READ: Isaiah 49:1-6
Why Be Baptized and Commune?
Baptism is the activity of God to receive a person into God’s family, the church, by the washing of new birth as commanded by Scripture (Titus 3:5). This regenerative work is tied to the action of Jesus through his death and resurrection. While the amount of water used in baptism, whether sprinkling or pour water on the head, does not matter, the story of Jesus’ death is seen most clearly when a person is immersed in the watery grave of baptism. Likewise, coming out of the water reenacts the resurrection, or victory over death, that is ours through faith in Christ. God claims us as God’s own children in baptism.
For a baby or child in baptism, the family promises to teach the child the way of Jesus by reading Scripture, praying together, and practicing other Christian values like serving others, caring for God’s creation, being a witness for Jesus, working for what just and bring peace in our community, giving back what God first gave us in the offering of our life, and being part of Christ’s community, the church, where together we worship and serve God. As a church, the baptized and their families are our responsibility. We are to pray and care for them and reach out to them if they fall away from the worship of God.
Claimed by God in baptism, we are called to live Christian. When we commune as Jesus told us to do as we remember him, we take the presence of Jesus’ body and blood into our bodies. We receive the forgiveness and love of Christ. We bear Christ inside our bodies as we go into the world. Jesus is eager to commune with anyone who comes with an open heart to receive the gifts he gives in this meal. All are always welcome.
Before Mel and I met, her husband at the time was shuffled out of court in shackles, charged with second-degree murder of a man outside of a local bar and taken to prison. He had also abused Mel causing head trauma resulting in seizures and major emotional issues. Facing parenting issues of her oldest of three boys who was then ten years old, I met Mel at the home of my friend Clarissa. Because of her commitment to the poor of our community, Clarissa has become a safe and helpful place for people who are hurting.
One of the things of I have discovered about Mel that I really appreciate is that she is a straight shooter. She does not beat around the bush but tells you what she thinks in a kind way. If I can be helpful to her or her boys, she tells me. At the same time, Mel genuinely cares about other people. She loves Clarissa and listens to her advice. As a parent, I really think she is doing the best she can with the resources she has at her disposal. Mel is always open for improvement.
Mel’s oldest son Bryan is now sixteen years old. While Bryan is tough, he has his boiling point. Sometimes Mel gets the brunt of Bryan’s anger. The occasional verbal jab at school about his dad being a murderer gets under his skin. While Bryan says he is fine not being liked by the cool kids in school, he finds it hard to make friends on the wrestling team. Tired of all the crap and even the day-to-day grind of school, Mel has had to fight as hard as she can to keep Bryan in school.
Mel finds it hard to make and keep friends. She is on disability and is not able to work. As a single parent, she is extra busy and needs to be there for her boys. Her social life is very limited. It is difficult for Mel to make friends because she feels as though she has very little in common with others. Life can be very lonely and hard for Mel. Where does she and her boys fit in the circle of life? How do we make room for the Mel’s of our community?
Isaiah 49:1-6 is the second of the servant songs in Second Isaiah (the other three are: 42:1-9; 50:4-11; 52:13-15 and 53:1-12). While the servant in each of these songs is unclear, this particular song addressed the foreign nations (Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away, 49:1)! Some scholars of Second Isaiah suggest that the servant is Israel based on her mention in 49:3. I agree with Westermann (ibid., p. 209) for several reasons that “Israel” in this verse is a later addition. It especially does not make sense that the servant Israel would be purposed by God to bring Jacob or Israel (herself) back to a life of faithfulness (v. 49:5c).
Yahweh speaks a call to the nations of the world: Listen (49:1)…the LORD wants to extend salvation and life to you too (49:6c-d). This plan of salvation to reach the ends of the earth is the greater purpose prepared for God’s servant. The servant received a call from the LORD while he was being formed in the womb (49:1c-d, 5b). The hand of God called, equipped and sent the servant to Israel and the whole world to extend salvation life through Yahweh.
