The Second Sunday After the Epiphany
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The Servant’s Mission
49 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 he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 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.”
5 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—
6 he 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.”
7 Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Sermon: “Caught Between Versus”
The Stooges’ 27th short feature for Columbia Pictures, The Sitter Downers, filmed in 1937, finds the boys in love. After they arrive at their girlfriends’ house, they ask them to marry them. The girls say “Yes,” but Papa says “No.”
The Stooges stage a sit-down strike and stay in the house until they have the whole country pulling for them, even sending gifts in the mail.
Papa finally gives in. After that, the newlyweds have another problem… building their new, do-it-yourself home. Let’s watch the grand unveiling.
Stooges, The Sitter Downers
The Stooges weren’t the only people to try their hand at home building only to end up with less than stellar results. This patent, filed by Thomas Edison on August 13, 1908, proves that even a man famous for world-changing inventions could produce a less-than-impressive brainchild. (Edison video, Loop until BBC video)
Edison’s idea was to build a house with one pour of cement. The house would be “practically indestructible and perfectly sanitary,” Edison said, as well as fireproof, insect-proof, easy to clean, and affordable.
Contractors would first put together the cast iron pieces of an enormous mold. Once they finished pouring a house, Edison wrote, the mold could be “used repeatedly for the construction of an indefinite number of houses.”
Like the Stooges, Edison had just one minor problem. A builder had to buy at least $175,000 in equipment before pouring a single house. That’s just over 4.5 million of today’s 2020 dollars, all invested in an untried system to build houses no one was sure people would even buy.
Few concrete houses ever saw the light of day. Not surprisingly, though, many of those that were built still stand. The slide show you’ve been watching shows one of them in Montclair, New Jersey.
Edison predicted today’s affordable 3D-printed housing over a century ago. Here’s a video from the BBC showing that technology at work. (BBC Video)
It took 54 hours to print a new home for a family in France, and another four more months to add things like windows, doors and the roof. The folks who worked on the project say they could cut the print time for their next home down to 33 hours.
All the walls are two layers of polyurethane, a good insulator. Guess what goes in-between them? That’s right—cement.
Thomas Edison wouldn’t have been surprised that he was on the right track. I doubt he was surprised, either, when his first idea didn’t work out. “I haven’t failed,” Edison once famously said. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I like this quote of his even more. “Restlessness is discontent, and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied person, and I’ll show you a failure.”
We are too often easily satisfied spiritually, content with things as they are—afraid to risk, and easily discouraged when the roof falls in. Like Isaiah in today’s scripture, we are people prone to say, in times of failure, “I’ve labored in vain; I’ve spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
Yet, with the prophet, God calls us to witness to God’s new reality, so much greater than anything we could ever imagine.
“It’s 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’ll give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
That word came to exiles who had long since given up any hope of even seeing their home again. Changing the world was the last thing on their minds. Yet that’s just what God called them to do. Dare we raise our eyes to the challenging vision God lays before us?
That vision can seem far away and out of reach. Little wonder Isaiah talked about God’s call with one breath and failure with the next. The higher the calling, the more likely it is that we’ll fail.
- If you’ve ever tried to be a faithful disciple—then, sometimes, you’ve failed.
- If you’ve ever tried to teach your Sunday School class so that you made a difference in the lives of your students—then, sometimes, you’ve failed.
- If you’ve ever tried to help, really help, someone going through a tough time—then, sometimes, you’ve failed.
- If you’ve ever tried to live out your faith at work and witness to the truth and standards of Christ no matter what others there said or did—then, sometimes, you’ve failed.
Anyone who takes her or his faith seriously has said, “I’ve labored in vain; I’ve spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
One of the problems we have measuring our success or lack of it in the life of faith is our idea of what kind of results we should see. I plant a seed—it grows. I hoe a weed—it dies. I paint a room—it changes color.
We want results—measurable, visible, impossible to argue with, results. Gardeners get sweetcorn. Painters get a transformed space. What do Christians get?
We as Christians must be in love with something more than instant results because our goals are so high, God’s work among us so mysterious, and God’s plans for the world so far above our understanding. Many times, the harvest for what we do today won’t come until years after the sowing. Odds are we ourselves might never see it.
We have to fight the temptation to whittle away at our ideals until we’re left with something smaller we can measure. Rather than making the purpose of our church bringing Christ to the world, we become content with what we have, afraid of stepping out in faith.
We can’t lower the expectations of our faith—even though it means, sometimes, that we’ll face discouragement and doubt.
- If we look to a day when every child will know the Good News and feel the love of God in his/her heart, then of course we’re going to feel discouraged after a difficult day teaching Sunday School.
- If we proclaim in faith the coming Kingdom of Christ, a day when God’s peace, grace, and justice will reign—then of course we’re going to get discouraged watching the evening news with its litany of conflict, death, and unfettered, hateful ignorance.
- If we want nothing but the best for our children, and work hard so that they can fulfill their dreams and our highest hopes, then of course we’ll sometimes feel discouraged looking over their lives after they’ve grown.
The higher the calling, the greater the possibility of failure. If you’ve never said, in your heart of hearts, “I’ve labored in vain, I’ve spent my strength for nothing and vanity…” then you, my sister or my brother, are a disciple of Jesus Christ who has set your hopes and your expectations far too low.
You are someone who forgot, “My cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
God called us here. The work is God’s, not ours. We shouldn’t expect a risk-free, microwavable and ready in an instant, kind of faith. The harvest, after our sowing, will come in God’s good time.
In the meantime, we depend on the God whose faithfulness Isaiah proclaimed, the same God who took cross and tomb and turned them into signs of resurrection victory.
Our cause is with the Lord, and our reward with our God, a God whose faithfulness toward us won’t cease and whose purposes for us won’t be frustrated. Might we never lose sight of that hope, friends, even when the once seemingly secure roof of our life comes crashing in.