Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The book of Isaiah spans more than a life-time. Isaiah begins before the fall of Israel and concludes after the people have returned and begun the work of rebuilding the temple – a period of about 200 years. Thus, biblical scholars refer to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Isaiah, in reference to the three prophets who credited with writting this book. Today’s reading, is from 2nd Isaiah, written toward the end of the people’s exile in Babylon.
Isaiah’s message here is one of hope, the Lord is announcing their time of punishment is coming to an end. As punishment for not remaining faithful, they were defeated by the Babylonians and driven out of Jerusalem – with the majority of the survivors being taken into exile in Babylon. Today’s passage begins with Isaiah announcing “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” He continues, “And now the Lord says . . . to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him,” which is to say God is calling the people of Israel home.
God has remained faithful to the covenant, and God will bring them back to Jerusalem and reunite them. The Lord adds something more, 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.”
This is what I want to focus on today – “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God’s call is never one of exclusion, it is a call to life in community – a community that welcomes the stranger and that serves as a light to others that God’s love might fill the earth.
We find this message not only in Isaiah, we find it throughout the Old and New Testament. The call to be a light to others, to draw others to God is something that I believe is at the heart of the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule comes from the Gospel of Luke (6:31) and is mirrored in something Jesus says in Matthew, “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets (7:12).”
What Jesus says in these two Gospels is scripturally based – it comes from Leviticus. We are naturally drawn to others who treat us with the same kindness and compassion that they want from others. Loving our neighbors as ourselves draws others to the love of God – that God’s “salvation may reach the end of the earth.” It is selfless, self-giving love that comes from God and is rooted in justice as well as compassion.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and as I was preparing our Education for Ministry group that meets this afternoon, I ran across a quote from Dr. King in a discussion on baptism and the covenant we make with God. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I see a connection between our call to be a light to the nations and arc of time in which justice and compassion are slowly bringing the love of God to the ends of the earth. Christianity is not alone in teaching love, compassion, and justice. The Golden Rule is a part of all major faiths in our world. And, like it appears in various forms in our Bible, the same message is present in the writings of the Islamic, Jewish, Bahai Faith, Hinduism, Buddhist, and Taoist faiths – as well as many others. Here’s a few examples:
- Islam: None of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.
- Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; and the rest is commentary.
- Bahai Faith: And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.
- Hindusim: Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.
- Buddhist: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
- Taoist: The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King says. People of different faiths teach us how to treat others with kindness and respect, but unfortunately, we often fail to follow our own teachings. Extremist for each faith can find holy scriptures to justify denying the rights of others who are different and to turn violence and oppression thinking they are doing God’s will.
God tells Isaiah to tell the people of Israel, “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.” It is indeed too light a thing that we should look out for ourselves and ignore the needs of others.
Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is how we serve as a beacon to others. I want conclude with one more quote from King, which is probably my favorite: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate; only love can do that.”
My closing prayer today can be found in our Book of Common Prayer. It is one that reminds us we are all children of the same God.
Let us pray.
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.