Light to the Nations

By Rob Weingartner

“I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6b)

Having spent lots of time in congregations across the United States, I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important questions that a congregation answers is this: “For whose sake do we exist?” Every congregation answers this question, either by design or default. What I have observed is that too many congregations, regardless of what their well-intentioned and carefully crafted mission statements say, behave as though they exist primarily for the sake of themselves.

It was a problem for Israel, too. In this wonderful verse from Isaiah 49, we see not only God’s purpose for the Messiah but also his purpose for the people of Israel. It is an echo of God’s covenant with Abram in which God said he would bless Abram and that in him all of the peoples of the earth would be blessed.

Whether we are the people of Israel, a Presbyterian congregation, or simply an individual seeking to follow Christ, it is easy to focus on ourselves and miss how God has blessed us in order to be a blessing to others. Especially in days that are filled with threat and uncertainty, it is easy to hunker-down and turn inward, preoccupied with our own needs and comfort.

I find it to be telling that while the thing that Jesus talks about the most in the Gospels is the Kingdom, his next most favorite topic is wealth and possessions. His message is most often a warning. When we get focused on our comfort, and our “stuff,” it is easy to miss how Jesus would have us live for him in the world. We settle for living for the sake of ourselves and miss the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus talked about gaining the whole world and losing our lives.

Yet the broken, frightened and frightening world is where Jesus invites us to join with him and to bear witness to him, even in places of suffering. Is it scary? You bet! But I think that Mark Labberton has it right in his new book Called:

"If our vocation – hearing and living in response to the love of God for the sake of the world – is our calling, we need to grasp that it includes following Jesus into the lives and places of such suffering... Seeking a call that evades suffering is a decision neither to follow Christ nor to live in the real world."

Alongside brothers and sisters in Christ, in our own neighborhoods and in places far away, we have the privilege of sharing and showing the love of God. It takes us out of our comfort zones. We no longer can depend upon ourselves. 

So then, what is the source of our confidence in this life lived-for-the-sake-of-others? It doesn’t come from relying on our own ability and strength. It comes from trusting in the One whose strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), the One who promises, “Remember, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Rob Weingartner