2 Epiphany — A
I have a nephew who has had some difficulty finding his way in life. He’s talented, intelligent, and charismatic; a lot of fun to be around. But he just couldn’t find anything he could grab hold of–nothing that would stick. He tried everything from graphic art for computer games to phlebotomy (drawing blood for medical testing), with lots of odd jobs along the way. But nothing that got his juices flowing. Nothing that he could own as his purpose.
He dropped in and out of school for a decade, just not finding anything that was significant enough to hold him. He drifted from one job to another, from one relationship to another.
It was a crisis for him.
Because he was good at drawing blood from difficult veins, he was asked one day to go as part of an ambulance team to the scene of an highway accident, just in case. He agreed to go this one time, and suddenly, it was as if life opened up for him! As he tagged along with the paramedics and ambulance crew, he knew he had found his passion. The lights in his life suddenly turned on and he had a focus, a direction, a purpose.
He now wanted, more than anything he had ever wanted before, to become a paramedic.
Almost 600 years before Jesus was born, the nation of Judah and a remnant from Israel were taken captive. They were led from their homes and their ancestral land — promised to them by God — and held prisoner in a foreign land by pagan people.
For decades they cried out to God for help. For decades they wondered what was to become of them. Had God abandoned them? Had God revoked God’s promises to them? Was this a punishment for something they had done wrong? Where was God? Would they ever see their homes again?
This was a crisis for them.
After so long a time that few of the Israelites even remembered what their homeland even looked like, a new king came into power in this foreign land. And with this new king all the Israelites who had been help captive for for all those years were set free to return home.
Finally, after 50 years of captivity, their hope was renewed; they were returning home.
Feeling lost and abandoned happens to all of us. Hopes get dashed, dreams are trampled, and we are powerless to do anything about it. We can feel lost, alone, helpless.
That can happen anytime there’s a major change in our lives. Anytime there’s a significant loss: in our family, in our identity, in our church. It can be a crisis for us.
All we want is to feel normal again. To be restored, to get through this. To have a glimmer of hope again.
My nephew, with new motivation, went back to school one more time. The crisis of what to do with his life was over. He had a long and difficult road ahead of him, but that was OK. At least he had hope for the future.
He worked full time and went to school full time. He studied, lived very simply, he made whatever sacrifice was necessary to get certified as a paramedic.
Finally, after several years of sacrifice, he was awarded a Bachelor’s degree, completed all his training, and was given the opportunity for his dream. He became a certified paramedic. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…
The people of Israel, with new motivation, went back to Jerusalem and their homes. The crisis of faith and trusting God was over. They had a long and difficult road ahead of them, but that was OK. At least they had hope for the future.
They worked hard to rebuild their fallen city. They constantly had to fend off invaders who sought to take advantage of their vulnerable situation. They made whatever sacrifice was necessary to restore their homes.
Finally, after years of sacrifice, they had rebuilt the city walls, the temple, and their homes. A dream come true. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…
Each of us has come through a crisis, moved forward with new motivation, and reclaimed some hope. We’ve come through difficulties, dreamed new dreams, and made the necessary sacrifices in our lives. We’ve survived our grief, we’ve discovered new gifts, we’ve fought off a budget shortfall. Crisis averted. That should end the story. However…
My nephew became certified as a paramedic. Now what? The story continues with him getting a job in Las Vegas. It continues with every comforting word he speaks to a frightened person, every injury he treats, every life he saves. It turns out, the story wasn’t about him at all. It was about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And my nephew’s story is now part of that.
The exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their homes. Now what? The prophet Isaiah in this text today tells them that wasn’t the end of the story at all. The story continues with God gathering them back to move them forward with God’s purpose: the salvation of the world. Though they lived through the crisis of exile, God says to them, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant 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.” It turns out, the story wasn’t about them at all. It was about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And Israel’s story is now part of that.
We’ve dealt with our loss, adapted to a new normal, survived as a congregation. Now what? For LCM, our membership gains, our revenue as a church, our preferred worship styles, even thriving as a congregation aren’t the end of the story at all. The story continues with God’s mission and our purpose in that. It continues with every act of mercy, every expression of compassion, every attempt at forgiveness in the world. It turns out, the story isn’t about us at all. It is about God’s bigger story of saving the whole world. And now our story is part of that.