As I read through the scripture passages that are offered to us today, I found myself wanting to ‘pay attention’, as the Isaiah passage implores us, but with particular attention to what Isaiah might be saying to us, about us.
What if we were to take this passage personally? To think about ourselves as the ones who have been made by God and are known by God (which is certainly true) – for a particular purpose. As though there might be something that we are here to do; something that we are actually called by God to do. Because it is totally possible that that is the case.
Knowing that following God is not easy, that following the Gospels is complicated and that more often than not (at least in my experience) God’s plan for us might be (and most often is), completely different from the plan that we might make for ourselves.
I wonder, have you ever had this sense? Even if it was just for a moment, you have sensed that whatever it was that you were up to – this was the thing you were born to do, the place you were meant to be – the very thing that God created you for.
I wondered this yesterday as we ordained three new priests in this Diocese, in this very place: one who we have presiding with us this morning.
I have had exactly three times in my life when I was certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was in the right place – doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. That God had, in fact, made me for exactly the reason I was attending to – and those times include the welcoming of each of my three children. I knew and still know, that I was and am meant to be their mother. It is what I was put here to do.
But beyond that – things have felt a little sketchier, which is interesting because being a parent is not the only thing that I have done or that I have felt that I was good at, or even the only way that I think that I am making a difference in the world. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not the only thing that God has called me to – it’s just the only thing I was really sure about.
Which is to say, that sometimes we are in the right place – doing exactly was God needs of us and we might not even be totally sure that that is the case.
The role of the prophets was to call out the people – to bring to light the justice of God and attention to where God’s followers were missing it. Prophets tell us where we need to do better, where they (the Israelites) or we (followers of God) have strayed from ‘the way’ and remind us how God wants us to re-align ourselves with God and God’s purpose, with the Jesus story, with one another and with the earth.
This prophet, Isaiah, is speaking to a people who are in disarray. Their temple has been destroyed, the landscape is different than what they knew or knew to expect. There is no manna falling from the sky – they do not feel very chosen.
Things look pretty bleak for the people that Isaiah is speaking to – and yet – here is this voice.
This call to speak into what is happening now, to restore relationship, for these people.
We might be able to find ourselves in the context that I have just described. It feels hard to miss that the world that we live in feels like it too is in disarray. If we were to think of the earth as our temple, it’s in pretty rough shape – and it can feel hard to know where or how we should act: maybe because there are just so many places that require action.
Here too, there is no manna falling from the sky.
But – what we do have is a relationship with and a particular understanding of God, who is constantly inviting us to be co-creators with them. A God who does and is intervening in the world through us – through prophetic voices still and who has a dream for us and for creation – despite our best efforts to ignore or thwart that dream. And we have the story of Jesus, which is all about showing us new ways of entering into life.
And so we take the Gospel seriously and show up for each other, maybe we advocate for change in housing or food security or for the LGBTQ2S+ community. Maybe we protest the poor treatment of refugees or advocate for better immigration. Maybe we work towards reconciliation with the indigenous communities of this land. Maybe we care for our families or children or elders Maybe we educate ourselves and our neighbours on ways that we can care for the environment or fight climate change – the list goes on. There are many, many ways that we respond to the Spirit’s invitation to participate in the world, and there are many, many ways that we show up.
And that is part of the beauty of this crazy faith of ours: that there is not just one way. But I do believe that there is something that you and I, known by God, are called to do – there is a purpose for each of us and that purpose is rooted in the love of our maker for us as individuals, as members of family and community and of creation as a whole.
What I also know from my own experience, is that it is not always as clear as I would like it to be – sometimes it has been following my heart, or a hunch or being still long enough to hear the voice within my that says: “what about this?”
For example, there is that time that I thought God was encouraging me and saying: ‘What about you go start an affirming congregation – even though you have no idea what that will take or what you are doing or who will come. Don’t worry – I’ll be with you, because this is important”
Each of us is known by God, each of us was knit together by God and named by our Creator for a purpose that is rooted in love. We are called to work towards the restoration of one another, with one another for and God’s relationship with us.
Maybe you already know this – maybe you’ve always known – or maybe you are little bit like me and it takes some time and a whole lot of trust in what might be to feel like you are called to something. Either way – I want to invite you to listen now once more, to the reading from Isaiah. We heard the reading interpreted one way earlier and I’d like to invite you to listen to it again as it is found in the ‘Inclusive Bible’. There is nothing wrong with the version that is found in the NRSV, but sometimes, offered in slightly different language, maybe even language that is not so firmly rooted in masculine pronouns – we might hear the words or the message in scripture differently.
So listen, and maybe pay attention to what it stirs in you – maybe something you already know – maybe something that you are wondering about, maybe something that you haven’t thought of yet.
So, this is for you:
Islands, listen to me!
Pay attention, distant peoples!
YHWH called me before I was born,
and named me from my mother’s womb.†
God made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of the hand of the Most High.
The Almighty made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in God’s quiver. The Holy One said to me,
“You are my Servant, Israel,
in whom I will be glorified.” I had been thinking, “I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing!”—
yet all the while my cause was with YHWH,
and my reward was with my God. Thus says YHWH,
who formed me in the womb to be God’s Servant,
who destined me to bring back the children of Jacob
and gather again the people of Israel: “It is not enough for you to do my bidding,
to restore the tribes of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob
and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations,
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the
earth.” Thus says YHWH,
the Redeemer of Israel, the Holy One,
to the one deeply despised,
the one abhorred by nations,
the one enslaved by despots:
“Rulers will stand when you walk in the room
and court officials will pay homage
because of YHWH, who is faithful,
because of the Holy One of Israel, who chose you.”*
This voice which what sounds like an intimate experience and understanding of God, our maker – speaking about restoration and gathering God’s people together in order to bring about justice to bring light to the nations: it is speaking to us.
This voice is speaking into resilience and hope and possibility.
This voice is reminding us that God needs and uses us to work towards reconciliation and restoration of relationships that are based in love for God, for ourselves and for our neighbours.
And this voice is reminding us that this work is ours. It is important and good and hard, and that God is faithful, God shows up and does not leave us alone in our work because we have been chosen for it, each one of us.
*-Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible . Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.