Sermon for A Epiphany 2 January 19, 2020

Based on Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Cor. 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

It is right there in the words you heard from Isaiah. God says that it is not enough that you should encourage and restore God’s people. More than that—which is quite a lot!—God gives you as a light to the nations so that God’s mercy and justice will embrace all the earth. That’s what Isaiah 49: 6 means. If you don’t like it, I lovingly invite you to take it up with God. And, today, each of the other biblical readings agree.

We are baptized and called in different ways to be repairers of the breech; as re-uniters of the people of God and together a light to all people, all nations! And as God says to Isaiah so God implies to us: not even those tasks are weighty enough! The ways that we each are light and life differ, but together they make a beacon that will not be dimmed. God has purposed you and me in Christ for a holy healing far beyond ourselves, and nothing will vanquish that promise that God made to God’s people.

But, the wearied of us reply, there’s so much going on against God these days, so much going on even by self-claimed godly people against God’s stated aims, how can we believe this? We’re beaten down by the opportunists who take advantage of the virtuous, the pious, and humble. They sow fear and then enlarge themselves on it. They so well play on the trusting naiveté of the crowds. They flood every day with so much malevolence that even if individually they are petty, when coagulated like bad blood, responsible conviction and act can hardly match their size. But that’s not new. That’s how it is for any people of any time into whose trauma the Christ of God walks and bids “follow me, and then you’ll see how God promises differently.”

When Isaiah told his people near and far to listen up, he straight out named that God was intimately with them even if they couldn’t believe it. Isaiah’s congregation had been in exile for almost forty years. They were scattered, bereft, traumatized even daily by lying and arbitrary imperial power. Isaiah first speaks to them in their terms, with his own experience of despair answered directly by God. Isaiah had felt in his bones the vanity of Ecclesiastes. But God spoke. We do not know quite how or when or how long before Isaiah really heard. But in some sort of prayerful hindsight Isaiah realized that God had shaped Isaiah over Isaiah’s whole life for this specific moment. I’m guessing that Isaiah in his younger days often wondered what he was meant to do, why he had to go to school, why he had to learn how to speak and write with exactness and power. Why should Isaiah care? Why work so hard? As George Orwell asked almost three millennia later, why not just go to “The Feelies” and live with anesthetized normalization of the malevolent powers?

Isaiah’s context by the fleshpots of Babylon was in essence no different. In it he discovered again that when one is in a trauma context, it is so easy to be turned inward and defensive. But God came to Isaiah with a specific word just for him. God told Isaiah that his purpose in life was hidden in God’s hand for a time, but now it was to be shown to the nations. God had made Isaiah like a polished arrow, hidden until the right time; saved and secured for that one shot of faith’s adrenalin. The arrow was strong and its aim true; and still is.

God works this way in every age. God brings individuals into the holy-purpose-driven assembly (like CTK), and neither holy assembly nor individual will succeed without the faithful energies of either.

When God is answered with personal and communal vulnerability, communities of compassion are born and fed by the God-given gifts of each other. Martin Luther King Jr. himself came to know this in the most personal way when his purpose in life seemed to be quelled by his racist enemies. Bomb threats had humbled him to depression and tears, until finally one midnight at the kitchen table like a despairing Isaiah he confessed that he had no strength in himself to endure any more, that he wondered if his efforts were in vain, and then Brother Martin heard—he heard!—God loud and clear. He heard God’s word of purpose and strength enough because God was with him, in him, and so Martin regrouped with his community and then he followed Jesus, again, and then he saw, then he saw, after following by promise, he saw the Promised Land nigh. What a polished arrow Brother Martin became!

Or consider the story of Auburn Sandstrom, now a college professor, told on the Moth Radio Hour. In young adulthood she went a bad way; her boyfriend turned to crime and her infant needing most everything, and Auburn had descended into addiction. Desperate and near suicide at the darkest hour, she in a blur punched the numbers for a suicide help line. A kind man sleepily answered the phone. She began to tell her story and her need for help. He calmed her. He posed the right questions. He stayed with her on the phone, 95% just actively listening, finally offering a prayer. After many hours, when dawn broke, she thanked him deeply for all his help, and said how glad she was for his presence at this Christian counseling service hotline. He answered, “Auburn, I’m not a counselor and this isn’t a hotline.” And, never giving his own name, he blessed her with the words “you are loved.” She had called a wrong number. Of course, he was the right person at the right number, though he never gave his name. Whoever he was, he was a polished arrow ready for God to use. Random acts of kindness may not be so random after all.

For what polished arrow purpose are you? How are each of us epiphanies of Christ? Paul wrote to a conflicted congregation in Corinth that they had the gifts necessary to bless the wider world. John the baptizer pointed to Christ, then pointed others to Christ, whereon Andrew pointed Simon to Christ, who was given his real name, his real life purpose, by Christ, and Christ promised all them that they would understand once they followed him.

You each have something holy to show and give to the world. You each are epiphanies of Jesus Christ. Christ names it in you, as Christ named it for Simon become Peter. Can you, will you, name the purpose and gifts Christ’s Spirit gives you? If locked in ambiguity, might we in mutual vulnerability help discern God’s new proper names for each other? Might we together then like Isaiah or more likely like first bemused Peter answer to our true names and advance Christ’s common cause of blessing? For a sick friend here; a stranger there; a refugee child nearby; a detainee in Conroe; Israeli/Palestinian playmates far away; or a whole congregation pleading for resurrection only a few miles away from here? You—we– are purposed for just such a time as this! God will succeed in God’s purposes of mercy and justice, and so consummate joy. We are part of this. We know this. Amen.

Duane H. Larson    Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX     January 19, 2020