Posted on Mon, Feb 13, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for February 5, 2012
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
February 5, 2012
Leadership. Servant leadership. What exactly does that mean? What are its implications? How can WE be leaders? Are we really called to be SERVANTS, after all? Let’s consider it together in light of these readings. Would you pray with me? God, we have come to hear your voice this morning. Open our minds and our ears so that we might hear what you have for us today. In Jesus name we pray. AMEN.
This week I am grateful for the work of W. Dennis Tucker, Associate Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, which has helped in my ongoing study of the Hebrew Bible book of Isaiah.
The opening lines of Isaiah 40 which is part of Second Isaiah, announce what all but impossible to believe. Exile had left the people in a land far from their own wondering what had happened to Yahweh. What happened to the covenant promises? At the very core of their being, the people were left in silence, bound by the certainty of an unknown future in the hands of a foreign people. These opening verses break into such silence, shattering it with the announcement that "the glory of the LORD shall be revealed" (verse 5), that "the Lord GOD comes with might" (verse 10), in order to "gather the lambs in his arms" (verse 11); Sharp contrast for a people who had been wandering in the dessert.
In what sounds to me very much like a hymn, the remainder of chapter 40 (verses 12-31) answers one key question: "Who is this God that will do such a thing?" What do we know of a God who will let His people fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their god? What do we know of a God who appears to have fallen by the wayside in silence? Can such a God be trusted by a people who have grown weary and exhausted (Isaiah 40:29), too tired to even sing the psalms of Zion any longer (Psalm 137)?
The writer of Deutero- or Second Isaiah answers with an emphatic declaration. In verses 12-17 the writer draws attention to the creative capacity of Israel's God, and it is this capacity exhibited from very old history that remains fundamental to this new confession. Unlike other Ancient Near Eastern religions depicting a multiplicity of gods in conjunction with the making of the created order, it was Israel's God alone that "measured the waters in the hollow of his hand" and "marked off the heavens with a span." The recent experience of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians might have led the Israelites to believe their deity was in some way an inferior deity when compared to other gods, or at least that Yahweh was simply part of a pantheon of the gods in which earthly history played out among the gods at the cosmic realm. Yet, Second Isaiah calls Israel to throw off all such ruminations. Second Isaiah calls those who are weary and exhausted to shirk off attempts at reconciling their experience with what they know to be true of their God. And so the opening lines of this powerful hymn announce that it is Yahweh alone that provides the hope because he is the one who creates and who continues creating.
The opening lines in the passage for this week begin with a series of four rhetorical questions. Such rhetorical questions in Hebrew can also have the force of an emphatic statement: "Surely you have known! Surely you have heard!" This is not new information provided by the prophet. But like a good prophet, he draws the people back to the confessions that stand as their identity. So how is it possible that the exiles could be delivered from Babylon? The prophet announces that the truth is impossible to deny. It has been told from the beginning. The NRSV translates verse 21 as "Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?" The Hebrew text, however, actually reads, "Have you not understood the foundations of the earth?" Thus the final rhetorical question is actually the climax in a short series of staccato lines: surely you know, surely you have heard, surely it has been told to you; surely you understand the foundations of the earth. And if you understand the foundations of the earth, how can you believe in the possibility of any other god at work in our world? This God, and this God alone, stands above the world, creating a place for those who are like grasshoppers (verse 22) to live. Yet this same God is intimately involved in the historical and political machinations of human life, "bringing princes to their knees and making earthly rulers as powerless." This God brings about Servant Leadership, leadership that is for the benefit of others, for the least of these. This God brings about leadership that not only hears about the woes and needs of others, but leadership that does its very best to do something about it. This is a new form of leadership where the paradigm is turned around. Now the leader exists to serve the people, not the other way around. The leader becomes the care taker, the care giver, the motivator, the inspirer, the one who actually helps and leads people to make positive changes in their lives.
You see, the story of the woman healed in the gospel becomes our hope -- that Jesus' message takes root in ways that inspire communities of people everywhere who will seek out widows like her, derelicts and demoniacs and orphans and foundlings and anyone else whom the world would exploit and ignore, and will care for them as Jesus cares for them, as the God whom Jesus calls “father” -- and the only father, the only authority, the only Lord -- cares for them.
We must read this gospel remembering that Peter is about to leave his mother-in-law to follow Jesus. She, and her fellow widows and orphans, have one hope in this world: That we follow Jesus too, caring for the outcast as much as we care for our own flesh, or better.
So on this Sunday when we begin our Pledge Campaign, I hope you will make a pledge like I am to support the Ministry of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church. I hope you will make a pledge that is both doable and challenging for you. I hope you will commit with me to put your money where your mouth is and help us with your time, your talent and your money establish this outpost of the Beloved Community of Jesus, where everyone who comes this way will experience, and not just hear about, the inclusive message of God’s love. I know this, we cannot fully succeed without every member and friend of this church participating. If you can give 10% or more, pledge that. If you can only give 5%, start there. If you can only give 1%, let that be your starting place. The point is that every one has something to give and I’m asking as your Pastor this morning, for you to give something back to Jesus by supporting the ministry to which we have been called together – to become the Beloved Community of Jesus filled with Servant Leaders in Gainesville and beyond. Fill out a pledge card today and place it in the offering plate. Let’s do this together and let’s do it in the name of Jesus who give to us beyond our wildest dreams.
Jesus' Good News, Jesus' message, God's Beloved Community, wasn't meant for just our family, our town, or our country; it demands a new economy and a new way of reckoning for the whole world. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to do this. Servant leadership..time, talent AND money. I’m praying that this will be our year of abundance, a year of shared ministry, a year during which we become the beloved community where all are welcomed as servants of one another. God bless you today.
© James Edward Merritt, Jr. 2012
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.