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Date: Epiphany 2a
Text: Isaiah 49:1-6
Theme: Equipped for Mission and Ministry

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

During an Army war game the commanding general's humvee got stuck in the mud. No amount of maneuvering got it unstuck. As he got out of the humvee, the general noticed a group of soldiers lounging nearby, goofing off. He went over and asked them to help him get unstuck.

One of the loafers replied, "I'm sorry, sir, but we've been classified as dead and the umpire said that we can't contribute to the war games in any way."

The general turned to his driver and said, "Help me drag a couple of these dead bodies over to the humvee and throw them under the wheels to give us some more traction."

I don't know about you, but if I was one of those soldiers I would get my tail over to the humvee and start pushing with all of my might. If I were one of those soldiers I would all of a sudden realize that the general had a mission to accomplish and, like it or not, I was a part of that mission and I'd better start contributing to that mission.

It's easy for us in the church to get distracted from the mission which God has given us to accomplish. During the past year a number of our church's leaders have examined the purposes, the missions, to which God has called us so that we might more effectively carry it out. The truth is, we don't want to be a pile of dead bodies thrown under the wheels of God's great missional convoy. We want to contribute actively to God's mission.

But, if we are to contribute to God's mission we must first realize that the Lord has called us to mission. We see this in the first verse of today's Old Testament lesson. Isaiah, by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, tells us, "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me."

Isaiah is very aware of one thing; he is aware of the fact that he has been called; he has been called from eternity by Yahweh to proclaim his word of judgement and grace in Israel. Isaiah is aware that he has been called to be in mission, to be in mission to God's people and to be in mission to people who do not yet know the Lord as their personal God and Savior.

Isaiah was not alone in his awareness that he was called by God. Paul, as we see in today's epistle lesson, is also very aware that he has been called by God to carry out God's mission. Paul stresses the fact that is an apostle by the will of God. Paul didn't decide that he wanted to be an apostle; he didn't decide that he wanted to be in mission; he didn't decide to be a part of God's mission. Not at all. Paul was very aware that he was called by God to be in mission.

We are like Paul. God has called us, called us as individuals and called us collectively as his church, to be in mission. It is God's unwavering will that we be aware of the fact that he has called us to be in mission for him.

He has called us; he has sent us; and, more than that, he has also equipped us for the mission. We see this in verse 2 of the lesson. Isaiah tells us, "He has made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver." We don't get all of the allusions which Isaiah makes because we live in a different era. But Isaiah is clear about one thing. God has given him all that he needs to carry out his mission.

In today's lesson Isaiah describes that mission in military terms. He says that the Lord has made his mouth like a sharpened sword. The sharpened sword, the double edged sword, in Scripture, invariably refers to the Word of God. The Lord has equipped Isaiah for his mission; he has equipped him with his Word which destroy all false doctrines and practices. That Word gives Isaiah the power and ability to speak with God's authority. Isaiah can say, and will say, over and over again, "Thus says the Lord." The Lord has equipped Isaiah for his mission.

Paul tells us that God the Holy Spirit equips each of us for our mission just as he equipped the early Corinthian Christians. In verse 7 of the epistle lesson St. Paul writes, "You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly await for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." God the Holy Spirit has given us the special gifts and attributes we need to carry out the mission which God has given us.

Our problem is that we don't always trust the Holy Spirit and his good gifts. We are overly timid and unsure of ourselves and that is where the problem lies. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit and his gifts we rely upon ourselves and when we do we become discouraged and dejected because all we see is the insurmountable mountain before us. We don't see God the Holy Spirit going with us, equipping us, and crowning our work with his good hand.

Because the Holy Spirit is with us in our mission, because he equips us for our mission, we should never become discouraged as we carry out the work he has given us. We see this in verse 4 of the Old Testament lesson. After naming all the things God has given him for his mission, Isaiah laments, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God."

It can be so easy to become discouraged in our God-given mission. We work so hard and often see so few results. We may become despondent; we may think that we aren't carrying out the mission; we may even forget about our mission entirely and get involved in activities to which we were never called by our God and Savior. We may delude ourselves into thinking that we're really making a difference when we, as church, get involved in the political process; we may think that we are making a difference when we, as church, spend all of our capital on a social gospel.

Let's not get confused, as believers we can and should be involved in the political process but we must never, ever declare that God is allied with one political agenda or another. But, and it's a big but, we do reserve the right to judge the political agenda in light of God's Word and if it is wrong we must declare, "Thus says the Lord." We must bring God's law to bear on social injustice and expose it as contrary to God's will and God's Word. But we must be absolutely sure that we are speaking God's Word and not our own. We must also remember that this social witness is not our primary purpose as God's church and as individual members of that church. We must never forget the mission to which our God has called us.

But what is our God-given mission? Why and for what has God called us as individual believers and called us collectively as his church? Why are we here?

We find the answer in today's Old Testament lesson. We find it in verse 6 of the lesson where the Lord speaks to us and says, "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept." Ours is a restorative mission. God has called us to bring a word of grace to people in their time of need. God has called us to bring his word of healing, healing in body, soul, and spirit, to people who need to hear it. We bring God's word to people who are troubled and that word strengthens them in their time of need. We see this morning's Psalm, "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and put their trust in the Lord."

Our church recognizes the caring aspect of our mission; our Caring Ministry Team seeks to bring God's love to people in their need to give them the strength they need to carry on with their lives with the love and strength of God carrying them when the going gets too tough for them.

In our ministry, in our ministry as God's Church, we are to act as a beacon, a great light shining forth in the world, attracting people, bringing them to the love and care of our great God and Savior. We see this in verse 6 of the lesson, where Isaiah further tells us, "I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." Our love and caring is to be so attractive, so genuine, that people will be attracted to it and attracted by it so that they will come and learn of God's great love for them.

We must always remember that our mission is to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Our mission is an outreach mission that share's God's love given to us in Christ. All that we do, in all of our ministries, brings God's love to people who do not know him so that they might also come to their great God and Savior and find life in him.

The church has always grabbed hold of this mission. We see it so clearly in today's Gospel lesson. John the Baptist bears witness to Jesus as the Christ. As he stand with his disciples, he sees Jesus pass by and declares, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The day before he had declared, "This is the Son of God." We join our witness to that of John and declare that our eternal God became truly human in the person of Jesus Christ and came to us, in order to set us free from the power of sin, death, and the devil. Like John, we will never water down, we will never compromise, this message; we will never give up this mission. We will remain faithful to it and to our Lord and Savior who commissioned us.

This message and mission should energize us; it should excite us. God loves me. God loves me with a love so great that he laid aside his godly might and power and came into my world and died on the cross in order to forgive all of my sins! Because he did that I now have a new and right relationship with him. I am his child. He loves me! He loves me and proved it to me on the cross.

This message should so excite us that we can never keep it in but we feel compelled to share it, to share it just as Andrew did in the gospel lesson. Andrew came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah; he followed Jesus; he received Jesus' invitation to come with him and what did Andrew do? Did he forget everything and follow Jesus? Not at all. John, by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, tells us that the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah." And then they both followed Jesus.

May God's love so fill us and propel us that we remain faithful to our Lord and his mission as we proudly proclaim, "We have found the Messiah," and bring people to him and to life and to salvation. Amen.

And may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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