This talk was given by the Reverend Dr Kath Williamson on . This Sunday was the second day of the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and was marked by a ‘pulpit swap’ between several of the churches in Frodsham Churches Together.
In the recording, the talk is preceded by the reading, a welcome to Kath, and a prayer.
The total length of the recording is .
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‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.’
This is what God the Lord says –
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
‘I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.’
(Isaiah 42:1–9, NIV UK)
Welcome and prayer
Thank you, Martin. I’ll pray for Kath as she comes to speak to us.
Father God, thank you that Kath is here with us this morning and open our hearts, open our minds and may we be ready to hear from you what you have to say to each one of us individually and to us together as a fellowship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning. As Gill mentioned, I don’t worship here I worship at St. Laurence Church. We currently have no vicar at the moment, although one has been appointed and will be coming in a few months, so it fell to my lot come to you this morning. I’m delighted to be here. I’ve chosen this passage from Isaiah 42 for two reasons. It was a passage that we read recently in our church and it got me thinking about using this reading here, but I was in two minds, I wasn’t quite sure.
Then I had a conversation with Paul. He said you are planning to start a series of talks on the prophets, so I decided to stick with it. This reading from Isaiah is the one that I’ve chosen. I’m not going to try to give you an overview of the prophets, in general, here. I’ll leave that to others who follow in the weeks to come, but I’d just like to say some introductory words about Isaiah. Isaiah is one of the major prophets and is considered to be written in three different sections: up to chapter 40, chapter 40 to chapter 55, then the remaining chapters.
Our reading today, Isaiah 42, falls in that middle section. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah, deal with Isaiah his vision of God and His call as a prophet and also, largely, prophecies of judgement on the people for their way ward, and Godless ways. The second section, from which our reading comes, contrasts with this in being, again largely, messages of hope for the future. Most scholars believe that the first section refers to the time before the people of Judah were conquered and taken into exile. The second section referring to the time when they were in exile, and is, therefore, offering messages of hope and longing for return: messages of coming salvation for the people of God.
It’s this latter context, the messages of coming salvation for the people of God, that we read this passage. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold. My chosen in whom my soul delights.” My servant. That’s the first bit to stop at. There are four passages in this middle section of Isaiah that refer to the servant of God. They’re often referred to as the servant songs, and if you wish to look them up at home, they are this one in chapter 42, then ones in chapters 49, 50, and 52. “Here is my servant whom I uphold my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have given him 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.”
Remember this writing was originally referencing the people of God during their exile. The writer was looking towards a person who will bring them out of their dungeon of exile and back to the promised land, their Messiah. For us, as Christians, we believe that this prophecy and many others refer to the time of the coming of Jesus, the coming of our Messiah. Jesus, too, clearly thought that many of the prophecies were about himself. He echoed Isaiah’s words at Nazareth, when after his baptism in the River Jordan and his temptation in the desert, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth, opened the scroll and read. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” If you want to read that passage, it’s in Luke chapter 4. Then Jesus very controversially said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This scripture, these prophecies, some of which we read today, have been fulfilled in the life of Jesus. For Jesus, the ministry of salvation in Isaiah 42 is taken as looking forward to his ministry. Once Jesus is baptised, he sets out on this ministry that will eventually lead him to his death.
Jesus’s ministry to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison, those who sit in darkness. What is the challenge for us in this passage from Isaiah 42? Well, Jesus set off on his own ministry and we too here, each one of us, you and me, we each have a ministry to perform. Not the same identical ministry as Jesus, for his was a unique and saving ministry, but our ministry is also about the recovery of sight, inner sight and letting the oppressed go free. Those oppressed by the world, by riches, by consumerism, by selfishness, and sin.
Isaiah said, “I have given him as a light to the nations,” We too, you and me, are called to reflect the light of Christ in our world. When we meet people, when you bump into people out there on the street and you’re talking to them, do they get a glimpse of light in their darkness? Do the scales in some way fall from their eyes, so that they see, there is an alternative way of living, a way of love and a way of light, but that is our ministry, to reflect Jesus, to reflect the life of Christ in our own small way and in our own small circle to those, we meet.
To show His love, His light, His grace, and that light that shines in the darkness and to help to bring hope to people that we meet. It’s a big ask from God, isn’t it? It’s a huge ask. When we feel inadequate, when we feel we don’t fulfil this ministry, to the best of our ability, that’s the time to remember those other words in this passage from Isaiah chapter 42. “He will not cry or lift up his voice. A bruised reed, he will not break under dimly burning wick, he will not quench.” We do our best to fulfil this ministry, but how often do we think we are little more than a dimly burning wick?
I know I do, and I’m sure some of you do sometimes too. For one thing, both you and I know that we are far from perfect. We may wish to bring the light of Christ into our world and let others see the joy and delight of having a close relationship with our Saviour. We also know that we often don’t achieve that in any great measure, and sometimes we get a sense of failure, and it’s at those times that we must remember a bruised reed, he will not break and a dimly burning wick, he will not quench because those are the words about Jesus’s ministry to let the oppressed go free.
They apply to us too as Christians, we are released from the oppression of thinking we should be perfect and always be always better. That’s not to say we don’t strive and it’s not to say we don’t try to fulfil our ministry, but we don’t need to beat ourselves up when we fail. God never quenches our spirit, because God is a God of love, of acceptance and forgiveness. We may quench our own spirit sometimes, and we may beat ourselves up, but God does not, and we need to remember that, that when we fail, God still accepts us and loves us.
That leaves us free to continue to do our best, to be a light to the world, to bring the light of Christ to others. The only way that each one of us can, however small that way maybe and sometimes it is a small way, and we feel it’s a small way, but it’s an important way because every one of us is important to God. We are all precious, we are all loved, we are all held in the palm of God’s hand, and are very, very precious to him, even in our weaknesses. Let’s just say a prayer for a moment.
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you are the light of the world, and you will never quench our spirit, even if we do it to ourselves.
We thank you for what you did for us in your death and resurrection, and we thank you too for the example of your life and how you lived it. So help us to live with integrity, kindness, and generosity of spirit that those we meet may see a glimpse of you and a glimpse of your light in their lives and in our lives. Forgive us when we fail, hold us in your hand, and we thank you that you never, ever, quench a dimly burning wick. So help us always to get up and carry on. Amen.
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