What do you sing about these days? An odd sort of question, I realize. My wife, La Donna, often comes home from church with a hymn in her head. Sometimes she even gets frustrated. It just sits in there. She can’t wait for the next week so she can get a new hymn! You know that feeling. Maybe you heard a snippet of a song, or something that sounded like a song, something that reminded you of a song. And now that song keeps playing over and over in your head. Even when you don’t want it to. You find yourself humming the tune, you find yourself mumbling the words. They are just there, rattling around in your skull, driving you crazy. Or if not you, everyone around you as you keep singing that song over and over. Because it is stuck in there - and it begins to define you in a way.
I had a friend who thought everyone should have their theme song, like in the movies. If you look at a movie soundtrack you’ll see titles like “Jack’s Theme” or “Liza’s Song.” And this music would play whenever that character was central to the scene. Well, this friend thought that we should all have our theme music to play that would define us, that would announce our presence and point to us when it is our turn to enter into the dialog or to shape the action. OK, I’ve had some weird friends over the years. But still it is an intriguing idea. If you had the ability and the opportunity to write your own theme song, what would it sound like? What would it say?
We start a three week worship series with the reading for this week. The whole series is titled “What the Lord Requires” and is based on Micah 6:8: what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Each week we will examine one requirement as outlined in this verse. We are always asking the question, what are we supposed to do? Who are we supposed to be? What does God want from me? This series is designed to help us answer that question.
So we start where the verse starts, we start with the biggie: do justice. It’s an overwhelming word in many ways. A comic book word. “Truth, Justice and ...” How does that go? It isn’t a lived in word. Is it? What does justice mean for us today. What does it have to do with us in our every day lives? Isn’t justice something for someone else, for the people in charge to deal with?
Read what Isaiah says in our reading for this weekend.
Isaiah 42:1-9 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
This is the first of four passages called the Servant Song of the book of Isaiah. There is some considerable debate about who is the servant referred to in the first verse of chapter forty-two. On the one hand it seems to be the ideal follower of God. Maybe there isn’t a particular reference at all, it is just anyone who seeks to follow, this is the kind of life he/she will lead, this is the kind of person she/he will be. It is an example passage.
Some argue that this was a passage read after the coronation of a new king. It was a reminder to the king and to the nation that a leader serves not for his/her own benefit, not from his/her own power, but as a servant of the Lord who called and equipped him/her to serve. It was a celebration of a new administration launched in hope. Sound familiar? If only all our leaders saw themselves first as servants, what a difference that might make in governing.
Others, who read a little further in these verses determine that the servant is the whole people of God. When Isaiah speaks of calling, of being the light on the hill, we know it is whole nation of Israel that was called to that task. It has echoes in the words of Jesus when he tells us that we are salt and light, the church is the light on the hill, inviting all the world to come and know what we know, to know who we know. So the servant is the community of faith.
Then, of course, we Christians can’t help but read these words and imagine Christ. Jesus was the servant of the Lord who showed us what a life of service was like. Jesus was one who lifted up the fallen, who received the Spirit of the Lord to bring forth justice. This is a prophetic passage, spoken and written hundreds of years before the one to whom it refers came to be.
Finally, it is hard to read these words and not hear the call upon our own lives. Each of us (as well as all of us, mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago) is called to serve the Lord, to work for justice. Each of us, this is a call passage, an invitation to a way of living.
So, you might be asking, which is it? Which one is the right answer? Well, all of them. That is the glory of the Bible, it functions on so many levels all at the same time. I believe that historically it referred to the king who ascended to the throne of Israel and to the nation that ruler led. And sometimes they listened and sometimes they didn’t. I think it also carried the seeds of prophecy, paving the way for the coming of the Christ. Did Isaiah know he was talking about Jesus of Nazareth? Probably not, but God knew. Just as God knows that we have the opportunity to live as servants to God and to the people. This is indeed a calling, an invitation to live in certain ways, to work for certain ends.
And what might those ends be? Did you notice that the word “justice” appears three times in the first four verses? It seems pretty important, don’t you think? Especially when we read that we or he or someone “will not faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.” We can’t rest, the task isn’t finished, Christ’s work isn’t done until justice is established in the earth.
So, what defines justice? Well, that is more than I can resolve for you in the small space left here. But a glimpse is given in the passage. To establish justice is to open the eyes of the blind - whether those blinded by material things or limited education or poverty or prejudice or.... It is the work of the servants of the Lord to help folks see what they overlook. To establish justice is to release those who are imprisoned in dungeons or darkness - whether those dungeons are human made barriers to freedom and wholeness, to sustenance or beauty; or practices that enslave minds or resources and keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty or on the brink of illness or disease from the lack of sanitary systems we take for granted; or the lack of resources or knowledge that will enable children of God to know how valuable they are to their creator and to this world. That is the work of establishing justice in the earth - to be in the business of systemic change, lasting change that makes life better for all. These are the new things that are about to spring forth, the new things that we are to tell about. These are the songs that we are called to sing into being.
Someone once said that God didn’t say let there be light, like is says in Genesis one. God sang it. God sang the world into being. And we are now called to sing the songs that will bring forth justice. And to keep singing, and singing, and singing. Like that song we can’t get out of our heads, we are to fill our vision with justice. This is our theme song, says Isaiah 42, the music that plays whenever we take the stage is a song of justice.
What songs are you singing these days?