This verse is just past midway through the first reading for this Sunday, the first Sunday after Epiphany. The reading is Isaiah 42:1-9, and is one of three readings, in addition to the Psalm, used for the feast of the Baptism of our Lord in Year A. This feast of the Baptism is significant as it recognises the momentous occasion when Jesus was declared by the Father to be His Son, and the one with whom the Father was well pleased.
This year the Baptism of our Lord comes a mere two days after the Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the ‘Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’. A Gentile is anyone who, in Biblical times, was not a Jew. I, therefore, and perhaps most of you receiving this message, would have been Gentiles had we lived in Biblical times. Epiphany, for me personally, is significant as it reminds me poignantly that Jesus Christ is my Saviour. Epiphany reminds me that the Incarnation of Christ was a significant moment in God’s salvation plan for the world, even for a ‘Gentile’ like me.
HEWing and our salvation
That plan for salvation includes an approval, just as the Father declared His approval of the Son at the Son’s baptism. The plan for salvation includes an inspection that leads to an approval. Over the past few years since I’ve been sharing these messages with you, I have come to realise that HEWing – the process of increasing our Human Effectiveness at Work – has been that process of inspection for approval. HEWing, just as with a tree, removes the hardened bark (our dysfunctional ways) to reveal the beautiful grain of the wood (our inner beauty – our virtues, our talents, and gifts), which makes us fit for the work that God has always intended for us. HEWing makes us fit for purpose – God’s purpose, the will of God.
HEWing shaves away the behaviours, mindsets, and attitudes that distance us from God and prevent us from fulfilling His purpose. Many times, it involves removal from one’s usual place – the circle of friends or close associates changes, lifestyle changes, even job changes. The forms of entertainment that might have appealed to us no longer do and we adopt new practices, new spiritual practices. We seek ways to make life lighter. HEWing is, in all honestly, a process of weight-shedding.
HEWing and the Call
HEWing is a necessary process in growth – spiritual, emotional, and personal growth. HEWing is a rite of passage, as it were, if we are to have a deeper relationship with God and be made fit for purpose. When we have received the call, whatever it be towards, but most certainly towards fulfilling our purpose, we are compelled to undergo HEWing in a paradigmatically shifting way. It’s at this juncture that I’d like to return to the verse from Isaiah:
As I read these words in preparation for this week’s message, this verse reached out and grabbed me. I almost felt like I could go no further in the text, such was the impact that this verse was having on me. I was riveted. I spent a few moments chewing on those words. I spent a few moments in awe at the words. Indeed, it was confirmed – it was made pellucidly clear that I had been called to ministry, to ordained ministry.
As I continued to reflect on the verse (now, also having completed the reading from Isaiah and all others that make up this Sunday’s readings), I understood why other readings such as Isaiah 61:1-3, and Luke 4:14-19 and even Isaiah 6:6-8 had had an indescribable effect on me, paralysing me, rendering me speechless, captivating me, filling me with wonder and amazement at our God.
Confirmation of the Call
It was as I reflected on Isaiah 42:6 and even while preparing this message for you that I recognised God saying to me that it was indeed He who had called me. This was no crossed line, this was no pocket dial, this was no wrong number. No siree! This was the Almighty making it abundantly clear to me that it was He who had, just as it is written in Isaiah, called me. It was He who had taken me by the hand and kept me.
A few days ago, I had cause to warn someone, ‘we must be careful what we wish for as we will never know beforehand what it will take for those prayers and wishes to be granted’. I didn’t realise that, before long, I would be repeating those very words to myself. You see, a few years ago, I made an impassioned plea to God to make it clear, abundantly clear, what He wanted of me and, furthermore, to make it clear that it was He who was speaking. Well, they do say that God answers prayers for, now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I know what I am being called to and, furthermore, I know who it is who has called me.
What I didn’t know then was that for my prayer, my impassioned plea to be fulfilled, I would have to undergo a brutal HEWing. Be careful what you wish for, right? That HEWing has completely changed my circumstances – I picked up a number of practices that became spiritual practices, my circle of friends shrank, I left my job, and my life has been significantly simplified. Oh yeah, and those behaviours, mindsets and attitudes I referred to earlier…well, wow! I didn’t realise how much weight they had been accounting for in my life! What’s more, I, a clear Type A personality, have become markedly used to a lack of predictability and loss of control, save and except to know that my all, my everything is in the hands of God. I have learnt to take life one day at a time, maybe even one hour at a time. I have learnt to wait in silence. I have learnt long-suffering. This is no boast in my capacity, now. This is recognising the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. This is, as perfectly expressed in Ephesians 3:20, me giving glory to God who, ‘by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’.
Friends, this call was feint at first. I wasn’t certain. When I perceived the call, I was hesitant to answer it. When it became clearer still, I unwittingly rejected it or was embarrassed to receive it. However, being ashamed of that call threatened to expose me to suffer the consequences of Jesus’ warning:
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.’Matthew 10:32-33
No longer afraid
On that note, I now declare that I am no longer afraid. I am no longer uncertain or ashamed. Now, most definitely, by the power that is at work within me, I answer the call and, like Isaiah, I say to the Lord, ‘Here am I; send me!’
Friends, God is good, and His mercies endure forever. May He fill your heart and home, as much as He has mine, with His love, peace, and joy.
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