How is the Lord Calling You?
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.
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.
And he 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 –
‘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.’
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.’
– Isaiah 49:1-7
Long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a prophet named Isaiah spoke of a messiah who would change the world. Isaiah, like many Jews, thought the messiah would be a powerful political leader or king, most probably one with great military strength. Even the prophet had no idea that God would come down to redeem, not the Jews, not a particular political faction or religious sect, but humanity in its entirety. No one could have predicted how strangely that story would go.
In confirmation class, we talk a lot about the dialectical existence of Christ Jesus and how he is a living paradox. Christ was not half-human and half-divine. He is fully human and fully divine. There is no “human side” or “God side” that shines through in any particular situation. He is always Jesus, God and Human at once. He is a contradiction upon himself, an assault on our human logic. But how else would we want our Jesus?
Isaiah writes of the vocation of the “servant.” We know today that the servant he spoke of was Jesus. And reading Isaiah’s words about this servant, as he recounts his calling, sounds like he’s describing any run-of-the-mill prophet; one who struggles with his call and finally realizes he is a willing tool for the Lord to use. It feels strange to imagine our Savior saying these words, but I think the cause is how we imagine Jesus to be and how we portray him in our culture.
You see, the cultural American Jesus (and in other places) is too calm. Much too often, he comes off like a “kind robot.” He’s quiet, thoughtful, and an enigma, never wavering in his role as messiah and Son of God. In some movies, even his emotional plea to God to “take away this cup” as he fervently prays in the garden of Gethsemane, is deadpanned with an expressionless face. We must stop doing that to our dynamic and passionate Jesus.
Jesus acknowledged his role in our salvation. Like Isaiah points out, he was called to this role long before his human birth. He shared disappointments and moments of anger in his ministry. He was a light to the nations and the redeemer of Israel (among others) and yet he was despised and murdered by those who first heard his message.
This Holy Week, I ask you to consider how the Lord is calling you. We are not all prophets or healers, but God works through us just the same. Like our Christ long before us we experience disappointments and become angry when the world does not present itself the way we need it to.
What would our gospel monologue sound like if we had to deliver it like Isaiah did on Christ’s behalf? What truths would we speak? What crowd would we address? What is the Lord asking of you? How will you serve?
As we prepare to walk the path with our Lord, let us acknowledge that we are called to serve this world until he comes again.
Holy One, inspire your servants. Ignite in our very souls a passion for shaping this world to your image. Break our hearts when injustice rears its ugly head. Fill us with courage to face our fears and uncertainty. Help us to be your followers, your saints, your truth-speakers in places of darkness, following always the example of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.