Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Call Your Name

Isaiah 45:1-7, October 16, 2011

Remember the song, “I Call Your Name”? It was written by John Lennon prior to the formation of the Beatles. In 1963, he gave the song to Billy Kramer of The Dakotas, another Liverpool band.
Lennon was reportedly dissatisfied with the Dakotas' arrangement of his song as well as its position on the B-side of their record (if you are old enough to remember records, you know what the 'B' side means).  So the Beatles eventually recorded their own version of “I Call Your Name”, which came out on their 2nd album.
I tend to remember the Mamas & Papas cover of the tune on their 1966 LP because I thought they did such a good job with Lennon’s original creation.

An artist, --a-creator, won't let their creation go to waste. John Lennon wasn't satisfied with the song so he produced it himself. A Creator is willing to take unplanned action, to insure that things come out to his/her satisfaction.

God, in the Isaiah passage, is notifying God's people of the Creator prerogative. God is dissatisfied with the way life is turning out. So God is going to make some changes. The Creator will do what the Creator will do, using whomever the Creator wishes. IN this case, the Almighty calls Cyrus, the ruler of Persia. God will use him to conquer Babylon (where most of the Israelites are living in captivity) and this major change will “set the scene for the journey of the exiles back to their homeland.” Cyrus, a foreign King, with no Jewish blood at all, will even end up decreeing the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.

Like the early People of God, we should remember that God does call whom God wants. If we ignore the call, God will find others - and with or without their knowledge - God will use them. This is the Creator’s prerogative.

This message quickly puts us in our place as creatures, doesn't it?
It reminds us of our limited power to control. When God calls, who are we to say no, or not right now, or I'd like to think about it. Maybe later God, when I'm more ready.  ?

A passage like this leaves the question of free will unanswered.
How much can God do without our consent? Why does God bother to call people, if God can do what God wants? We turn to the stories of scripture, which tell us that God does call us, and God's preference is for us to respond--- willingly; as individuals and as communities of God's children.

God's message was often to an entire community or nation -or nations.
God's call began with Abram and Sara's story, which was a CALL to become a Nation of God's people. They answered, “Yes” and became a wandering couple who WAITED, many, many years for the 'call' of God to be fulfilled in the promised family of descendents. Eventually their descendents became two nations of God's people; Israel & Judah, consolidated from the 12 tribes of Abraham.

The Bible is full of stories of individuals who were called into God's service.
Moses' story began before he encountered a burning bush. He felt the pull of being a Jew, before he even recognized there was a Divine presence behind his actions.
He didn't want to accept the call, you'll remember. He listed every excuse he could think of and God countered every one. Eventually bringing Moses' brother Aaron into the mix as spokesperson to help Moses' deal with a speech impediment. Moses was special above all others because he got to talk to God directly. He was quite bold as we heard in the passage read from Exodus 33. Basically –saying to God, “if you are not going to go with us, don't even bother to take us any further than this place.” And God promises to stay with the people because God has called Moses' by name.

Many prophets were also called into God's service; this wasn't a prime career position. Isaiah & Jeremiah, have stories of obeying God's call even when it meant saying what no one wanted to hear and suffering for it. You might even remember Jonah who initially disobeyed God's call and ran away on board a ship. That adventure ended rather unpleasantly. If you don't recall the entire story, the book of Jonah is short & exciting read!

All through the scriptures heard today, are messages verifying the fact that God does call. People ARE chosen by God and our answer makes a difference.  Cyrus's call is different than most. His is a unique circumstance where God uses someone who is not aware of his call, and doesn't even know God.

Cyrus is literally named, “God's anointed” – you may remember how that word translates, in Hebrew it is, Messiah and in Greek it is Christ. Cyrus is the ONLY non-Jew named God's anointed.

It certainly sounds strange to us who have come to hear “the anointed” as referring only to Jesus, but “Cyrus's call will bring redemption to the Israelites and enlightenment to his own life.  This is how the story of God's people evolves in the second part of the book of Isaiah. God calls this people back together, back to their land. --we could say God is calling them to return to faithfulness from the place of exile where they have been living.

The call to faithfulness brings life back into the CREATOR’s original design. Faithful response often needs renewing in God’s creation.

Much of our world today lives apart from any dependence on God.  Unlike the universalist perspective in 2nd Isaiah, where all people are not only dependent on God, they will ALL be 'saved' by the God who “is responsible for all aspects of the cosmos, both the origins of the natural world (“I form light and create darkness”) AND the events of human history (“I make weal and create woe”).

