Isaiah 49: 1-7
In the recent years, reality based television shows have become immensely popular with such shows as Canada’s Got Talent, Survivor, Amazing Race, and Master Chef. These shows test one’s talents and determination, wit and skills. They are fun to watch as the contestants get whittled down after undergoing difficult set of tests and challenges. The appeal of these shows is the process of discovering a true talent, a diamond in the rough, and to recognize an undiscovered star. These shows also give a platform for people to test and be recognized their hidden calling in life. One of the biggest sensations in this genre of television was a few years ago when Susan Boyle appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. Ms. Boyle was a plain looking woman who had a voice that surprised and mesmerized the whole world as her audition video went viral. Through the show, she had discovered her calling as a truly amazing singer. There is a sense of joy in finding our calling in life. It is life’s biggest question, struggle, and purpose.
For someone like Isaiah, he did not need to enter into a contest to figure out what he was born to do. He had the confidence to say that God had called him before he was born. In his mother’ womb, God named him, prepared him and given him the skills and the protection to fulfil his destiny. It is great to be able to know exactly what the purpose of one’s life is. Then again, would you want to be given the task Isaiah had? His task was not an easy one. Israel was living as defeated and exiled people in the Babylonian empire between 586-536 BCE. Isaiah’s daunting task was to bring back the exiled nation to God. This was in spite of the fact that Isaiah felt as though he has laboured in vain, that he had spent his strength with nothing to write home about, and that it was nothing but vanity. It is quite refreshing to hear about the prophet’s inner struggles and his willingness to be vulnerable. As my former Old Testament professor pointed out, there are only three people in the Bible who had asked God to kill them. They were all prophets: Moses, Jonah, and Elijah. Yet, it is in that place of vulnerability and honesty that God speaks to us. It is also when we are willing to be vulnerable that we are more able to listen, and more willing to embrace God’s spirit.
When I was young, I had problems with stuttering. When I felt called to ministry, I felt that I was not suitable for ministry. Yet, the sense of call never left me. I often felt like Moses who said don’t send me, I can’t even speak properly. Yet, God called on him anyway, and enlisted Moses’ brother Aaron to help him out. For me, I went for speech therapy. But I still had other excuses and reasons to say no to ministry, but God over time wore them out as well. When I finally said yes to ministry, it felt as though everything that I had done, and all the successes and failures had pointed me to ministry. Life felt wonderful to have that sense of clarity. I felt truly blessed when I was ordained.
All that changed when I actually began practising ministry. I felt the weight of the church. The robe that I wore, and the cross around my neck felt much too heavy. My own need to succeed made me feel like Isaiah, that my efforts were in vain and it all seemed like vanity. Despite how we ourselves may feel, as though we are inadequate, God sees it in another way. What is quite strange and even shocking to read is what God said in response to Isaiah’s self doubt and vulnerability. God said,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and the restore the survivors of Israel;” (49: 6)
If I were Isaiah, I just might have replied, “Too light? Are you kidding me?! How can that be a too light? O my God, give me a break.”
In the next verse, God, replies, the real big task that is being given to Isaiah:
“I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:7)
Ultimately, when it comes to doing God’s work, we have to realize that it is not through our own skills, or abilities, or our power that we do God’s work. Essentially, it is God who is doing all the work. All we really need to do is basically show up. Early on in my ministry, I realized that sometimes I do all the work and God gets all the credit. There are times when I feel as though God is doing all the work, and I get all the credit. I thought, life isn’t fair, especially for God who does not get enough credit and I get too much. In the end, there is no challenge too big, no cause too serious because it is God who is doing the work through us.
This question needs to be asked to each of us. What is God calling you to do at this time in your life? For most of us here, it is no longer a question of our life’s vocation. I believe it is much more profound and much more meaningful than that. As long as we are alive, and as long as we are capable, God is calling us to do something important in our lives. Some of you have taken on the role of grandparenting which is a very valuable and satisfying role. I say that because I appreciated my grandparents very much. Some of you devote a lot of time and energy into the church so that we can continue to live a life of authentic faith. Some of you have justice and outreach on your mind and you seek ways to make a better world for those who are crying out for a decent chance at life. No matter what our age, we still need to live a life of purpose and meaning.
One of the saddest situations that I encountered at another church was with a man, whom I respected. He was a vice president of a large firm and yet, he was very down to earth and quite humble and real. He fixed things around the church and he was very much a gentle spirit and a wise member of the board. I heard that his church was closing down and he did not want to start attending a new church. He was about to retire from work as well. In his retirement, I heard, he envisioned watching TV all day. I felt sad because he had so much to give, so much wisdom to share, so many boards he could have served, and so much more of life to live beyond watching TV.
The question of being called not only applies to the prophets, but to everyone of us, and also churches as well. This past week, when the board met with consultant Janet Marshall, she asked us, “What kind of church do you want to be? What do you want to be known as?” It is a very important question to ask of ourselves. Not only Janet Marshall, but, God is also asking that question to us as well. It is not that God does not know the answer to the question, but God wants us to know what God already knows. The good thing is that we do not have to stage a reality TV style of competition to find the answer to who we are. We can discuss. We can reflect. We can pray. When we go on a quest to find the answer to a question of identity, meaning, and purpose, God is with us. God’s wisdom and spirit will guide us in that search. It will be a blessed journey of discovery. So, let us embark on this journey together with hope and courage. Thanks be to God.