Sunday 26th January 2014
Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23
God often works outside of our own expectations. He is much greater than our own grasp of reality. So often we equate God working within our own understanding and our own framework and when he does not and works outside of what we know - we become suspicious or even fearful.
In Isaiah we see the reference to the “day of Midian” (9.4) when Gideon won a totally unexpected victory against the oppressive forces of his day the Midianites (see Judges 6:2-6). God acted through the unexpected then and he can do it again. The reference to military force should not stop us seeing this truth, where for us Jesus calls us to be peacemakers not war mongers. God can and does work through the unexpected and has done through historical events, times and places and people. The darkness in V2 will be overcome by light and rather than the nation being overwhelmed by oppression and violence, they will be overwhelmed with joy. God will take away the rod of oppression.
These words speak into very live situations in our own world as we read of South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic. How far can these readings be a source of strength and change to the Church in these parts of our world? Where do these words apply to our own contexts.
In our own lives we need to always expect the unexpected. This is the way God works. So we must be careful in how we judge and how we react to the things we do not expect or even wish to happen.
Matthew includes the opening verses of this passage in Isaiah in his description of the troubling times after his own baptism. After his wilderness experience Jesus hears of John’s arrest and retires to the region laced with prophetic hope. Waiting for the unexpected to happen is part of the journey of faith. The four disciples encountered the unexpected - hearing the call of Jesus to follow him.
This following the unexpected leads to life changing episodes. Reacting to the unexpected call of Jesus for the disciples will plunge them into a faith adventure where they see encounter the ways of God never seen before. Their minds and lives will change radically. Their experiences of faith will utterly reshape them that they in turn will begin to reshape the world around them. This does of course lead to suffering and even death as their journey - which began in the unlooked for and unexpected - travels its course..
How open are you to the God who surprises and still moves in unexpected ways?
John is the Vicar of St Paul’s, Tupsley and St Andrews, Hampton Bishop in Hereford Diocese. He’s also currently doing Doctoral Studies at Kings College London.