First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Reflections on reading from Isaiah

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Friday, January 10, 2014
Hi everyone,

Trust that you are all well and warming up a bit. From the forecast we might
be able to wear shorts to church on Sunday.

Here are my first thoughts on this week's readings. To stimulate my thinking
I have read and made use of the commentary from Feasting on the Word Year A
Volume 1 pages 218- 241 , David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor , Editors

We continue to read from Isaiah, Isaiah 42:1-9 . Our reading is probably set
in a time when the people of Judah are in exile in Babylon just before Cyrus
the Persian king defeats Babylon and liberates the Jews which allows them to
return to their homeland. Although life in Babylon was not that bad
especially compared to the lives of the Jews who stayed in what was now a
devastated  Judah, the people must have been wondering  why they were
oppressed and where was their  God. Of course these are questions stilled
asked by people of faith today.

To this situation the poet prophet Isaiah speaks. He offers hope by speaking
of a servant sent by God who will usher in justice. Into a situation that
you would think required a military force, a very strong hand, Isaiah speaks
of a very gentile, patient servant who will protect the small voices for
justice and will eventually bring about transformation. The servant will not
grow faint or be crushed and he will establish justice. I really like the
image used to describe this gentle perseverance," and a dimly burning wick
he will not quench: he will faithfully bring forth justice"

Then God whose glory is described in terms of His mighty work in creation,
promises to be with the servant and to enable the servant to be a light to
all nations. Once again we are presented with the powerful image of light
overcoming darkness. God the one true God and  creator of the heavens and
earth, will do a new thing  through the servant.

A good question to ask ourselves is " who is the servant?" Scholars
attempting to place the servant in the historical context sometimes muse
about Cyrus himself and it is true he liberated the people from exile.
Others argue that the servant is Israel itself. And of course God had
declared to Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would be a light to the
nations.

Where I tend to go with this question is to see Jesus as the servant. Jesus
in His ministry lives into Israel's calling and is truly the servant Isaiah
is describing. This has been the traditional stance in the church and in
fact Isaiah has been referred to as the 5th Gospel . Last year at the Synod
Office I lead a small Bible Study based on Handel's Messiah. I was surprised
to see, ( if memory serves me correctly) that the most often quoted book of
the Bible in Handel's masterpiece about Jesus was not Matthew, Mark, Luke or
John but Isaiah.

This is probably why we are using this reading on the Sunday marking our
Lord's baptism. Because in His baptism Jesus was submitting to His calling
to be a the servant.

But Stephanie Paulsell in her commentary from Feasting on The Word suggests
that we also try to see ourselves as servants. That we frame our lives as
faithful servants being light to the nations empowered by the creator of
heaven and earth. A good sermon might draw this out for people and invite
them to think about what this means.

However, Psalm 29 is almost totally centered upon God. It is a Psalm of
praise that virtually does not mention human beings. So perhaps it is
directing our attention this Sunday  away from our human efforts as
important as they are to simply being in awe of God and praising God. The
imagery to depict God's glory is the powerful voice that is able to rip down
massive cedar trees. It is the voice of power and to do justice to the power
of God it  is compared to the power of a mighty storm.  Linda Day in her
comments from Feasting on The Word makes the connection between the power of
the voice in the Psalm being the power behind the voice at our Lord's
Baptism. This is a lovely thought.

I don't remember too many of my sermons but I do recall one I  preached
based on this Psalm. It was at this time of year and the roads were slushy
and a woman who sang in the choir named Louise was killed in a car accident
while driving to work. She was a grade one teacher. She was such a  lovely
person , I am sure she was a great teacher. She also had the voice of an
angel and every Sunday I had the privilege of sitting beside her because her
place in the Cathedral choir was beside my prayer desk. Her voice was
powerful in every sense. She had volume and poignant beauty but it was
powerful in its ability to reveal the love of Jesus. Listening to her voice
praise God was a spiritual joy. So that Sunday I invited us to consider her
voice and others and the power of the voice and the power of God's voice.
How can our voices reflect the powerful love of Christ.

In Acts there is the remarkable story  of Cornelius a Gentile who comes to
faith in  Christ through the ministry of St. Peter. St. Peter did not at
first recognize that salvation in Christ was for everyone and he  would have
even thought that  the idea of visiting a Gentile in his home would be
dishonouring to God. But through a remarkable vision and set of
circumstances Peter visits Cornelius and sees that everyone is loved and
saved through Christ.   Our Acts reading for Sunday  has St. Peter speaking
about how he now realizes this truth and he rehearses how Jesus was anointed
by God , freed people from oppression, was crucified and rose from the dead.
You could say St. Peter is describing the servant from our Isaiah reading
and that  he truly was a light to all nations.

In our Gospel reading we witness the anointing of Jesus in His baptism . He
is anointed King which as Timothy Beach- Verhey notes in Feasting on The
Gospel's Matthew Volume 1,"In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is presented as
the messiah, the anointed one. He is the true king of Israel". He was
anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit and the voice of God saying
you are my beloved. He is being declared King and being backed up by the
powerful voice we heard of  in the Psalm.

But I also think that our Lord's baptism shows us that He was the servant
Isiah was talking about and that in His baptism Jesus is submitting to His
role as servant. He is being obedient to His calling. I think this
identification as servant shows us the amazing extent of our Lord's love for
us. He would be the light unto the nations.

To begin this ministry as king and servant it must have been so vital to
hear God declare that  Jesus was His beloved son with whom he was pleased.
Our baptism and our Lords are not the same. You can see john the Baptist not
wanting to baptise Jesus because Jesus unlike us did not need to repent. And
of course Jesus is a beloved son in a way none of us can be but in our
baptism we too are commissioned for ministry and what a tremendous thought
to think that God tells us with His voice that we are his beloved.

Just some very long winded first thoughts and observations that I hope will
help you prepare for worship this week. Do you have any ideas? What would
you say if you had to preach? Were any of you baptised as an adult? What are
your memories?




Tags: isaiah  babylon  cyrus  epiphany  handel's messiah  stephanie paulsell  psalm 29  feasting on the word year