January is a challenging month because of the weather. We get gray skies, the lake is gray, the trees are gray, if they are bereft of snow. The wind blows cold and we feel chilled to the bone. It’s difficult to stay upbeat when we face dreary weather. It’s a time of year when we might begin a task or mission with great hopes, high expectation, tons of energy, only somewhere along the way, the hopes and expectations seem to be trampled and the energy just flows away into weakness and futility. Not a great start to a New Year.
If you have ever felt that, then you know something of the experience of the servant of the Lord in today’s Isaiah reading. Yahweh God had called this unnamed person from his birth to be the servant of the Lord. Yaheweh had named him, equipped him with the Word of God and protected him in carrying out the mission. The Lord had called, assigned and sent the servant on a mission to Israel in the Babylonian exile. He was to proclaim the Word of God to a defeated and despairing people. In the carrying out of the mission on which he was sent, his zeal and energy appear to have lagged. His own perspective was that all of his labour had been futile and worthless. He appeared to have been spinning his wheels in slippery mud, going nowhere fast. He reports his own discouragement with his work that seems to be without result.
As our Annual Meeting approaches, some of you have probably received telephone calls asking if you would be interested in serving on a committee. The people who have been working on committees get tired. They start to run out of steam. They put everything into their work, but sometimes they feel that their ideas are stale. They need someone with a fresh perspective to take over and offer some new energy for the task. There are other examples in the Bible of people who have been sent by God to do a task. They embrace the idea with enthusiasm and joy, only to be met with rejection. Elijah the Tishbite was called to be a prophet of the Lord. He was sent to King Ahab and performed his task. On behalf of God, Elijah was engaged in a great contest on Mt. Carmel with the priests of Baal, to demonstrate whether it was Baal or Yahweh God who provided rain for fertility. The contest demonstrated that it was God who gave rain. But then Elijah flees for his life to Horeb and a cave because Ahab’s Queen Jezebel has threatened to kill Elijah the prophet. Elijah tells God of the worthlessness of his life, his mission and his work. He claims to be the solitary, faithful Israelite remaining alive. What is the use, he asks God.
Jeremiah of Anathon was also called by God from his birth to be a prophet of the Lord. Jeremiah undertook the mission to speak the Word of the Lord to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah found himself without family, without friends, his life threatened, and in his own eyes, his ministry a total disaster. Jeremiah even accuses God of being “a deceitful brook, like waters that fail” (Jer. 15:18).
If you have ever felt that God had failed you, then you can relate to Jeremiah. It isn’t easy to be chosen by God. It wasn’t easy in Biblical times and it isn’t easy now. Our society is so against Christianity. In some countries, people are still being killed for being Chrisitan. Unbelieveable, isn’t it? How do we sustain our faith and our enthusiasm for a faith that is ridiculed by others? How do we sustain our faith when so many say with such confidence that they are atheists?
Whenever I feel discouraged, I do something for someone else. When I feel that my ministry isn’t exciting, I visit someone who is lonely. In sharing my time with another person, I feel God in the exchange.
My partner and I have been facilitating a group for the past year. We have met every month, summer included for a year. We were beginning to feel discouraged, thinking that the group had served its purpose and had come to its natural life cycle. We were discussing together how we would see how our meeting this week went and then announce that we were no longer going to facilitate. We had the best meeting we’ve ever had. People were sharing very openly about how they were feeling and the challenges they were all facing. One of the members was struggling with mental health issues and was in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. They got a pass just so they could attend the meeting. It was that important to them. Two new members came to our group for their first time. They were thrilled to have found a group to which they could belong and find support. I was renewed and re-energized and felt that God was in control of what happened that night. God proved to me that it was worth my while coming out on a cold winter’s night to meet with these people who need this group. God has chosen me to facilitate this group. My partner and I began it and it continues to serve a meaningful purpose in the lives of those who attend the meetings.
God’s faithful presence is with all of us and we experience it through other people. For me, it was in the people who shared their challenges and struggles. It takes time to build trust with others so that we can be vulnerable and honest. The people in the group all expressed their gratitude for being given the opportunity to meet others who share their challenges and to have made some new friends.
As Christians, we are all chosen by God to make a difference in the lives of others. We are all chosen to pursue a path that positively affects the lives of others. Sometimes in our own discouragement, disillusionment and despair about our call to be God’s people in mission, we become a light to others.
We are all born with our own unique gifts and talents. The faithful God comes again and again to us, not letting us off the hook, but renewing our call to be God’s people, manifesting the divine light of healing and forgiveness as we return to our baptism, as we hear the Gospel proclaimed, as we receive the broken body and the shed blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith, and as members of the community of God’s people, become channels of divine grace that rush into our lives with re-creative energy and refreshing vibrancy.
God has chosen us to serve in and to the church and the world. We are called again and again to the mission of God, which has been enfleshed in the person of Jesus. In his death and resurrection, the light of God’s salvation has shone, is shining, and will shine throughout the whole earth. The light of God’s salvation has been manifested to us and for us in Jesus. He is the reality of God’s faithfulness for us. In the serving love of God that has come to us in Jesus, we are again and again chosen to be faithful servants of our God, despite our times of discouragement and disappointment.
So when you receive that phone call to help serve in the church, consider the ways that you can share your gifts with others. Consider how you can make a difference, through the gifts that God has given you. If you have already answered the call, then God bless you and thank you for your service. Amen