My cause is the Lord
Isaiah 49:6 (1-7)

I was speaking to a Lutheran pastor recently who commented on the fact that the people in the community he serves are just ‘too busy’ to give the time he would like to have to help them grow and develop in the faith. People are too busy for church. I have heard this kind of comment repeatedly from pastors in Australia; and of many different denominations. Too busy. I recognize the issues as they relate to members in my own church community here. Too busy.

At the time, I didn’t really reply in any significant way. But I’ve been thinking about it. In a way I wanted to ask, “So if people are too busy…what are we going to do about it? If we tell them, ‘You are too busy,’ is that going to make them change? Probably not. So what do we do? Give up? Recognising that people won’t give us the time we need to minister to them—especially those who do not know the Gospel, or who are weak in faith, or new-to-the-faith, or struggling with faith—recognising that we can’t get the wider community to ‘come along’, to ‘join us!’, to ‘learn from us’, to ‘share our fellowship’ should we just stop? If conditions are such that we don’t seem to be succeeding—which is a kinder way of saying we are failing—and failing at what we most want to do!—should we admit our failure, and stop, and leave it to someone else?

(I sometimes wonder—when I’m in a crowd of strangers—on a train, or in a shopping mall: Who’s responsible for ministry to these people? Who has the responsibility of telling them each day that they are loved by God? I guess someone is….)

Many of you know well the story in the New Testament of the master who calls his servants in to tell them he is going on a journey and puts them in charge of his finances—ten talents of silver to one; five to the next; and one to another. And they, in turn, go out and either do something responsible to earn a profit… or, as we remember, there is one who simply buries it in the ground for safe-keeping. The latter is chided for laziness, a lack of application, and the others are rewarded and are given bigger responsibilities!

And it would be relatively simple, and even expected, if we then firmly fix in our minds a sense that when we do something in service and it goes well God will reward us with even bigger and greater opportunities, and if we don’t do so well, then we have failed….

Whenever we hear that kind of story, or any of Jesus’ other teachings about being faithful stewards or faithful servants beyond the opportunity to hear God’s call to faithfulness, and making the most of the blessings and opportunities he gives us, there can be a natural tendency to walk away with all of our attention focussed on the specifics of the task set before us, and on what we have to do!

But consider today the outrageous Word of God given through Isaiah in the second of the so-called servant songs. Listen carefully to verses 3 & 4: 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…. The servant has, according to all of the evident signs, failed! The servant has laboured in vain; spent his strength for nothing!

But then the servant adds one very important point: Yet surely my cause is with the LORD!

And this is the all important point. This is the context in which the servant serves. His cause is first and foremost the Lord’s cause. His reward, the results, and the consequences are with God. The story of the servant’s endeavour—his work, his labour, his strength spent—the story does not end at the conclusion of the servant’s efforts. The cause which he serves is never ‘taken over’ by him; it is the Lord’s cause. (An old missions hymn opened in this way: Lord Jesus Christ, the cause is Thine, the cause for which we pray; and since it is of Thy design it cannot pass away.)

So here comes the outrageous bit! When the servant says, “I have laboured in vain,” God replies by giving him a new task that is bigger and more important!: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God decides to increase the responsibility given to his servant; and, at the same time, to increase the opportunity!

Because, ultimately, it is God’s plan that is the key thing here. The servant serves. The servant serves the purposes of God. In fact, you’ll notice in the reading that the servant says of the Lord: “…who formed me in the womb to be his servant…”. My existence is wholly because of God’s purposes, God’s plans. I was created, I am, not because of my success or failure, but because of his purposes. He needs me as his servant.

And God’s plan is: I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. God wants his salvation to be known by everyone.

God does indeed want us to apply ourselves faithfully, enthusiastically, and realistically to the opportunities for service he puts before us each day. He wants us to evaluate and assess, to learn, to improve, to try something different when ‘plan A’ doesn’t succeed (or when we don’t succeed…).

But he never wants us in all of our faithful ‘planning’ to lose sight of the fact that it is always his plan that is absolute; it is his working his salvation that is absolute, and our part to play is to communicate that as well as we can to our neighbours But he is the one who saves. It is his grace that encompasses everything, including our shortcomings and failures. Even when we do not do all that well in ‘little things’—as happens for each of us in so many aspects of our living all the time—even then God still needs us and calls us and encourages us into the much bigger things! His design cannot pass away! Or, to recall our thinking last week—his glory is seen absolutely in his grace.
A little later in Isaiah, God says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s Word accomplishes.
We are called to speak God’s Word. God’s salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth—we are called to proclaim it. Even in a moment of apparent failure and subsequent despondency, God says to his servant: “Let’s not think small! We have the whole world to tell!”

