Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
For as long as I can remember—probably from about the time she learned to talk—Cassie wanted to be a veterinarian. I (like most kids) went through phases: I wanted to be a doctor, then an astronaut, then a professional basketball player, then an engineer… but not Cassie. I only ever heard her give one answer to that question.
Now, it’s hard to get into veterinary school. It’s like getting into medical school, where you have to apply and be accepted to a bachelors program and then apply and be accepted again to a veterinary program, except that because the demand is far lower for veterinarians, its harder to get accepted. You also need to have good math scores, which is one of the subjects my sister always struggled with.
Not one to be daunted, Cassie found her way around or through all of those problems. She found a veterinary program in Australia that was a single 6-year program instead of two consecutive 4-year programs, which solved the problem of ending up with a bachelor’s degree and no hope at finishing the vet program. She worked her tail off all through school to bring up her math scores so she could keep up with the science classes.
4 years ago, I had the privilege of being in the room when she graduated and got to be called “Doctor McArtor” for the first time. I thought about all that she had done, all that she had overcome, all the time and effort she had put into making that dream come true. I like to tell people that she made it happen through sheer force of will. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her.
I think about this story today as I read the prophet Isaiah’s words. He is writing during Judah’s exile in Babylon. Isaiah speaks of the Servant, called by God from their mother’s womb to “raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel;” to save them from exile. Like my sister, this is the one and only vocation the Servant has ever known.
And yet, even as Isaiah sings the Servant Song, God adds a new melody: “It is too light a thing,” God says, that the Servant should only rescue Israel. “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Imagine that! It is “too light a thing” to save an entire nation, so God adds saving all the rest of the nations, to boot. No big deal.
The confidence of this song is what reminds me of my sister. “Save all the nations? Sure, I can handle that.” The Servant won’t take no for an answer, won’t surrender or admit defeat. No matter what it takes, the Servant is going to come through. Would you feel so confident with such a tall order?
Of course, it’s not the Servant who is going to accomplish this, but God. The Servant is the one through whom God will do it, but it is God’s work. That is why the Servant can be confident; because they know that it is God’s power, God’s strength, God’s tenacity that will accomplish the task at hand. The Servant is the sharpened sword, the polished arrow, the carefully selected and perfected agent; but God is the one wielding them.
Remember last week I said that Isaiah never tells us who the Servant is, that our best guess is that the Servant is identified with the people of Israel at large. Even in the midst of exile, even defeated and afraid, God promises that they will not only return home, but will, in fact, be the channel for God’s salvation of the whole world. When the evangelists told the story of Jesus, it is no wonder they saw in him the fruition of Isaiah’s vision.
I also said that the Servant—as the people of Israel, as the children of God—represents us, too. In the scroll of the book, it is written of us. We have been called from our new birth, formed in the waters of baptism to announce God’s salvation to all the ends of the earth. We are the polished arrows in God’s quiver, each set aside for a particular task. This is important for us to hear, especially today, because right now, we are, as a congregation, also feeling defeated and afraid.
I’ve shared how it’s been a rough year for me; but it’s been a rough year or two for this congregation, as well. Since Stephanie resigned, our grief over her leaving has mellowed some of the sense of joy and excitement we had as a community as. Even though she’s still around, she’s not here in the way we would like her to be, and that almost makes things harder. We also had a rough time in the interim, wondering what would happen next, feeling unable to connect with Pr. Maria like we did with Stephanie. Even though we are now through the transition, there is still a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in our midst.
Anxiety has its place, but too much can be toxic. When we spend too much time worrying about what comes next, fretting about how things are not the way we would like them, it becomes easy to close ourselves off to God’s call. We think more about what we can’t do or used to do rather than what God is inviting us to do now.
And yet, our calling remains. In the waters of baptism, we have been set aside for a purpose. In the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, that purpose can seem like too much to handle; there doesn’t seem to be enough money, enough time, enough energy to do all that God has in mind; but that’s not how God sees things. From God’s perspective, what Agnus Dei is doing is “too light a thing;” we are capable of more so much more.
We are capable because although it is our gifts and our time and our energy that are being used for our ministry, it is God who supplies us with those things. “You have been enriched in every way,” Paul writes, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ;” words written for the church in Corinth, but also for the church in Gig Harbor.
Never forget that whatever God has called us to do, God will supply the resources for us to do it. I have seen this congregation rise to God’s call again and again. Whenever we ask for volunteers to help with a project or to put on a meal or to provide assistance to someone in need, people come out in spades. I remember just last year when we decided to sponsor a refugee family; we asked for $4000, and we raised almost $5000.
This congregation is like my sister, the veterinarian, driven to do what she knew she was meant to do, no matter what. You are like the Servant in Isaiah’s Song, unfazed by the charge to save the world. You are like Jesus, the one by whose name we are called and whose life we share in this meal and in this community. When God calls, you answer, because you know that this great treasure we have is not from ourselves, but from God, and God intends to use that treasure to continue announcing good news and salvation here in Gig Harbor and around the world.
That is why hungry children are fed from backpacks and preschoolers are cared for and the sick are comforted with prayer shawls; why there is a family living safely in Tacoma instead of fearing for their lives in El Salvador; why the food bank will soon be stocked with enough toilet paper to last for months. That is why people come to this place to hear the Word of God’s promise and why we gather around this table to be fed: because you are God’s Servants. You are God’s polished arrows. You are the ones who know that God is faithful, and that it is this faithful God who has begun these good works among us and who will bring them to completion.
We’ve got a lot to be anxious about. In the coming days and months and years, we will have some serious thinking to do about how to best respond to God’s call together, but wherever we’re being called, we’re being called there together. Never doubt that this congregation will be strengthened to the end to do whatever God has called us to do, even if it is to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.