L. British Hyrams
(Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17)
Last week Steve introduced Trinity’s theme for 2020 – Connection. The intent is that all areas of the church from worship to mission, from Christian formation to congregational life, from buildings and grounds to welcoming, from finance to administration; ALL ministry efforts will be oriented around intentionally and thoughtfully connecting to God, our church family and our neighbors.
The sermon last week kicked off this theme, and it ended with two parting questions: How will we connect with God, the Trinity church family, and with neighbors? What light will we shine?” Today the scripture passages will be considered in dialogue, in conversation with the two questions posed last week.
The Matrix [movie] series consists of a trilogy of science fiction action films. The series features a story of the technological fall of man, which led to a race of self-aware machines that imprisoned mankind in a virtual reality system – the Matrix. Three main characters Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus are trying to free humanity from the system while pursued by its guardians.
In the third movie there is a scene where Neo (a messiah-like figure) and Trinity are in space in a small pod type of vehicle. Mind you, Neo cannot see and is wearing a blindfold, but he has the knowledge they need to escape and Trinity is the one actually driving/maneuvering the space pod. They are being viciously attacked by machines called sentinels, which look like a machine version of an octopus!
As doom surrounds them, Trinity insistently says, “Come on Neo, I need help here, what do we do?” He tells her to ““go up” go up over them, it’s the only way.” Immediately, she navigates the pod into a 90-degree upward turn as the intensity of the attack continues. And at last, they break through the darkness and behold the beauty of a glimpse of light, the sun.
After I watched this clip for about the third time I noticed something. If you look closely, not at what is center on the screen, not at their faces, not at the pod they are in or the long-armed attackers, but if you look beyond all the hoopla, you will see that Neo and Trinity are holding hands nearly the entire time. At one point when their hands come apart as Neo is attacked, Trinity intentionally grabs Neo’s hand again and says “I got you” and they continue to hold hands until the end of the scene.
There is a profound power in holding hands. Touch is one of the first of our senses to develop and our need for it never goes away. It is up close and personal, it heightens our awareness of the other person, it expresses and deepens the connection between parties. Human beings are hard wired to seek out each other’s touch even before we are born. Most newborn babies exhibit a “grasp reflex”. What a delight when you touch an infant’s palm and the baby grabs your finger and squeezes it tight!
In our passage from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of a servant, God’s servant, who is called by God and commissioned to be a light to ALL nations. You might not be surprised to know that there are many scholarly opinions about the identity of the servant, some say Israel, some another ruler of the era, others the coming Messiah, namely Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter, because regardless of the identity, the Servant (Israel or otherwise) CAN do this task because of the Spirit of God. This is the only necessary qualification. Those who claim Jesus as the servant point to v16 the Matthew passage as proof “Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him”.
There is another important reason that the servant can complete the task; nestled in these verses in Isaiah, if you read too fast you might miss it, in verse 6, God says, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you. These words spoken by God indicate ONGOING action, it’s meaning includes the sense that God is doing the holding and doing it firmly, so firmly in fact that God will guard and watch over the Servant.
Beloved, I don’t know if you have ever experienced it, but we CAN physically feel the touch of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, in addition, I would contend that this scripture also points to God’s call to us to hold one another’s hand as an expression of God’s love and presence. This might be lightly clasped fingers, or palm-to-palm holding tightly, maybe even interlocked fingers clinging for dear life – whatever says, “I got you” in that particular situation.
Our passage from Matthew underscores the same concept, that walking in the way God has called us to is done together. In verse 15 of Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus, Jesus responds to John’s reluctance to baptize him with these words: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he (John) consented. Essentially, Jesus reaches for John’s hand and John feels unqualified to participate with Jesus in this way, but Jesus insists, so John takes his hand. The use of “us” links John and Jesus together. They are partners in carrying out God’s saving plan. This is a joint venture that Jesus and John must do together in the same way that God holds the hand and keeps the servant that is called and commissioned to be a light to all nations.
These scriptures suggest that one answer to the question “How will we connect?” is this: We will connect by intentionally going forth together, hand in hand, with God, each other, and with our neighbors as a light to all nations.
The second question from last week’s sermon asks, “What light will we shine?” Jesus says to John in his request to be baptized, that they must do this to “fulfill all righteousness”, that sounds like a daunting task, and indeed it is. But simply put, it means, “doing the will of God”. If only it were that simply though. How many of us wonder what the will of God is?
A quick search on the topic “will of God” yields greater than 10,000 hits for books related to the topic on both amazon.com and cokesbury.com. There is enough depth and mystery to this question to keep human study, discourse, mental energy and prayer going for a lifetime. For today’s purpose, we will look back to our passage from Isaiah.
Verse 1 says of the Servant, he will bring forth justice to the nations, verse 2 says of the Servant, he will faithfully bring forth justice, and verse 7 gives a bit more detail about the nature of that justice, “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Based on these marching orders for God’s servant (which arguably includes Israel, Jesus, the church, you and me), bringing forth justice is definitely a part of God’s will. In fact, the Psalms and the book of Isaiah reveal God’s love for justice. Not human justice, but Godly justice – mishpat is the Hebrew word. The word mishpat means judgment and righteousness as rooted in the divine, in God. The justice of God is characterized by a special regard for the stranger, the poor, and the weak.
This justice is wider than any narrow legalistic ideas we may have. You see, humans, we tend to impose conditions and qualifiers that God does not. The poor don’t have to thank us profusely or thank us at all. The weak may not actually look like they are weak. The stranger may not speak our language or share our beliefs. God has SPECIAL regard for the widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak and oppressed, period, without condition or qualifier.
God’s servant will help to cause justice to appear, to exist. Justice is an event to be realized, not just hoped for. Not just thoughts and prayers, though thoughts and prayers are good. It’s a process requiring commitment and persistence that strives to get results. God’s servant is working toward the kind of life that will ultimately prevail on earth when all nations are brought under God’s rule.
History has proven that there have been a plethora of servants who have been called to the task of working for godly justice. They are individuals, and they are organizations. They are citizens of every nation and tongue. They are male, female, transgender, and non-binary. They are Christian, they are Muslim, they are Jewish, they are Buddhist, they are Atheist.
We don’t have to look in the past to find others to encourage us, there are present day servants to guide and inspire us. In theatres right now there is a movie “Just Mercy” it is based on a book of the same name. The author Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political shenanigans, and pushing legal limits – he continues this work to this very day.
One answer to the question “What light will we shine?” might be this: With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will shine the light of justice
In Jesus Christ we are God’s beloved, even before we know it as we proclaimed over Mary Katherine in her baptism earlier. As God’s beloved, as God’s servants, by the grace of God, may 2020 be a year of glimpses of light as we intentionally connect with God, one another and our neighbors; hand in hand, pursuing godly justice.
Thanks be to God!
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