
AMEN AND AMEN