Destiny: Scripture passages for Jan. 8

Isaiah 42:1-7
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. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 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: 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, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Matthew 3:13-17
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
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Comment:   In the Liturgical Calendar, the focus on this early Sunday in January is usually the story of the Epiphany (i.e., the coming of the Magi to Jesus’ birthplace) or the story of the Baptism of Jesus  in the River Jordan. In either case, the text is laying the groundwork for what is yet to come . . . the ministry of Jesus and his ultimate crucifixion and resurrection. The texts I have chosen for today relate most primarily to the Baptism, which is considered the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In Isaiah 42, we are given a glimpse of a figure known as “The Suffering Servant.” One need not believe that this passage is “predictive” of the coming of Jesus, but it is helpful in understanding what the people of Israel were waiting for, hoping for. The Servant is one who is chosen for a special burden. In the passage from Matthew, the Baptism is described with the addition of the remarkable image of God “choosing” and approving Jesus—again, not for glory or privilege but for service.  

Questions
What, if anything, do you recall about your own Baptism?
What elements of the Baptism service at Plymouth are most meaningful to you? 
What does the phrase “Suffering Servant” evoke in you?
In Isaiah 42:2-3, the Servant is pictured as being extraordinarily gentle. Is there still a place for gentleness in the world? What effect does it usually have?
Do you believe that you have been “chosen” by God for some particular destiny? If so, what is it?

The Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian
Senior Minister

About PlymouthSpirit

Plymouth Congregational Church is a progressive faith community grounded in the Christian tradition. We are spiritual, loving, relevant and transforming.
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One Response to Destiny: Scripture passages for Jan. 8

  1. Paul Price says:

    Shai Wise will be ordained at Plymouth this Sunday afternoon, January 8, at 4:00 p.m. All are invited. My first thoughts in reading these passages was of an ordination, which must be a part of the continuum leading from baptism through confirmation and forward.

    I recall nothing of my own Baptism as I was an infant, only a few months old at the time. Infant baptism was in part, I believe, tied to high infant mortality rates of previous generations.

    The elements of Plymouth’s Baptism ritual I find most compelling (if I recall accurately at this early morning hour) are the questioning of the parents, the pledge of the congregation (during which I believe the congregation should stand in recognition of its importance and the child), and the presentation of the child to the congregation often demonstrated by the minister walking down the center aisle holding forth the newly baptized individual.

    A “suffering servant” may be many roles. Someone who has worked towards a goal they will never enjoy the fruits of, but with luck others will. In high school, I was asked to sit on a committee of adults and students to lay the ground work for an alternative school designed for highly motivated students perhaps held back by set curricula. The school opened it’s doors the year after I graduated. I was very glad the school opened, but I felt the not unusual bitter-sweetness. The servant might well be one who suffers or endures persecution, derision or other discomfort in pursuing the goal, it goes on.

    I attended a Bat Mitzvah recently which still uplifts my spirit when I recall it, sometimes for very personal reasons. During the ceremony, I found a prayer in the temple’s prayer book which I copied.

    “We oughtn’t pray for what we’ve never known, and humanity
    has never known unbroken peace,
    unmixed blessing.
    Better to pray for pity,
    for indignation,
    discontent,
    the will to see and touch,
    the power to do good
    and make new.”

    In my own scattered efforts to try to make new and do good, I have sometimes forgotten that I am doing so in the face of something I will never know: unbroken peace and unmixed blessing, and consequently become discouraged in my dedication. I think, probably, most anyone pursuing in any degree, “the will to see and touch, the power to do good and make new” experiences some manner of suffering or challenge in the face of the first two daunting realities.

    Gentleness is something I need, we all need, yearn for, should struggle to have always available to give and receive. But does gentleness escape the categories of unknown “unmixed blessing” and “unbroken peace”? In a universe of supernovae spreading in glorious, searing veils of colors across possible planetary systems?

    I think this why I need to re-read, again, the passage from Isaiah, Matthew, witness, again, baptisms, confirmations, bat and bar mitzvahs, and ordinations.

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