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January 16, 2005 (Epiphany II)—“God Will Be Glorified—In You”

Pastor David Barber

Isaiah 49:1-6

Sisters and brothers, washed and called in the waters of Holy Baptism, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

A child is born. His name is Christian. Because his parents love him, they present him for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

He is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The sign of the cross is made upon his forehead, and the pastor blesses him with these words:

"Christian, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."

And there you have it. All this is done without Christian's knowledge, and without Christian's consent or permission, and sometimes--but not always--without any response whatsoever on Christian's part.

In his physical birth, he wasn't asked, "Christian, do you wish to be born?" And here as well, he isn't asked, "Christian, do you wish to be baptized?" He doesn't have a choice.

God invades his life, acts upon him, and calls him as a child and a servant. "You did not choose me, but I have chosen you, and I will be glorified in you and through you. You will proclaim my praise and bear my creative and redeeming word to all the world."

We are here today, and this congregation is here today, because we've been called. God's hand has been laid upon us. God has invaded our lives and has acted upon us.

Through Holy Baptism you and I are the people of Jesus in the world. We are to be witnesses, in word and in deed, to what has happened to the world through Jesus Christ.

Today what the prophet Isaiah said about himself can also be said of us: "The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me...he said to me: 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.'"

A few years ago Andrew and his family were having a great time on vacation in Florida. They were enjoying Disney World, the Epcot Center, and Sea World. They were indulging themselves in the sand and the surf at the beach.

They were having such a tremendous time that Andrew wondered, as children often do, why the family just couldn't pick up and move to Florida. Andrew argued, "Mom, you could find a church here to be a pastor, and Dad, you could teach at some school."

At this point, this prompted Andrew's dad to have a conversation with his son about the word vocation--about being called and chosen. He made a helpful distinction between the words--vocation and vacation.

They're exactly the same, aren't they--except for one letter? One has an "o" and the other has an "a," but that one letter makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?

Finally, after having one of those "ah ha" moments that Katy described last week, Andrew said, "I think I get it Dad. You take a vacation, but a vocation takes you."

A vocation takes you. You really don't have a choice. You are compelled to be a light--to be a witness in the world. A vocation or a call involves asking what God wants me to do and who God wants me to be.

Those of us living in Hawaii know the difference between taking a vacation here and actually having a vocation in this place of paradise. When folks on the mainland learn that you live here or are moving to Hawaii, most of them simply think about Waikiki, the sand and the surf, and the gorgeous and romantic sunsets. They think of vacation, when in reality, it's necessary to think of vocation.

Two or three weeks ago I received an email from a woman in the state of New York. She was a Lutheran and thinking about moving to Hawaii. She had a gifted and talented child and wanted to know how she might obtain information concerning our school system.

I directed her to the Department of Education website, but then I also asked her if she had ever been to Hawaii--other then visiting as a tourist. I also shared with her some of the difficulties of living here--the high cost of living, being isolated and living on an island away from family and other support systems.

She responded by saying that her support systems weren't all that great, and that she just needed a fresh start. Besides, it was cold in New York, and Hawaii seemed like an attractive place to be. And it is, as long as you have some reality in the process. I wonder, was she thinking vacation rather than vocation?

I don't want to give you the wrong impression because vocation and vacation doesn't always mean travelling someplace geographically. A vocation can also encourage you to travel to emotional and spiritual places as well. A vocation can take you places without ever leaving home.

Also, your vocation is not just what you do for a living, but the living you do in your ordinary and daily lives. A vacation pulls you away from life, which at times is very necessary and gives you the space you need for a healthy existence, but a vocation, the vocation of your baptism, pulls you more deeply into life.

Certainly this involves what you do for a living, but it also involves your roles and responsibilities as a child, a parent, a spouse or partner, a citizen, and even a member of LCH. Your first vocation and your primary call is that of "child of God," and this status is with you wherever you go.

The active voice in the word vacation is our voice, but the active word in vocation is God's. It is God who calls, claims, and sets the course.

How strongly we see this in both our first and second lessons for today. Notice the verbs and that the subject of these verbs is God. God is the actor.

Isaiah says, "God called me. God named me. God made me and hid me." God didn't say, "Israel, would you like to be my servant?" But rather, "You are my servant."

In the same way, Paul gives thanks for the grace of God in Christ working in and through the Corinthian congregation. In every way...every way, they have been enriched in Christ, and they will be strengthened to the end.

Both writers also conclude that God is faithful. The one who has chosen you--the one who has called you into the fellowship of God's Son is faithful.

The One who invades your life in your baptism, acts upon you, and calls you as a child and a servant, is faithful. God will not only be glorified, but God will also be faithful in you and through you.

How we need this assurance both as individuals and as a congregation. Whether it's teaching a Sunday School class
     trying to make Christ-like decisions in your business
     striving to be faithful in your relationships
     reaching out to someone who is struggling through a horrendous time
     living the hope and the promise of Jesus in the midst of overwhelming odds
     or spending a great amount of energy and time trying to reach a child at home or at school
In all these ways we know what it's like to be a servant with no visible results.

We know discouragement. We know burn out. We, too, have said with Isaiah, "I have labored in vain. I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.

In all these common situations, this is where the call of our baptism may become quite difficult. Parker Palmer in one of his books, A Hidden Wholeness, writes about "standing in the tragic gap."

Standing in the tragic gap is living in that space between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge. "We must learn," he says "to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility" in hopes of finding a better way.

It's painful to stand in the gap he says because this involves tension--the tension of having our grip on both reality and hope. And because living in tension is difficult, we let go of one pole and collapse the other. When this happens, we may either resign ourselves to the way things are or cling to escapist fantasies and float above the fray.

In the context of today, being faithful to our vocation as a child of God would mean to live in this tension as long as possible. For that's where we will accomplish the most good as we allow this tension to open us to more life-giving responses.

On this weekend the most prominent example of standing in the tragic gap would be the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. But let me give you a more common and ordinary example.

When I served another congregation, there was a gentleman by the name of Jim who served as a Big Brother. His little brother was 14 years old and was a casualty of his parent's divorce. Jim was his third big brother.

The first big brother abandoned him. The second big brother committed suicide in the middle of their relationship. By the time Jim became involved, the little brother didn't want anything to do with a big brother. But at his mother's insistence, he continued.

Jim wasn't going to do anything fantastic with him. All he needed to do was not leave this boy's life and he would be successful. All he needed to do was to give his little brother some consistency and not abandon him.

Jim was involved in this person's life for about 8 years and eventually he served as an attendant at his little brother's wedding.

This is an ordinary example of living in the gap and living one's vocation as a called and chosen servant of God. The God who has chosen us--the God who has called us into the fellowship of God's Son promises to be faithful through us.

The Lord says to us on this day: "I will give you as a light to the nations. You are my servant."

And the promise is this: "I will be glorified in you because I am faithful and I have chosen you--every single one of you in your baptism."


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