Dare I Shoot Isaiah’s Arrows?
by Jennifer Johnson
Old Testament Reading Isaiah 49: 1-7
For Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011:Year A - Epiphany 2
As a seminary student, I lapped up the call stories in Scripture as milk to the hungry kitten. I knew the story of the first Isaiah who lamented over having unclean lips, of Jeremiah who expressed concerns over being too young, and the various apostles who were interrupted in their jobs by Jesus to “Follow me.”
Why Are There No Plumbing Classes In Seminary?
What an idiot I was. Back then I pictured myself in all the warm fuzzy moments of people’s lives. I’d preach inspiring sermons and my flock would sit in rapt attention until my benediction when they’d go charging out the door to work tirelessly for the Kingdom. They’d tell me how my service and leadership had changed their lives. Instead, I got “Nice sermon. Umm. Did you know the basement’s flooded?”
Oh, it hasn’t all been building issues. I’ve had my share of holy moments. I’ve wept at the bedsides of the dying. I’ve endured the middle of the night calls when tragedy struck. I’ve held startled babies at their baptisms and taught pre-schoolers “Seek Ye First.” I’ve also been tempted to wrench my hair out in handfuls at the stiff-necked propensity of people not to “do right.” However, unlike the words of Isaiah in this servant song, I’ve never had to convince a people to return to a homeland some of them have never even seen, especially when that homeland was in ruins. I’ve never publicly spewed judgment on them because of their lack of obedience or faith.
Pastor Vs. Prophet
I’ve always considered that I was more pastor than prophet − more comfortable among the throng of sinners rather than standing apart shaking a righteous fist and preaching God’s wrath to them. And besides, prophets don’t tend to be long term ministers. They either get booted out of town or get their heads cut off after one too many incidents of fire and brimstone preaching.
My earliest memory in church is the red-faced preacher who screamed at me and the rest of the pew-sitters during worship. I remember thinking, “What’s his problem?” Then outside of that same white-washed little church, I got stung on the leg by a wasp. Neither memory is pleasant, yet both are forever linked in my psyche.
Shooting Polished Arrows
Still. If a people find themselves in the wrong place and God thinks it’s time they move, then sometimes it takes some pointed jabs and cutting stabs to get them off their duffs and moving. Maybe the real problem of the screaming preacher of my childhood, should be laid in the laps of us warming the pews. After enough complaints about the basement, he decided to pull out the arrows and shoot those jerks who hadn’t heard a word he’d proclaimed from the pulpit.
“Oh, you people, You’re Going Down!” That screaming preacher nicked my heart. I won’t forget him. And now I’m on his side of the pulpit. But I’ve determined never be the shoot ‘em up, shoot ‘em down kind of prophet. I was going to be the pastor who slogged through the crap with the sinners as I grasped their hands proclaiming, “Man, this sucks. It’s a good thing God’s right here with us.”
But maybe I should have a screaming fit once in a while. If I hollered to the coastlands and called my folks “despicable,” could I shake them out of the rut of their lives?
The Hardest Question
Isaiah’s tongue is a “polished arrow” and his mouth “like a sharpened sword.” [The LORD] says, “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.” I struggle with that line between local pastor and global prophet. How do we walk that line of our righteous calling without getting cut to pieces by the angry responses of the flock? Dare I shoot Isaiah’s arrows? Dare I swing Isaiah’s sword? Is there really salvation in that?
Jennifer Johnson is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the associate pastor for family and children’s ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Kentucky. Her alter ego of the same name writes romance novels, and she has had four novels published since 2008 with two more books due out in 2011. She thinks God is pretty awesome for blessing her with a wonderful community of faith, a loving family, a smart dog, and the passion for writing sermons and stories.