I was speaking to a Lutheran pastor recently who commented on the fact that the people in the community he serves are just ‘too busy’ to give the time he would like to have to help them grow and develop in the faith. People are too busy for church. I have heard this kind of comment repeatedly from pastors in Australia; and of many different denominations. Too busy. I recognize the issues as they relate to members in my own church community here. Too busy.

At the time, I didn’t really reply in any significant way. But I’ve been thinking about it. In a way I wanted to ask, “So if people are too busy…what are we going to do about it? If we tell them, ‘You are too busy,’ is that going to make them change? Probably not. So what do we do? Give up? Recognising that people won’t give us the time we need to minister to them—especially those who do not know the Gospel, or who are weak in faith, or new-to-the-faith, or struggling with faith—recognising that we can’t get the wider community to ‘come along’, to ‘join us!’, to ‘learn from us’, to ‘share our fellowship’ should we just stop? If conditions are such that we don’t seem to be succeeding—which is a kinder way of saying we are failing—and failing at what we most want to do!—should we admit our failure, and stop, and leave it to someone else?

(I sometimes wonder—when I’m in a crowd of strangers—on a train, or in a shopping mall: Who’s responsible for ministry to these people? Who has the responsibility of telling them each day that they are loved by God? I guess someone is….)

Many of you know well the story in the New Testament of the master who calls his servants in to tell them he is going on a journey and puts them in charge of his finances—ten talents of silver to one; five to the next; and one to another. And they, in turn, go out and either do something responsible to earn a profit… or, as we remember, there is one who simply buries it in the ground for safe-keeping. The latter is chided for laziness, a lack of application, and the others are rewarded and are given bigger responsibilities!

And it would be relatively simple, and even expected, if we then firmly fix in our minds a sense that when we do something in service and it goes well God will reward us with even bigger and greater opportunities, and if we don’t do so well, then we have failed….

Whenever we hear that kind of story, or any of Jesus’ other teachings about being faithful stewards or faithful servants beyond the opportunity to hear God’s call to faithfulness, and making the most of the blessings and opportunities he gives us, there can be a natural tendency to walk away with all of our attention focussed on the specifics of the task set before us, and on what we have to do!

But consider today the outrageous Word of God given through Isaiah in the second of the so-called servant songs. Listen carefully to verses 3 & 4: 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…. The servant has, according to all of the evident signs, failed! The servant has laboured in vain; spent his strength for nothing!

But then the servant adds one very important point: Yet surely my cause is with the LORD!

And this is the all important point. This is the context in which the servant serves. His cause is first and foremost the Lord’s cause. His reward, the results, and the consequences are with God. The story of the servant’s endeavour—his work, his labour, his strength spent—the story does not end at the conclusion of the servant’s efforts. The cause which he serves is never ‘taken over’ by him; it is the Lord’s cause. (An old missions hymn opened in this way: Lord Jesus Christ, the cause is Thine, the cause for which we pray; and since it is of Thy design it cannot pass away.)

So here comes the outrageous bit! When the servant says, “I have laboured in vain,” God replies by giving him a new task that is bigger and more important!: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God decides to increase the responsibility given to his servant; and, at the same time, to increase the opportunity!

Because, ultimately, it is God’s plan that is the key thing here. The servant serves. The servant serves the purposes of God. In fact, you’ll notice in the reading that the servant says of the Lord: “…who formed me in the womb to be his servant…”. My existence is wholly because of God’s purposes, God’s plans. I was created, I am, not because of my success or failure, but because of his purposes. He needs me as his servant.

And God’s plan is: I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. God wants his salvation to be known by everyone.

God does indeed want us to apply ourselves faithfully, enthusiastically, and realistically to the opportunities for service he puts before us each day. He wants us to evaluate and assess, to learn, to improve, to try something different when ‘plan A’ doesn’t succeed (or when we don’t succeed…).

But he never wants us in all of our faithful ‘planning’ to lose sight of the fact that it is always his plan that is absolute; it is his working his salvation that is absolute, and our part to play is to communicate that as well as we can to our neighbours But he is the one who saves. It is his grace that encompasses everything, including our shortcomings and failures. Even when we do not do all that well in ‘little things’—as happens for each of us in so many aspects of our living all the time—even then God still needs us and calls us and encourages us into the much bigger things! His design cannot pass away! Or, to recall our thinking last week—his glory is seen absolutely in his grace.
A little later in Isaiah, God says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s Word accomplishes.
We are called to speak God’s Word. God’s salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth—we are called to proclaim it. Even in a moment of apparent failure and subsequent despondency, God says to his servant: “Let’s not think small! We have the whole world to tell!”