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Equipped to Serve October 16, 2014

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Isaiah 45:1-7

Proper 24

October 19, 2014

 

Focus:  God equips people to do His work.

Function:  That the hearers serve God in their vocations.

Structure:  This is the promise of the gospel…here is how we live out that promise.

 

Equipped to Serve

 

Take a look around you…what do you see?  I look around from up here and, first and foremost, I see all of you.  I see many of God’s children, I see brothers and sisters in Christ.  I see pews and cushions to make you comfortable.  I see Bibles and hymnals that are there to help you worship.  I see an organ and organist.  I see stained glass and stained wood.  I see a vaulted ceiling with lights hanging down so that we can see anything at all.

I turn around and, from your view, I see an altar.  I see a place where sacrifices have been made.  I see a place that is meant to remind us of a system of old, a system in which we gave of ourselves, sacrificed our possessions, our livelihood as we pleaded with God to forgive us.

But if we adjust our view just a little, if we look from just a little lower, what’s on that altar?  It’s the cross.  The cross sits there, stands there, hanging there above the altar because it trumps it.  This altar is a reminder of sacrifice.  But this cross is a greater reminder of the sacrifice.

On this cross a young man went to die.  On this cross an innocent was hung.  On this cross a deity bled.  On this cross hung our only hope of salvation.  Because what this altar couldn’t do, what our sacrifices couldn’t do, God did.

He nailed our sins to that cross.  He nailed His own Son to that cross.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ out of His great love for us, allowed men to nail Him to that cross.  Out of His great grace, He poured out His blood as the final sacrifice to take away our sins.  Out of His great mercy, He removed death from us.

We couldn’t.  We couldn’t earn forgiveness, we couldn’t do this by ourselves.  And God knew it and so He did it for us.  God does the work.

But as I turn around, as I look back to you, I can’t help but think there’s more to this.  And that’s because there is.  God does the work, but He works through us.

In our text from Isaiah today, God works through man.  In the midst of slavery and captivity, in the midst of a time when there was no hope, when there was only death and depression and dread.  In the midst of all of that, God heard our plea for help.

And so we learn from the prophet Isaiah that God calls Cyrus to deliver His people from their distress.  Cyrus is a king, a great king of another land.  He has an army, he has chariots and spears, swords and shields.   He has the things the people of Judah need in order to be delivered.

And the history books can tell us the rest.  Babylon was the greatest empire of its time, but its time was up.  King Cyrus and his Persian army went to work.  They destroyed the armies of Babylon and rode through victorious.  It was a new day and a new empire.

But for all that history books can tell us, they tend to leave out a few details.  A few details that the Bible is glad to share.  The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, called out a man by name to deliver God’s people.  But the beauty in this is that Isaiah says it long before it happens, roughly 150 years before it happens.  Cyrus isn’t even born.  His parents aren’t even born at this point.  And yet God is calling him by name to do something.  But pay attention to the pronouns.

“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

 

Did you notice the pronouns?  Did you notice who does the work?  Who is it that takes Cyrus by hand and subdues nations?  Who is it that strips kings and opens doors?  Who levels mountains and breaks down the gates?  Who delivers riches and strength and titles of honor?  It’s Yahweh.

God proclaims in this text that He does the work.  And yet, He chooses to use His creation to get His work done.  He could have simply acted from heaven.  He could have done it without us being involved.  But He chooses, in all of His glory and wonder, He chooses to use His creation, His creatures.  He chooses to work through people to accomplish His plan, to bring about His purpose.

He did it through Pontius Pilate and the Jews.  He did it through Cyrus and the Persians.  He’s been doing it since the day He started creating.  And He’s still doing it to this day.  Because He loves us.  Because He values having a relationship with His people, with His creation.  He works in us and through us in order to strengthen that relationship, to strengthen His bond with His people.

It’s worth mentioning that Cyrus didn’t believe in God when He was first called.  But if you listen to his decree all those years later, something’s changed.  After conquering Babylon and establishing his empire, Cyrus goes to release God’s people.  And when he does, hear his proclamation:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: Yahweh, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1)

 

You won’t find that in a history book.  Not today anyway.  But you do find it in the writings of the prophet Ezra, and of the author of Chronicles.  Cyrus proclaims to the people their freedom and that they are to return to their homes and to rebuild.  But in the midst of that, He says God’s name.  He says Yahweh, Cyrus believes.  He admits and confesses that God has given him all of these things.

Just like God called Cyrus by name, so He has called you by name.  He knows your name…how cool is that?  He called you His child in the waters of holy baptism, when He rinsed the stains of sin and blood off of you and welcomed you into His family.  And He has called you to do “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

That’s the wonder of God working in and through His creation.  He creates relationships with us to show us His love and to save us.  That’s why I wanted you to look around and see.  What did you see?

Everything you see here is the work of God’s hands.  He created you.  He gave you faith.  He put you in this community.  Without Him, there’d be nothing here to see.  But it’s more than that.  Without us, there’d be nothing here to see.  God chose to work through us and the men and women of this community who came before us.  And as we talk about renovating this space, the children of our community, and perhaps even their children after them, will continue to see God’s work in this place.

God used our hands to build this place.  He used our interests and talents to grow this place.  He used our money to benefit His kingdom.  But then again, none of that was ours to begin with.  God gave us His gifts.  He gives us talent and time and treasure.  He entrusts them to us as part of His relationship with us.  And then He works through us and through His gifts to continue to encourage and build His kingdom.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, pastors from across our district gathered for a conference in Mankato.  And it was there that our President Dean Nadasdy preached on this same text.  And I want to borrow something that he said.  For many years, the church has been telling carpenters how they should spend their free time.  Don’t get drunk.  Come to church on Sundays.  But the number one thing we should be telling carpenters is to build a good table.

Think about that for just a second.  Your hobbies, your interests, your talents, your job, all of those things come from God.  And God uses all of those things to grow His kingdom.  Cyrus had nothing, unless God gave it to Him.  God equipped him with the things he needed to set God’s people free.   He equipped him for service.

As you go about your daily life, God is there.  He’s with you and He’s working through you.  And where God is working, there faith is happening.  As we saw with Cyrus, God works in us to create new faith in others.  So give it your all.  If you’re a teacher, teach those kids to the best of your ability.  If you’re a farmer, work hard to produce a good harvest.  If you’re a nurse, take care of your patients.  If you’re a parent, raise your children to know the Lord.  Whatever God has given you to do, do it to the best of your ability.  God loves you, He’s in a relationship with you, and He’s equipping you for His service.

 

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