Picture this: Surrounded by an alien culture; worried about keeping young people engaged; a nonfunctioning government; a religious establishment in disarray; the economy is a mess; competing and beguiling demands on people’s attention, time and loyalty; a worship facility in serious need of repair; a dizzying rate of change; and people either tempted to throw out all forms of the past or to cling mindlessly to tradition for fear of change.
Sound familiar? This describes the people of God in exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem.
This was the world to which the prophet Isaiah was called to speak God’s word of judgment, promise and hope. Isaiah 49:1-7 is the Old Testament reading for Tuesday of Holy Week. It’s the day when our pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers are invited to renew the vows they made when consecrated, commissioned or ordained. It is the day when the oil for baptism or healing is blessed. It’s a time for these dear servants of the gospel to come to be fed with word and sacrament. It’s also a time to be encouraged to continue their ministry and the ministry entrusted to God’s servants throughout the ages.
The world in Isaiah’s time was in turmoil. It’s clear he doubted anything was being accomplished: “I have labored in vain, I spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isaiah 49:4).
We feel that way sometimes — the “parking lot meetings” that take place after church council, years of preaching and teaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus and yet we still argue about which group gets to use the church parlor (I once had two committees arguing over the use of a slotted spoon), or worship wars over styles of music, contention between parishioners while wearing WWJD bracelets.
But it is to this wonderful, often frustrating, ever-changing mission that we have been called and have been equipped. Like Isaiah, God has given us God’s word that has the power of life. And, equipped with God’s word, we are armed with a sharp sword and a polished arrow (Isaiah 49:2).
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