Exceeding Expectations

Fr. Tom Simmons, 2 Epiphany, January 15, 2017, Isaiah 49:1-7


Following God can be rough business.

That’s because We serve a God who calls us to exceed our own expectations.

Our Lord calls us to be and do more than we think is possible…and to do it by faith.

Every hero in the Bible is called from his or her daily routine and asked to step out, trusting God, to do unbelievable things.

It’s exciting to hear about it…but downright trepidatious to get out of our comfort zone and DO it!

We think of excuses and inadequacies…that keep us from getting started.

And once we get started we often face doubts and discouragement that threaten to derail us.

Ever see Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V?

Henry and his men are full of resolve “upon St. Crispin’s day” before battle.

But when the French knights charge, resolve turns to shocked realization.

Their faces fall.

It’s interesting to see God’s Servant in the same spot in our reading.

This is our second of four “servant songs” in Isaiah.

Last week was the first. God said, “This is my beloved and I am well pleased with him.”

God delights in who this “servant” character IS and what he DOES.

“He will not faint or grow discouraged…”

But that doesn’t mean he’s not TEMPTED to be!

Here’s the same Servant today, in the 2nd song, looking really discouraged!

Don’t get me wrong… he’s got a lot going for him. See v 1

Listen to me, O coastlands,

    and give attention, you peoples from afar.

The Lord called me from the womb,

    from the body of my mother he named my name.

He made my mouth like a sharp sword;

    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

he made me a polished arrow;

    in his quiver he hid me away.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,

But all that turns on a dime in v 4:

4 But “I have labored in vain;

    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity

We serve a God who calls us to exceed our own expectations… but he never promised it’d be easy!

Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan…until they get punched in the mouth.”

That’s how it felt for Isaiah. We’re probably hearing Isaiah’s voice, his own hard journey as God’s prophet in Israel.

He was part of the royal family, called to speak to the elite, and he wasn’t experiencing much of what felt like “success.”

We can easily imagine him saying, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

But God worked through that sense of inadequacy and discouragement…and here we are reading Isaiah 2500 years later.

That certainly exceeded his expectations!

That’s how it felt for Israel. We’re probably hearing Israel’s voice, their hard journey giving witness in the world to the nations of the earth.

Did you notice that mention in v 3 of “my Servant, Israel…”

God’s been gathering a people out of darkness into light, to share a journey of love and truth and wholeness, rather than deception and control and taking from others.

The Bible tells the story of that people, beginning with Abel, through Noah, to Abraham, Jacob, the tribes of Israel.

This people called to be “God’s people” called out among all the nations of the earth to live in God’s light, to bear God’s presence on earth, to witness to how good it is to serve the Creator God.

But they’ve failed. Their high hopes are dashed. That’s the back story of Isaiah.

We can easily imagine them saying, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

But God worked through Israel by bringing the Messiah, through this unique people, and he took God’s word to the world.

That certainly exceeded their expectations!

That’s certainly how it felt for Jesus. We’re also hearing the Messiah’s voice, the suffering he will endure in his calling from God to win the nations of the earth.

Israel failed, so now what? God must now rescue and restore Israel.

He’s going to do that through a man, descended from King David

who will succeed where Israel failed,

who will personally embody Israel’s identity and destiny,

and ultimately to one man, Jesus, who came to set the world right.

John the Baptist spots him on the banks of the Jordan.

That’s a hard job! You know how he suffered. It didn’t look like “success.”

We can easily imagine him saying, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”

But God raised him from the dead and made him Lord of ALL.

God said here in v 6

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

    to raise up the tribes of Jacob…

I will make you as a light for the nations,

    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

That certainly exceeded all expectations!

So what is God calling you to be and do?

Feeling stuck in a rut, clinging to your comfort zone?

We serve a God who calls us to exceed our own expectations.

He works through our inadequacy and struggle, our doubt and discouragement to shape up us into the men and women he called us to be.

To make us people who trust him, and love him above all other things.

People who are humble, and deep and durable.

People who are…faithful.

I’d like to ask Pam Johnston to come tell us about how that has worked in her life.