Today, We don't all share this perspective on God's intervention in human affairs or of the extent of God's saving grace. Being not of one mind, we struggle to interpret God's call and wonder if and how a particular event can BE part of God's Will?

I find it helps to read these stories of God's call. In stories we learn what others have done and how God acts. In real-life stories we learn the true character of God. We learn to look for themes that resonate with the way God wants the world to be. The stories lift us from our short-term vision and help us see the way God works. In stories we learn what the Creator is dissatisfied with and where we can expect God to makes changes. (Just like the composer who wants his song to come out just right.)

There are a few consistent themes to listen for:
The 1st is Hesed, (I didn't sneeze) this is the Hebrew word every Christian should know. It is the word for the most basic character of God. Hesed is a relational word about faithfulness, steadfastness, kindness and grace. (Exodus 34: God is rab hesed; rich in faithfulness.)            
            Any action - rich in faithfulness, any action that is grace-filled, is compatible with 'God's will' and call. We are always called to join in with God’s grace.

2nd – theme is liberation or salvation.
            Within the big-picture of biblical stories, God acts to liberate and save. God intervenes to save the Israelites from the curse of the 1st born. This is the heart of 'passover'. God liberates the Israelite slaves from Egypt. God saves the Israelites from the Wilderness. (even if the shorter perspective stores also condemn a generation to wander.) God calls Moses' into the job of liberation leader.
            And of course, Jesus liberates all those who are bound by sin and brokenness – and who isn't?
            We can expect to be called to work with the Almighty in the big-picture job of liberating and rescuing people from whatever is holding us or others down. Which leads us to another theme;

  - God's preference for the oppressed. God seeks to save, & God asks US to help. Which means we are called to work for changes to the 'way life is turning out'. Like the prophets, We may not be popular with the world around us, but what an honor to be called to help write a verse in God's song of liberation.

These 3 big themes help us determine God's will and learn to what we are called by God. But it never hurts to remember that some things are beyond our vision. We won't understand everything that God does. We almost never think death is a good thing and yet in God's design, we all die.
Many of the things that happen within a lifetime are beyond our ability to comprehend.

A Friend of mine signs all his emails, AIGW; “All In God's Will”. He has written several books seeking to help short-sighted humans accept that God does what God wants and often calls us to work in unexplainable ways. You've heard the Muslim phrase, "Inshallah" or you heard your grandparents say it in English, “God-willing” - which is almost a quote from the book attributed to Jesus' brother, James. 4:13-15, says,

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, …Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” - or “Inshallah”

One scholar, Fred Gaiser, said, “Isaiah's [story] might be paraphrased this way,
“Whom would you rather have in charge of even the dark realities of the real world: gods created by human hands and human culture? or the God who loves you and who will give Godself to you and for you in whatever way it takes to set you free?”

            Isaiah (& OT world) doesn't yield to a simplistic formula of “IF it happened, God did it.”
 God works thru the forces of creation and thru the agency of human beings (like Cyrus & us) to make the song of life turn out to God’s liking. The fact that we are all VERY HUMAN, means that both the world and human beings might revert to the chaos God seeks to overcome. But liberation and redemption remain God's “purposes”.

We have one more thing to remember as a community of the called, to be careful not to mistake our own purposes for God’s-- just like Israel did again and again.  It ..’wasn't always clear how God would accomplish a future for God's people, Israel.” We are a bit like them, wondering about the future of God's community called the Church.

“We know God has worked in a particular way before and we assume God will work again in the same way. New methods, which include new people [being] called to God's work, are hard to accept. But it is clear that being chosen by God doesn't exclude God choosing and calling others to be included in God's story. --Even when the newly chosen people are from a different tradition or family or have different ideas--– maybe like Cyrus?

As WE look to the future and listen for God's call we need to remember God's priorities and not only ask,How will we share God with others, but  - How is God sharing others with us? “God has a habit of using people who we would not have anticipated. After all, God chooses whomever God wishes to choose. ..

“I Call Your Name” is God's message to us today. What is YOUR answer?
 NIB Study Bible, Isaiah 44:27-28 notes p. 1018
 Ibid p. 1018
 Ibid p. 1019
 Fred Gaiser, Isaiah 45:1-7 commentary
 Jeff Carter Feasting On The Word – Pastoral Taylor & Bartlett eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2011) p. 174
 James Burns Feasting – Homiletical ibid p. 173, 175
 Ibid p. 175

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