God equips, calls and sends us. Let’s unpack this by examining God’s call to the servant in the servant songs. God equips the people the LORD calls can be seen in the first servant song (42:1): this is my chosen servant on whom I put my spirit. The call information is expanded in the second servant song (49:1, 5). The equipping of the servant is more specific as well: spoken word of the servant cut like a sharpened sword, the promise that the LORD has the servant’s back, and, the servant was prepared and kept safely in God’s quiver as an arrow to reach great distance, even to the ends of the earth.
The image created by connecting the word with a sword is not unique in Scripture…let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? Says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:28b-29); Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17); Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12); and I John…was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches’…Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw…one like the Son of Man…In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword…(Revelation 1:9a, 10-11a, 12-13b, 16). One concept is that the word of God cuts people to the heart so we can repent (desire to change our lives) and turn our life over into God’s hands. Another biblical principle is that God’s word has power to push back or repel evil or temptation (see Jesus’ temptation and his use of Scripture in Luke 4:1-13).
Yahweh has kept his servant hidden away from danger in the shadow or palm of God’s hand. Because the servant is vital to speak God’s sharp word, God keeps his servant secure. The all-protective nature of God is seen elsewhere in Scripture: Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me, (Psalm 17:8-9). This is the prayer of David. Likewise, David expresses confidence in Yahweh: For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent (Psalm 27:5). And one final prayer of David: Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless (Psalm 64:1-4a). Jesus reminds us that he is with us always until the end (Matthew 28:20). Suffering may come but we are not forgotten nor alone.
Arrow and sword are all weapons of offense. God has issued a purposeful mission for all followers of Jesus which involves risk. It is the exciting call of God to show and announce a higher way of living called the way of love found in Jesus Christ. In a world of hate and hurt there is urgency to see God change lives and ultimately, to change our world. In these days where the blood of children, innocent victims as well as of the nothing-to-lose waste of life due to the craze of drugs and gangs in our cities, guns, arrows and swords are not the best metaphors for the work of God and Christ’s church.
God loves the world so much he sent Jesus to become human, to be one of us and to be among us. Christ calls us to give away his love as we serve, rebuild our neighborhoods by establishing caring relationships and to point people to Jesus who is our hope. We hold to God’s vision that love is stronger than hate, that forgiveness can heal broken families and relationships and that we are a stronger movement or force for good and for God together than we are individually. Every person of faith matters in this movement.
God called and commissioned his servant (49:3). The servant was an agent for God’s work in the world. We are agents of God in the world as we follow the LORD in faith, and with our eyes wide open, see how the Spirit is directing our day and our actions.
But I said…49:4. We all have different perspectives. Some of us look at details and notice mistakes. When it comes to church, its worship, bulletins, and newsletters, our aim as staff is to do our best striving toward excellence because we serve a God of excellence. We try our best yet no one, not one, is perfect. It can be helpful, and is received as helpful, if you find mistakes or omissions, to share it in a spirit of helpfulness. For me personally, I often do not notice mistakes but am forever looking for ways to improve and do better what we do. All that said, I can appreciate the spirit of 49:4. But God does not stop there. And now the LORD says…
Isaiah 49:5 is a reminder of the purposeful call to the servant. In Isaiah 49:6, the LORD gives a new and greater call to the servant: to be a light to the nations. No longer is the call simply to Israel, it extends now to all nations of the earth. Simeon was present at the presentation of the infant Jesus in Jerusalem. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God saying: Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:28-32).
The mission of the servant was to recall and restore the Jews to a relationship with the LORD. Even more than that, the LORD extended the call to include all people – to the ends of the earth. This is our calling as followers of Jesus as well. It begins for you and me, one person at a time.
- In what way do you see Jesus as fulfilling the call of God as the servant in Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-11 and 52:13 – 53:12?
- Jesus says that as followers of him we are to be a light set on a lampstand to gives light away (Luke 8:16; 11:33) or light to fill the city with the love and truth of Jesus (Matthew 5:14). Followers are not to hide or keep the light for themselves. Give it away. What does or could that look like for you?
- Mel and her family have issues. If you love and care for them, it will take your time and your commitment. If you invite them into your church, you are inviting their problems, perspectives, rough-cut ways of talking and living yet also the gifts they bring as people. What are the costs? What are the benefits?
- What do you take away from the Second Servant Song?