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October 8, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-6 Let Me Be Your Light

The song we just sang is one written by Christopher Grundy, UCC minister and professor at Eden Seminary in St. Louis—he wrote this song after the shooting in Arizona where Gabby Giffords was seriously injured. We first sang it here after 26 children and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook school.

The words are simple and stark…whatever others may have done…let me be your light. The words were based on a scripture from Isaiah and thought this passage might be a place for us to spend some time on this day.

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb God named me. God made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand God hid me; God made me a polished arrow, in his quiver God hid me away.

And God said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—God says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah was a prophet of ancient Israel. He brought God’s word to the people in a time when they were as devastated and hopeless as I imagine some of us have felt.

Long after Moses and the Exodus, Joshua and the conquest of Jericho, the people known as Hebrews or Jews had lived in this promised land. The land was divided into 2 kingdoms—Judah and Israel.

Kings led each kingdom—kings who were supposed to follow the God of Abraham, Moses and Jacob, but power can corrupt even the best of kings. Nations around Israel and Judah were powerful and hungry for conquest

This section of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, tells of the Babylonians who conquered Israel. The big story that helps us understand the power of what Isaiah proclaims in chapter 49.

God’s people have been defeated, their temple destroyed. They are taken in chains to Babylon, alienated from their land and their God. This exile is a crisis of identity and faith. Are they still God’s people? How can they worship in this foreign land?

If Isaiah’s proclamation had been a Facebook post or text message, it would be in all caps…LISTEN YOU PEOPLES FAR AWAY…GOD IS NOT DONE WITH YOU YET.

Isaiah lays out his rationale and delivers God’s message: “God says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”

In other words, it’s not enough for you to raise up only the tribes of Jacob. It’s not enough for you to raise up only the survivors of Israel. You—you must be a light to the nations, so that salvation reaches to the ends of the earth.

We wonder today…are we still God’s people? How do we deal with our world? How do we cope with the fear? How do we deal with the violence of every kind we see perpetuated in our world?

Whatever others may have done…you be God’s light; you shine God’s love. You. And you. And you. And you…every one of us.

As insignificant and powerless as we may feel, we can be God’s light and love. And we should do this together. There is help in hard times.

That is the one message that has come through this week—we are best when we get through things together. The helpers are the people to look for when trouble comes—yes—first responders but also ordinary heroes at a concert.

When we face hard times, we need each other. The Church is to be a place where we find help in hard times. Carrie Newcomer wrapped these words into a song. I thought it might bring us some comfort today.

Help in Hard Times by Carrie Newcomer

I can’t tell you it will all turn out right, but I know there is help in hard times. So, we go forth to be God’s light and as we prepare to do so, let’s send one another out with a blessing of peace.

Peace be with you,
O my friend.
Every good grace to you I send.
Carry God’s Spirit as you go.
The seeds of peace are yours to sow.

The Rev. Matthew Crebbin,
Senior Minister of the Newtown, CT,
Congregational UCC

Prayer will be needed for the journey ahead. It’s been nearly five years since the horror at Sandy Hook School and I would not have come this far without prayer. If you cannot find any coherent thoughts that you can put together, then pray with “sighs too deep for human words”. Those of us who have been affected by gun violence often cannot find any words in moments like this – so there is lots of sighing and silence…lots of silence. In the silence. God is there.

 

O God—hear our sorrow, our anger, our hopelessness. Hear our faith and hear our doubt.

 

We pray for the murdered, the injured, the traumatized - each one a unique and precious treasure.

We pray for families and communities forever altered. 

We pray for individuals and families in other places who in this moment are being re-traumatized.

 

We pray for all those around our world who are targets of violence because their beauty as a child of God does not fit somebody else's definition of what is righteous or pure or worthy of sacred care. 

 

We pray for all of us who by intent or apathy continue to allow our nation to worship at the altar of the gun – and for those who believe that innocence must forever be offered on that altar for the sake of freedom.

 

We pray for those who will only offer prayers and nothing else. We pray for those who say it is too soon to talk about solutions and who will always find reasons to avoid the conversation.

 

We pray for all of us that we might refuse to become further isolated from those with whom we disagree – and choose to live only in theological and political camps that feel safe and reassuring. Give us courage to stay in the conversation and to find common ground that allows us all to survive and thrive. 

 

We pray for those who think they know all the reasons that things like this happens - and who will soon return to a cocoon of self-righteous certainty.

 

We pray for those who will become even more captive to the way of fear - and only end up further down the path of death and brokenness. We pray for an end to the loneliness, the shame, the hatred that drives someone to do harm.

 

We pray for shalom...for peace and well-being for everyone - including even those who commit unspeakable acts of violence. 

 

We pray for ourselves – that we might not be overwhelmed by “disaster fatigue” even while we remember that we are not called to offer ourselves on the altar of the good – by trying to do so much that we destroy the sacredness of our own life and relationships.

 

We pray and commit ourselves to be a part of the transformation. We prayerfully ask that you help us choose one specific thing that we will do today to reduce gun violence and create just a little more peace on this planet.

We pray ...and in our praying become a living and breathing light that this broken and grieving world so desperately needs.