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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, January 22, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 49:1–7

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—
he says,
“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.” (NRSV)

Here is a noticeable shift in Isaiah. It’s not the first one, or even the most arresting; the transition from “first” to “second” Isaiah in chapter 40, with its announcement of “comfort, comfort,” is more unforgettable. The switch from God’s voice to the peoples’ voice at the beginning of chapter 49, though, makes quite an impact of its own.

It takes until verse 3 to figure out who the “me” is that’s speaking: Israel. All of the conventional designations for God’s people are here—“called,” “formed,” “honored,” “chosen.” Coming as these verses do in the part of the prophet that speaks to the return from exile, the “nevertheless” of God’s purpose that has endured through the peoples’ failure and defeat, it rings a bit discordant. Have we learned nothing from the exile experience that we’re still claiming for ourselves this special status?

But something is different here. “It is too light a thing,” God says in verse 6, that the peoples’ mission now should be constrained to its own well-being. Instead, something bigger is required of this people now, transformed and chastened as they have been by their years of exile. Verse 6 continues, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is a comeback story, only the game’s moved out of the arena and into the streets around it.

I wonder if that longing we sometimes feel to get back to how things used to be—in church, in our families, our jobs, in our country, and in our world—isn’t also “too light” and doesn’t keep us from perceiving some new, bigger, expression of our calling.

O God who formed us and called us, who surely holds us through all of our straining, fit us for today’s work. Show us what to lay down and what to take up, that we may be the light you intend, even to the ends of the earth. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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