Scripture: Isaiah 49:1-7
As I begin my message this morning, I want to provide some foundational material for the scripture we’re considering for today.
This passage, Isaiah 49:1-7, is from the section in Isaiah known to many biblical scholars as Second Isaiah. The entire book of Isaiah is a large and comprehensive text. When you look in your bible, you’ll find that there are 66 chapters in this book-it’s a long one! These writings have been determined to date from about 750 BCE up through the last of the 6th century BCE-around 500 or so. So, it’s fairly certain that the book of Isaiah is the work of not only one author, but several.
All probably have been a part of the school that the original Isaiah established, a group
that saw themselves as God’s spokespersons throughout this time in the history of
Israel. Most folks identify 3 individual writing styles and themes within the 66 chapters
of Isaiah: First Isaiah is responsible for chapters 1-39, Second Isaiah is those from 40
through 55, with Third Isaiah compiling the contents of 56-66. Second Isaiah, which where today’s reading comes, is written during the time when the nation of Israel has been living awhile in exile in Babylon after Babylon’s victory over Israel. These folks were in doubt as to whether or not they were still God’s chosen people. Second Isaiah’s words seek to reassure Israel that God still has compassion and intentions for them. More specifically, there are 4 poems in Second Isaiah that identify a certain “servant” of Yahweh who has been called by God to lead the nations; the first servant song is found in chapter 42 (1-4) ,where God has called out or commissioned the servant for specific purposes: to heal, liberate, and bring justice to humankind in the name of God. This week we will hear from the servant directly as they respond to God’s commission (49). Remember also that these oracles are understood both as a mission statement to God’s people (then and now), and as a foreshadowing or prediction of the role of Jesus. ln the words of chapter 49 we get the first hint of the suffering that is endured by the one who acts for God…There is in fact a growing intensity that continues through the third song in chapter 50 ( 4-9) This intensity climaxes with the last of the suffering servant poems, as seen in the words of Isaiah 53 (1-11).
This is one of the readings we consider on Good Friday when the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Messiah takes place.
What I want to call us all to as we consider these scriptures now, is that there is a
message in them for us. WE ARE God’s people entrusted with the work of being
servants of God who bring forth the message of God’s love, compassion, grace, and
redemption in our world today.
Chapter 49 begins with the words of the servant, proclaiming the sense of being called
at birth by God. The servant has been given words from God, sharp like a sword to cut
through confusion and reach the center of concern like an arrow. The servant has been
protected by God -“in the hollow of God’s hand”–for this work. But, the current
situation seems hopeless. The servant’s strength is used up and appears to have
accomplished nothing. ln spite of this suffering–this seeming beating of their head
against the wall–the servant holds on to the knowledge that God will ultimately grant
vindication and reward. Then God’s voice is heard commissioning servants again…
Not only will God’s people be restored to their former position and relationship, but they
will be a light for other nations!
I was reminded this week of an old Peanuts cartoon:
Lucy and Linus were talking about big questions. “Why am I here?” Lucy asked.
“To make others happy” replied Linus.
Lucy: “Why are others here?”
Linus: “To make people happy.”
“I’m not happy.” (pause)’SOMEONE’S NOT DOING HIS JOB!’
ln his quiet philosophical way Linus hit on a deep truth, We are here to help make life
easier for others, and vice versa. ln her normal self-centered way Lucy misses the
point. lt isn’t about us.
For people of faith, particularly the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and
Islam) it is indeed a command that we bring happiness and hope to others, as seen in
this word from God to the servant as recorded in Isaiah.
Now remember, this servant is us, metaphorically speaking…As one of my colleagues
stated this week on their weblog: “As if bringing justice and peace and light to our own
neighbors wasn’t enough, we are now being told to bring them to all the nations, to the
One of the things I sometimes do in order to prepare a message is to listen to the
webcast of a seminary lunch group who meets once a week to translate that week’s
Iectionary scripture from the Greek or Hebrew. lt helps me to gain some insight from
hearing the text in its original language. In this week’s webcast, I learned that the
Hebrew word for nation is “goy”—or “goyim” for nations. It often is translated as
“Gentiles” as well. My reaction when I heard that word was an inward, emotional cringe. In my suburban Columbus, Ohio high school, the student population was probably at least 1/3 Jewish. Goy was a word I heard used often as a put down for those of us who weren’t Jewish; not by all the Jewish students, but by those who were arrogant and mean-spirited. (There were also, of course, students of other ethnic origins who also were mean.) My understanding and experience of the Hebrew word “goy” is that it implies negative judgment and exclusion to those of us who are not members of the “chosen people.” lf one was a “goy” at my high school, they were definitely outsiders, those of very low esteem, not good enough to be included with the “in group.” That use does actually trickle down from the ancient world where Isaiah lived and prophesied. Those “other nations” in Isaiah 49 were “goyim”-disparaged,
The rub for me in this scripture is that we, as God’s people, are to bring God’s
salvation and love to those who live outside our community circle of comfort and
care; the goyim in our world—who are as close as out on that sidewalk; as far away as on the other side of the globe.
My Canadian pastor friend Gord says:
“We are lights, not just to our friends and neighbors, not just to those who think like us,
not just to those who share our belief structures, we are lights “to the nations, that my
salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. WOW! We are light to the whole world?
Little me? Little [Adirondack Friends Meeting]? Light to the world? Really?
Yes really. We all have light to share. WE all have the gift to help heal the broken spirit,
to find hope in the midst of despair, to remind each other that there is good in the
world. And why would we keep that to ourselves? Why would we hide our light?”
Well, think back to Lucy. ln all those years that Shultz wrote Peanuts, Lucy was rarely
a beacon of Godly light. Lucy tended to be very self-centered, wanting her needs and
wants met first and foremost. It seems that is often what leads us to hide our lights.
When we begin to focus on our lack, and our needs and wants, then our light is dimmed. When we focus on others our light shines brighter.”
If you take time to look at the bulletin boards and flyers in the back room you’ll see some of the Friendly lights who are shining brightly into this world; the American Friends Service Committee is leading efforts to help foster peace in communities worldwide—like Bosnia, and responding to humanitarian crises—like Somalia for drought relief. Friends United Meeting has folks on the ground in Belize, Kenya, Jamaica. More specifically, the Barber family works to educate young boys overlooked by the education system in Belize, because they are poor or unable to pass the standardized tests. Talk about suffering servants living and working so light will shine!
A little closer to home, through my interactions with a prisoner or two, I have been reminded about those NYYM Friends who work, worship, and build relationships with inmates in the state prisons. These folks are providing the light of God’s grace in a very dark environment, one with little hope of significant change.
Here in this meeting there are folks who work each and every day to share Light with
those they encounter ….those whom they know and strangers, inside and outside of that which society and culture deems as worthwhile or reputable.
Our hosting of 12 step programs in general and specifically those Narcotic Anonymous groups that use our space are not only taking advantage of the program offered, they also connect informally with folks in our meeting in ways that share compassion, peace, and light.
We can be lights to our neighbors near and far. We can’t make everything be “okay”
but we can share the light we have been given. It is why we are here- And I believe
that when we share our light, we end up getting more light in our lives. It is one of
those things that grows by being spread. God’s word through the prophet Isaiah
reminds us that that is our call: to be a light to the nations.
And thanks be to God from whom all light flows, who shines within each of us.