Sermon Ideas For Isaiah 42:1-9 Part 3
John Steinbeck depicts the life-giving, sacrificial work of the servant in Isaiah in The Grapes of Wrath. As a family of poor migrants on the road, the Joad family encounters others in need as they travel. At one point, the daughter Rose of Sharon who has recently given birth to a baby who dies, offers her own mother's milk to a starving elderly man in a barn where they have taken shelter. In this simple act toward righteousness and justice, Rose of Sharon nurses an unknown companion to new life and hope by the gift of her milk.1
English novelist Graham Greene provides a strong illustration of new life infused by the Spirit and the former things passing away in his 1975 novel A Burnt-Out Case. It is the story of Querry, a renowned architect whose wealth, fame, and work no longer bring him satisfaction. He journeys to work with a remote and desolate leper colony in the African Congo. Diagnosed as a "burnt-out case," he comes to new life through the ministrations of the mutilated and diseased lepers at the clinic. At the close of the story, the protagonist Querry has died, and two missionary priests at the clinic discuss the revival of his burnt out case. "You spoke just now as though he had been cured," says the one priest. "I really think he was," concludes the other. "He'd learned to serve other people, you see, and to laugh."2
The promises of the servant's sacrificial life and death persist and gather power as they are reinterpreted from age to age. Christ is the suffering servant in Robert Coles' essay, Christ and the Poor, where he recounts a Brazilian peasant's perspective on suffering which heals. "I think of how hard his [Christ's] life was. I can't figure out why he was crucified! But I do know this: Jesus is someone for all of us; he lives in my heart. But those who killed him did so a long time ago, and no one knows them. He loved us, the poor, and he lives."3
Kentucky poet, essayist and farmer Wendell Berry speaks to the comfort offered in the promise of new life which comes of suffering in his poem The Slip:
...The maker moves in the unmade, stirring the water until it clouds, dark beneath the surface, stirring and darkening the soul until pain perceives new possibility. There is nothing to do but learn and wait, return to work on what remains. Seed will sprout in the scar. Though death is in the healing, it will heal.4
Antislavery activist Sojourner Truth understands her own conversion to have occurred through God's Spirit at work in her as she, a slave herself, struggled for justice and civil rights for slaves in the nineteenth century. "The sense of her nothingness, in the eyes of those with whom she contended for her rights, sometimes fell on her like a heavy weight, which nothing but her unwavering confidence in an arm which she believed to be stronger than all others combined could have raised from her sinking spirit."5
Isaiah's message that human beings are empowered to work for justice and righteousness in the name of God found voice in Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, when the character Mr. Valiant-for-truth nears his death: "My Marks and Scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his Battles who now will be my Rewarder." In our scripture text, and in this seventeenth-century classic, life is a journey full of holy causes and struggles which individuals undertake to further God's plan.6
Finally, the promised newness which Isaiah announces is expressed by Dag Hammerskjold in his small but important book, Markings, where he recounts a revelatory vision he had of former things passing away and new things declared: "In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment—the dwelling-place of souls acquainted with light and warmth—until, around me, was an infinity into which all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters."7
New understandings. New life. New relationship with God. Each and all forged by the work of God's chosen servant, sent by God and infused with God's Spirit.
Judy E. Pidcock
1. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (Viking Press, 1967). 2. Graham Greene, A Burnt-Out Case (Penguin Books, 1975), p 198. 3. Robert Coles, "Christ and the Poor," in Harvard Diary (Crossroad Publishing Co., 1988), p. 18. 4. Wendell Berry, "The Slip," in The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 300. 5. Sojourner Truth, Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time. 6. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (Penguin Books, 1981). 7. Dag Hammerskjold, Markings (Faber Paperbacks, 1980), p 105.