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.
2 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.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
and my recompense with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7 Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Keith walked through the empty rooms and wept. He had attended this parochial school when he was a child. He had served on the school board, the board of Elders, the church council, and most other opportunities to serve. He had painted walls, replaced broken door handles, fixed a few toilets, and even crawled up the ladder to string lights for the backdrop of the school play once. Now it was closing. Children would not laugh and learn in this place, at least not at the parochial school. Even the Sunday School which used it on weekends was getting small.
Keith felt like the prophet in verse 4 above. He felt like he had labored in vain and spent his strength for nothing. It was not true. The children who had learned in that place and under his leadership and service were blessed for their time in those classrooms. But it was also true that the school would not be open this fall.
Did you hear what God said to the prophet, and to Keith, and to you in this reading today? There are a lot of people in Christianity today who feel a little like Keith. They see churches with far too many pews for the folks who show up on Sunday. They remember when those seats were all full. And they feel like they have labored in vain. God invited the prophet and his discouraged people long ago to see God’s even larger mission. God declared it was a too small a thing for them to rescue the exiled people of old. The whole world would know the salvation of God and be bathed in His light.
While we may be engaged in the kingdom’s work when we serve a congregation and its ministries, the truth is that our ministry is not the whole kingdom of God. My friend Keith ended up being called to new service in God’s kingdom, work which involved that building, empty no more. Today far more lives are being touched by that ministry than the children whom the parochial school taught. God’s response to our discouragement is to expand the scope of our call and ministry. If you are grieving the loss of something. Be ready for God to open your eyes to something new that he will do through you.