He needs no introduction, but the show does not begin until the announcer tells us what we already know, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “It’s Conan O’Brien,” “David Letterman,” or from the halls of heaven, “Here’s Johnny.”

 

He needs no introduction, but Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with Matthew 3:17 (NRSV) “a voice from heaven …, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1]

 

In each of these cases, the one being introduced needs no introduction; we already know who he is. Our Old Testament lesson invites some introduction: Isaiah 42:1 (NRSV) 1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.[2]

 

Who is this servant? Is he Cyrus, the Persian monarch who delivered Israel from exile? Is he Israel, the people of God, bringing forth justice in God’s world? Is he Jesus, “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?” Is the servant the people of God who are Pennside Presbyterian Church, upheld by God, chosen by God, in whom God delights?

 

Yes. The servant is all of these and more. Holy Scripture is more than stories about people who lived long ago and far away. It’s more than a timeless word; it is first and foremost a timely word, a word of God to us today, a word of God that speaks to today’s people facing today’s challenges dealing with today’s needs.

 

Today, we are introduced to the servant. We are invited to be the servant; the one who by God’s spirit brings forth justice to the nations.

 

W    THE SPIRIT OF THE SERVANT

 

Being the servant of God fills our lives with surprises. We may not know that we are serving; we may not want to serve; we may want to be lord and master. We may want to be the king who is in his castle and all is right with the world.

 

Ah, but all is not right with the world. If all was right, then things wouldn’t be changing, but “the times, they are a changing.” Isaiah 42:9 (NRSV) See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.[3]

 

As we turn our hearts and minds toward Sudan this morning, we’re praying for a “new thing.” We pray that the “peace and justice” John Tubuwa spoke of when he visited us will take a significant step forward in today’s election in South Sudan. The possibility exists that today could bring forth justice and peace in a region of the world that has known war and genocide. We hope, we pray for transformational change in Sudan today.

 

If by God’s grace that change happens, it will be very good for South Sudan. What it will mean for North Sudan and Darfur remains to be seen. This side of eternity, we live in a finite world of limitations: More for one usually means less for another. That’s good when you’re the one; not so good when you’re another.

 

A few months ago, I attended the Board of Pensions annual conference in Tampa, FL. The key note speaker was Dr. Ken McFayden, who offered an important new insight on why we resist change; he spoke of “the grief of change.” Whenever there is a change, there is a loss. We’re not who we were. We’re not who we thought we were. The comfort of the familiar is displaced by what Robert Hughes called, “the shock of the new.”

 

Therefore, when change occurs, we grieve for what we’ve lost. We mourn it; we go through the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified in her classic book On Death and Dying: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance; however, just because there are 5 stages, that does not mean that we go through them in any particular sequence; there is no set order to grief. Grief also changes, and as finite, limited human beings, we all have a point at which we have had enough. We’ve grieved as much as we can grieve, so we shut down. We can’t deal with it. We often mistake this “shut down” as being “resistant to change,” but it’s really an expression of deep woundedness. Loss upon loss has overwhelmed us; the burden is more than we can bear.

 

When we pay attention to this grief, rather than dismissing it or writing people off, we can bring healing to that deep woundedness; we can restore and replenish people’s capacity to change. We can find our way through the pain together with the spirit of a servant: Isaiah 42:3-4 (NRSV) a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.[4]

 

Pennside is experiencing significant change. We’ll talk about these changes more at the Town Hall, but for now, listen for God’s invitation to be God’s servants through these changes. Pay attention to what these changes stir inside of you; be aware of your grief so you can be aware of the grief of others. As we move forward together, remember that we are all servants. Help one another find our way through the pain with the spirit of a servant.

 

W    BRING FORTH JUSTICE

 

Servants serve. We have a task, a mission; that mission defines us. Mission is more than what we do; mission is who we are. As one writer put it, “The church exists for mission, as fire exists for burning.”

 

The mission of the servant; the mission of the church is to “bring forth justice.” Before we import all of our post-modern, 21st century American notions of what “justice” means into our mission, remember that our mission is a God-given mission; we don’t set the terms.

 

God does: Isaiah 42:5-7 (NRSV) 5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:  I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, [מִשְׁפָּט same Hebrew word as “justice”] I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.[5]

 

God is the Creator; the One who gives order, purpose, and life to all that exists. The tragic reality is that creation is out of alignment with the Creator. We prefer chaos to order, living for ourselves over living for God, and in countless ways, we choose death over life.

 

This is the reality of sin, and the mission to “bring forth justice” is far grander than simply sitting in judgment. It’s easy to throw stones; it is far more difficult, and far more rewarding to help put the pieces back together. The mission to “bring forth justice” is a mission to restore, to reconcile, to transform the reality of sin into a reality of salvation where “all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things shall be well.”[6]

 

Our mission is nothing less than a new exodus; we bring forth justice; we begin where we are, as we are, and we work together for the God who is always one step ahead of us, always doing something new while we struggle to adapt to what God has done.

 

One writer declared: “We live in times of great social and ecclesial change. Our world is marked with a radical plurality and ambiguity. These are turbulent times that affect us all as we witness to the old breaking down and the new breaking through. This is not a time to foreclose experimentation, risk, alternative possibilities. Rather, we need to allow community to evoke a wide range of ecclesial expressions. I have a hope that the commitment, skill, and art required for people to create new beginnings and new communal bonds will release significant social energy and imagination.[7]

 

Changing times are challenging times; every challenge is an opportunity. Justice doesn’t just happen; it is brought forth; it is an exodus from the sin that was to the salvation that shall be.

 

Servants serve. We serve the God who is always one step ahead of us, always doing something new while we struggle to adapt. We pray that God’s new thing in Sudan will bring forth peace and justice, and when it does, pay attention to that. Give thanks for that, and know that in our own small way, Pennside Presbyterian Church played a part in that. Draw strength from that knowledge as we go through our own time of change, challenge, and opportunity. May God give us the grace to have the spirit of a servant as we move forward together to bring forth justice. Amen.

 

 

 



[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

[4]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Julian of Norwich, “Showings.”

[7] Terry Velling, Conversation, Risk and Conversion. In “Missional Church Convocation: Incarnational Witness: Embodying God’s Love for the World.” July 27-29, 2006. Center for Parish Development. Chicago, Ill. 21.