Friday, March 4, 2016

God does it All

This is the message I shared at the Midweek Lenten Service at First Lutheran in Jamestown. The text is Isaiah 50:4-5. 

I am going to start out today by referencing two songs—one Christian  and one secular.
We probably all know the Christian song, written by Rich Mullins, "Our God Is an Awesome God", don't we? Not only is God awesome, but God is wise and has a sense of humor. Did you ever wonder why God created us to look and function, the way we are as human beings?

In their recording of the song, "One", the rock group Three Dog Night, said that "One is the loneliest number.”  But God said in creating the human body, two is a popular number. We have two of a lot of things... two eyes, two ears, two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet,(and sometimes some of us have two left feet....). I could go on, but you get the idea.

And then, God in His infinite wisdom gave us only one of certain things... one head, one nose, one mouth. Did you ever wonder why? Perhaps, God knew that if he gave us two of some things, we could do a lot of damage.

Don't we do enough damage through gossiping with one mouth and one tongue? Imagine the damage we would do if we had two mouths and two tongues?!!! I think God gave us two ears because he knows that we are so quick to shoot our mouths off, that we need more hearing organs, so we can actually listen, and hear what the one mouth is saying. There are times that many of us could use 3 or 4 ears to understand what others are trying to say to us. There is something to be said for the proverb that we have two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we speak.

These verses in Isaiah are part of a larger section of Isaiah that was directed to the servant of the Lord. Sometimes in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were referred to as God’s servant. In Christ, we too are servants of the Lord.

The servant does not assume the high status of a teacher in the community. Rather, God gives the prophet the tongue of students and opens the prophet’s ears to listen like students do. 

There seems to be neither honor nor shame in possessing the faculties of a student. A humble student knows that he or she is still learning—knowing that the mysteries of heaven and earth, our life with one another, and our life with God are still unfolding before them.

Whoever else God’s servant may have been, the descriptions are at least partly autobiographical. The servant knew whereof he spoke, speaking from his own experience.

God has given the servant the tongue of a teacher. The word translated teacher is in the plural and could be translated as “the Lord has given me a tongue of/for disciples. The servant may well have been a person with disciples. The tongue God gave the servant enabled him to encourage the disheartened.

God gave his servant a healing, sustaining word. The servant is both a learner and a teacher. Educators know that there is nothing to teach that we didn’t first learn and learn well. The servant's mission is one of comfort. The passage is speaking of the prophetic office with a tongue of a teacher and comfort of God’s word.

Have any of us ever been in a difficult situation which left us discouraged, wondering where or who God was? Then someone says something to us, which is just the right thing we needed to hear, and our whole attitude changes.

God wakens the ear of the servant morning by morning. Some of us don’t care too much for mornings. But can we imagine what it would be like to have God be the One to rouse us from sleep? We might not be so tempted to keep hitting the snooze button,

being so anxious to get in as many of those last, few, precious minutes before we REALLY have to get up.

The prophet is wakened to listen to God’s instruction—willingly, persistently and eagerly. His ear is wakened as one who is taught. He asks to be able to hear “like the disciples.” The prophet/preacher must first be a listener: to God, to God’s word, to God’s people and to God’s world. Out of this kind of listening, great things can happen.

God not only wakens his servant’s ear, but opens it as well.
It’s one thing to be awake. It's quite another thing to be alert and ready to learn. But even for those who struggle with mornings, God is the one who opens the ears as well.

How would a good and faithful servant respond? The servant was a good listener.
He was not rebellious. He did not turn backward. His response was, “Yes Lord.”

How does this apply to us today? Does anyone really have experiences anymore in which God speaks to them? Prophets in the Old Testament experienced this. Jesus and his disciples heard God speak. What about us? Like the servant in Isaiah, if we listen, we will hear.

We have many distractions in our day that get in the way of our ability to hear God speak. We have more and more electronic gadgets like our cell phones. Sometimes when Ray and I have eaten out, we have seen families eating together, however there is no conversation occurring because each one has their face in their cell phones.
Even beyond the world of cell phones and tablets, the world screams at us through ads on TV and on the radio as well as online.

It is difficult to turn off the radio, TV and electronic devices in order to get rid of distractions so that we can be still and listen to God. And some of us love to be around people and places where we can spend time with others. We shrink back from the idea of silence and solitude. I find it difficult myself to just be quiet and focus on God and God's word.

Who today sustains the weary with a word? Jesus does, but so do we as followers of Jesus in our time.
But in order to faithfully speak, we have to listen. Who does that? The prophet, the preacher and so do all Christians. We all have the ability to hear and then to share God's healing word with those around us.

Lent calls us to make ourselves more open and available to God. Repentance, prayer, fasting and works of love are the disciplines we are called to take up in Lent. Today’s passage from Isaiah primarily focuses on works of love through our words, as we have heard God speak to us in prayer and quietness. The purpose of taking up these disciplines is so we can draw closer to and spend more time with the living God.
God wants to use us, but we can only know how as we listen to God through the Word, through prayer, through silence and solitude.

Martin Luther wrote about those who tried to bring on the Reformation by force and his words speaks to us today. “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenburg beer with my friends Philip and Armsdorf,
the Word...did everything.”

As Isaiah and Luther wrote, the wonderful thing this passage shows us is that we do not have to strive in our own strength to try to listen to God in order to bless others.
God is the one who does the work, while we just need to listen and say, “Yes, Lord.”

Fred Gaiser, 
Christopher B. Hays,

Patricia Lull,
Anathea Portier-Young,

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