Good Morning. Many of you know who I am, but for those of you who don’t, I am Pam Pierce-Johnston. I am also, the least likely person to be standing in front of you this morning. You see, this REALLY isn’t my comfort zone. In fact, public speaking has never been an area in which I have been very comfortable. I would MUCH RATHER involve myself IN ANY OTHER ACTIVITY or ENDEAVOR that would allow for my talents to shine, just as long as it didn’t involve public speaking!

Okay…so a little bit more about me…I am basically a workaholic. I pour myself into a project, pulling up my sleeves and dedicating all of the time and energy I can muster – I thrive on it. This work ethic fueled my career, keeping me mentally and physically engaged and quite honestly, tapped out. While I was ‘full’ in terms of ‘busyness’ I knew there was a ‘spiritual emptiness’ that longed within me. I sought different ways to try and fill the void, but in many ways it seemed much like the idiom of the square peg in a round hole. The right fit just wasn’t there. Like many of you, I sat in these pews and listened to parishioners talk about the mission trips they went on. I would hear others describe their missionary experiences. I would think to myself:

  • “how wonderful for them!”
  • “how do people find the time to participate on these trips?”
  • “someday, I would like to do that when I have more time and when I can learn the language”.

Every time I entertained these thoughts, I gravitated to the justification in my mind that; a) I only had 2 weeks of vacation and b) I wasn’t a ‘building structures’, ‘painting’, or ‘constructing’ type of person. All the while, in my head, I could hear the thoughts…”ME…A MISSION TRIP? WELL…THAT’S TOTALLY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE.”

Fast forward several years to the fall of 2015. I was invited to a gathering of the Bible study group at Dick and Bobbie Wilhelm’s house. After socializing, Bob Loker invited us all to watch a slideshow accompanied by a brief presentation about the short mission trips to Guatemala. As the pictures were rendered on the monitor and the slideshow transitioned from scene to scene, it was at that moment that I had an epiphany. The faces of the children, especially those with special needs and of those in the feeding stations moved me. The purity in their faces drew me in and is what gave clarity to understanding that they were the key to unlocking the pathway to spiritual fullness. AND THEN IT HIT ME…while I may not be adept in the physical building of structures, I am gifted with regard to building; that being… relationship building.

I began to imagine myself in Guatemala and interacting with the people in the communities that would be served. I went home that evening and prayed. I asked God to guide and help me. I asked Him, IF participating in a small mission’s team was what He wanted me to do and IF SO; I would honor and obey Him. I prayed that day and every day because being a part of a mission team was totally outside of my comfort zone. I made the decision that YES; I would take the leap and step outside of my comfort zone and join Bob, Kelley and the rest of the short mission’s team that were headed to Guatemala in June of last year. I also agreed to help Bob with some of the administrative tasks. I used my content development and management skills to assist Bob and Kelley and the months flew by.

Before I knew it, the night before our flight to Guatemala City had arrived. My mind was overflowing with excitement and trepidation. How was God planning to use me? What was it going to be like? What will I see? Will I be strong enough to handle all that would be placed in front of me? What followed throughout the course of the next 7 days in Guatemala transformed my heart and my mind and have eternally etched my being. I observed the Lord’s hand at work throughout the course of those 7 days in numerous situations and on numerous occasions. I was personally challenged and spiritually stretched -- a metamorphosis was occurring within me. I was amazed at how I managed to interact and communicate with children and adults alike without having a solid command of the Spanish language. It just happened and it was fulfilling! What I came to realize, you see, is that God answered all of my prayers -- beginning with speaking to my heart when I resisted His nudge to step outside of my comfort zone, and then again through every step of the way – commencing with, making it financially possible for me to join the short missions team last June as well and with every relationship that was forged during my time spent in Guatemala.

Today, I stand before you richly rewarded by His Grace and deeply appreciative for the relationships that I built and what I witnessed with my eyes and felt in my heart. The fabric of my being is forever changed and strengthened by seeing and knowing God’s love. So, if like me, you have ever thought about participating in a mission trip but wrestled with the idea and sheer impossibility of it all, I ask you to do what I did. Ask for God’s help. Ask that He open your heart and mind as to how He wants you to walk in love and to step outside of your comfort zone.

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