Like a Polished Arrow

(Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Cor 1:1-9)

Jan 15, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
A prophet of old once proclaimed: (Is 49:2b-3)
He made me a polished arrow,
   in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
   Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Like a polished arrow – words spoken to a people far away and long, long ago.  Do such words apply again to us now?  Or not?

To the ancients these were beautiful, poetic words.  Like a polished arrow in the quiver of God were the prophetic people, people with a mission and a ministry.  They are beautiful people, with beautiful work to do.  Does this holy poetry need to speak to us here and now?  It asks us: and we wonder if God asks:
Are we called and ready to reach our target?
And, what is our target today?

At times, we might feel our failures.  And we might speak like the called by God did centuries ago, saying, I have labored in vain,
   I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.
Would the answer back be the same?  
We have not laboured in vain!

Ministry of our past, and our present, is good.  
Worship…
Music…
Bible Studies…
Global mission support – Eleanor Timpany WMS.
Funerals (cemetery) and weddings…
Pastoral care, spiritual care, etc…
Building use by community:
Yoga.  Medieval Martial Arts.  Fundy Chorale.
And, our ministries include the many things each of us do.  I don’t think we count these things enough, or pray for them enough, or celebrate them enough.  You and I are God’s servants, and together we are God’s servant, doing good and bringing glory to our Master.  
Hardships and failures God uses to polish us. I find it easy, too easy, to let failures, embarrassments, laziness, and weaknesses drag me down.  Yet I believe in a God who takes those as building blocks and redeems us!  If Father God could take the betrayal and death of Jesus and use that to save the world, surely the Spirit today can take my chronic problems, and yours, and make something beautiful for God.  The Potter reforms the clay.  
Compare yourselves with the Church of Corinth, Greece.  Thanked for so much, at the beginning, in a letter that goes on at length about their troubles:  
Chapter 1. Divisions in the church: leadership
Chapter 5. Sexual immorality in the church
Chapter 6. Lawsuits among believers
Chapter 6. Christians going to prostitutes
Chapter 8. Eating food offered to idols in worship
Chapter 11. Conflicts at the Lord’s Supper
Chapter 12. Conflicts over speaking in tongues
Chapter 15. Confusion over life after death: resurrection

This is what to be wary of when joining a Christian church – because problems like this arise!  We can be idealistic about what other Christians should be like, and what a fellowship should be like.  The older editions of the Baptist Minister’s Manual say this when people join the Church:  May they find in our midst all that the word of God would lead them to expect.  May all that we expect of them be found in us as well. I did not use that script last week when Lexi joined our membership.

There is a Lutheran congregation in Colorado named the House for all Sinners and Saints.  I think their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, described beautifully what is real in the Church…

The reality is that any human community is flawed and will end up hurting people; and will end up not living up to their ideals.  And so I’d rather just start with that… rather than people have a different expectation and be disappointed.  

So people come to our church and they can be a little idealistic about it, because it is so different, and they love it; and I love it.  But when they come to our ‘Welcome to House Brunch,’ when we’re sort of welcoming them into the community, I’ll say, “I need you to hear me say this: at some point, this church will not meet your expectations, it will let you down. At some point I will say something stupid and hurt your feelings.”  And I just invite people on this side of that happening to decide if they are going to stick around after that happens.  

‘Cause if we leave because, oh, one more community disappoints us, we will miss out on the way in which grace can come in and fill in those cracks that are left behind from our brokenness and our mistakes, and it’s too beautiful to miss.  (CBC Tapestry, Sept 19, 2014)

God’s grace in the fellowship of sinners is too beautiful a thing to miss.  You have been called into this fellowship to receive and give grace, broken person that you are. Broken, but beautiful to God.  Sinners, yes, and Saints.

Paul says to his friends in Corinth – who were getting into so much trouble – God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And, as Jesus once said to His disciples, “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:16)  You are welcome to be a polished arrow, a sinner to be saved by grace, saved for good, good work.  

So who shall be our target?  Single parents in our community?  Troubled youth?  Seniors at risk?

Now, now, we are prepared and called for MORE mission.  More that that lovely list of things we are doing well now.  More than worship and music and Bible Study and funerals and international mission support, etc.

Bolivia story… Mark Buchanan’s devotional:
Isaiah 49:6.  It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the tribes of Israel.  I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  

So, one of my passions is worship – this kind – what we do together.  But it is too light a thing, to little a mission, just to do this well.  There is more.  We can find ways to take the Gospel to the streets, out of these four walls.

What did the choir sing this morning?  Micah 6:8.  words prophetically spoken to a people who had to do more than worship YHWH really well.  They had that down pat. The prophet Micah asked:
What does the LORD require of you?  
Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God.
To seek justice, and love kindness,
and walk humbly with your God.  

So when we think about all the people we might reach and bring back in here – the ones who went to Sunday School here, and Awana, and Cubs/Scouts, and those who even were in the pews, or in junior choir… Think also of those around us who were never here.  Shall our mission be to them?  And, maybe it will not be about getting them into us, but getting us into them.

Does Isaiah 49 say to us, now, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the alumni of your Sunday School and to restore the Baptists of Digby Town.  I will give you as a light to the un-churched, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the municipality.  

Today is January 15th.  If we were to call all of 2017 one day, we have now completed the first hour of this day.  23 more to go.  How shall we spend these ‘hours’?  

Shall we discover some ways to help people in our own neighbourhood, who live in run-down apartments?  Or work long hours in a fish plant?  Or, retirees moving into new neighbourhood buildings with a view of the water?

God will be glorified… in us, the Church.
We have not laboured in vain.

Now, maybe when you think of this Church, this congregation, some of your first thoughts concern you, or even stress you a bit.  
You think, “Why is that Pastor never in when I come to the building?  He’s never there when he’s supposed to be!”
And the Pastor thinks, “Why do those people need to shake hands and visit with one another during the service every Sunday?  It’s so artificial and disrupts divine worship!”
And someone else thinks, “Why does so-and-so take complete control of that committee and not let anyone else do anything?”
Or someone else thinks, “I remember years ago when that person and this person did whatever to someone else – and to me! That still hurts.”

Wait, wait… God will be glorified… in us, the Church, the broken Church.  We have not laboured in vain.
And, we are in good company… with the early Church.  Like that famous one in Corinth.  Yeah, except they were: fighting over who’s the real pastor, and having prostitutes, and bullying one another about weekly worship, and suing one another in court.  

Paul wrote to them and said, I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…  Paul said that to them, those failures!  But they were not failures.  They were the disciples of Jesus Christ in that old city.  They just had a long way to go.  
And so do we.

He’s still workin on me,
To make me what I ought to be.
…How loving and patient He must be;
He’s still workin on me.

God will be glorified by the Church.  Us, we will give glory to God when people see and know us.
As we shoot out of here to hit our target.  (Maybe it will be newcomers to town – from Ontario, from the USA, from Little River.) As we bound out of our annual meeting to reach our target people and places. (Maybe this will include being an environmentally friendly Church – lovers of creation.)
As we are polished by the challenges of our lives to be even better agents of God’s grace.  (Maybe we will be a fellowship for healing after broken relationships.)
There are many possibilities.  We must seek God’s calling in our lives – and our shared life.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus… God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN.

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