Summon Out What I Shall Be

Dec 13, 2020

Sermon 12-13-2020
Third Sunday of Lent
Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     On this Third Sunday of Advent, for the third week in a row. We focus on the Old Testament reading. Last week we heard a word of comfort during exile. This week we hear a word of joy, of renewal in a poetic description of what God will do for the suffering people of Israel and all who suffer.
     The context is this: the Israelites have returned from exile in Babylon to the Promised Land, Judea. But it is not as they imagined it would be nor what they dreamed of during their decades away. Gone is the splendid city and the impressive Temple, yet poverty, religious and political factions, and injustice remain. Where is the restored Jerusalem and the righteous community proclaimed by the Prophet? Is restoration possible, especially if it depends on them, they wonder?
     Once again, God speaks to them through the Prophet, who has been breathed on by the Spirit of the Lord. In Genesis, writes commentator Kristin Wendland, the breath of God hovered over the waters at creation. This too is a creation narrative, she says. Out of the chaos of destruction and exile, the Lord will create something new. (1)
     There WILL be renewal, restoration, and reversal. As the Prophet proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn….” (Isaiah 61:1-2)
     The Prophet’s message will change the way the people see themselves, writes commentator Elna Solvang, as well as the way they are regarded by others and the way they act. I’ll quote her: “Instead of ashes on their heads – a sign of humiliation and grief – they are given a festive headdress. They are treated as honored guests and anointed with the ‘oil of gladness’. To replace their dull spirits they are given mantles of praise. They are treated as they are to become, (not as) the humiliated, fragmented, dispirited and exploitative people that they currently are. Then they will accomplish what is needed and what has been too difficult: rebuilding Jerusalem as a city where righteousness and justice flourish.” (2)
     A new future is possible because God has promised to be in an everlasting covenant (relationship) with them. (vs. 8) Where hopelessness has taken root, there will be new growth of righteousness and praise by God’s Spirit.
     Commentator Stan Mast summarizes God’s promises in another way: “all will be made new. There will be a new spirit, a new vitality, a new task, a new place in the world and a new future. Behold! I am making all things new, God announces.” (3)
     Centuries later, at the beginning of his ministry, a young rabbi named Jesus read Isaiah’s words – the first two verses we read today - in the synagogue of his hometown and announced that the Prophet’s proclamation had been fulfilled in their hearing. The people were impressed initially, but when Jesus expanded the circle of God’s acceptance beyond the people of Israel, they were angry enough to kill him. (Luke 4:17-19)
     Jesus is the one through whom God’s “everlasting covenant” is fulfilled, the one who brings God’s transformation to a broken world. Still, as was the case when the Prophet spoke to the returned exiles, poverty, religious and political factions, and injustice remain in our world, indeed in the place we call home. Jesus challenges it all – through us.
     We, too, have been treated as we are to one day fully become, not as sinners who fall short of God’s glory, not as people who are self-focused and self-serving, but as God’s loved and forgiven ones, empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve God by serving others.
     A good question to ask in Advent is this: what do I need to change to allow God’s transformation to take place in me and ultimately in the world? Do we have the courage to ask ourselves that – both as individuals and as a congregation? What do I need to change to allow God’s transformation to take place in me, and ultimately in the world?
      There is a brief, simple hymn in the ELW that fits with that question. It is #814, “Take, oh, take me as I am; summon out what I shall be; set your seal upon my heart and live in me.” Why don’t you repeat each phrase after me: “Take, oh, take me as I am; (pause) Summon out what I shall be; (pause) set your seal upon my heart; (pause) and live in me. (pause) Might that become an Advent prayer for us?
     Remember, too … it is the breath of God’s Spirit blowing on us that creates newness. It seems to me that those who finished the 8-week Multiethnic Conversations discussion last Sunday felt the breath of the Spirit, prodding us to allow God’s transformation to take place, both in our own lives and in our congregation. We can all look forward to seeing where that prodding will take us, with the newly affirmed Welcome Statement as our foundation.
     Even during a pandemic – especially during a pandemic – how do we allow renewal, restoration, and reversal among us? We should ponder that question not with fear but with anticipation of what is possible.
     On this Third Sunday in Advent, Stan Mast writes: “(As we wait) we are still in the dark, but help is coming, and soon. (That sounds like a certain doctor we all know talking about a vaccine we all anticipate.) He (the one who is coming) will be more than we expect and he will do more than we can imagine. O Come, O Come Immanuel!” (4)
     “Take, oh, take me as I am; summon out what I shall be; set your seal upon my heart and live in me.” AMEN
(1) Third Sunday of Advent, Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 by Kristin J. Wendland,
(2) Third Sunday of Advent, Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, by Elna K. Solvang
(3) Advent 3B, Isaiah 6:1-4, 8-11 by Stan Mast,
(4) Same as #3