Uncle Sam Wants You

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

January 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Epiphany
Scripture readings – Isaiah 9: 1-4 and Matthew 4: 12-17

As you look at this poster of Uncle Sam, what do you remember about it? The character of Uncle Sam has represented America since the War of 1812. In many cases, the old Sam is portrayed as someone who is direct, blunt, and very serious. The message he sends is one for all patriotic Americans to answer a call, as well as for America’s enemies to pay attention because we’re watching them…

And exactly what did Uncle Sam want you for? To serve in the military was the usual reason. The specific image of Uncle Sam pointing at you and saying that he needs YOU wasn’t used until World War One. In that particular war, two million American men volunteered to serve in the US Military; two million, eight hundred thousand were drafted. It was used again in World War Two. In that war, six million men volunteered; ten million were drafted. So, in the two world wars of the 1900s, the Uncle Sam recruiting poster played a role in the successful creation of our military forces.

It was also a cautionary tale to those who didn’t answer Uncle Sam’s call.

· You will be left out…

· We need you but we’re not going to wait around forever…

· We will have lots and lots of help from others…

· Why not you? What’s your excuse?

Sort of a guilt trip, isn’t it? But in the case of national service, perhaps one that can be questioned – but that should be done carefully and within the mind of each individual.

Now I want all of you to look at the cover of today’s order of worship. In much

the same style of Uncle Sam, we have a figure representing Jesus pointing out at each of us and perhaps saying, “I want YOU.” Perhaps your first thought might be, “I sure hope Jesus doesn’t draft me.” That’s a fair thought, especially since we all know that sometimes when the Lord needs us, it can feel as if we are being drafted for it.

But let’s consider our Scripture readings for today and see how they play in this theme of the Lord wanting you for His service.

In Isaiah, the prophet reminds the reader about the fate of two former tribes of Israel: Zebulun and Naphtali. When Israel was first invaded in 732 B.C. these were the first two territories conquered by the Assyrians. They suffered more than any other territories conquered in that period, and both tribes virtually disappeared from the map. In the times of Jesus, this area was known by a different name: Galilee…the land of Jesus’ birth, childhood, and family. This was personal to the Lord.

Isaiah promised the readers that the “new king” would be very different from military kings of the past. This king would be different from the parade of weak-minded kings who did their own thing and turned their backs on the Lord.

In short, these are NOT the sort of people the Lord would be seeking this time…not in the leaders and certainly not in the people. And Isaiah adds one more item that was certain to catch the eye and ear of any reader in Isaiah’s time: all this was promised during a time in which hope was in very short supply. Isaiah was not a prophet who served during times of peace, plenty, and prosperity. He was not there when any King followed the words of the Lord carefully and was an example to his nation and his people. He was the mouthpiece of the Lord before, during, and after that conquest by the Assyrians that I spoke of earlier. They were hearing Isaiah’s message as the enemy surrounded their fortified cities, as the people of God were overwhelmed and slaughtered and defeated, and as survivors were carried off as slaves to a foreign land.

Not exactly a time in which the people of God were dancing in the streets, praising God for their miraculous deliverance. Yet the Lord called them and wanted them anyway.

Then we have the Gospel reading in which Jesus began his ministry in earnest upon hearing of the arrest of John the Baptist. Jesus withdrew from the region of Galilee, where he was widely known, and went to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was a big city, a busy city, and one where Jesus would have more opportunities to reach many more people.

In other words, lots and lots more recruits to hear his message that “the Lord wants you.” But this was much more than just a simple message to have faith and believe; Jesus always preached words AND actions. Check his sermons, check his parables, check the Gospels…you will find that this is true. Jesus wanted more than just believers who felt the need to join, but never did more than that.

Much like the Uncle Sam poster inspiring young people to serve their country – but some never actually do it – Jesus wasn’t interested in merely winning attention. Actions are always needed when He needs you.

But what does the Lord need today? In His day, it makes sense that He needed followers who were ready to go and serve.

But what does he need from us today? I say, look around, Christians!

There are people risking their lives to come to our country to escape the violence and hopelessness in their own country. What should we do?

Young people are being told that various substances won’t hurt them, are fun to experiment with, are no big deal. You know it’s a lie. What should we do?

We know that images of the human body in all sorts of degrading poses are readily available with just the click of a mouse on any computer. What should we do?

We have an ongoing emotional, screeching debate over whether or not the climate of our planet is changing because of human causes. We choose to accept this science as fact or that science as fantasy, while also choosing to ignore simple, common-sense solutions such as working to greatly reduce pollution – which would help everyone. What should we do?

The poor citizens who live in the Middle East have been at war with one another

for centuries, certainly much longer than our country has been in existence. They won’t even talk with one another; they certainly won’t strive for peace. They constantly choose the status quo and continue to think of their neighbors as less than human. Sure makes any change in the status quo tough to consider. Again, what should we do?

I could go on and on and on. But I’m not the one pointing a finger at you and saying I need you. Neither am I the Lord’s chosen representative come to deliver His message.

Instead, I see myself as someone called to be your pastor and therefore called to ask questions that are not always easy to answer. But please know that I ask those very same questions of myself all the time: “What should we do? What should I do?”

No matter how I choose to answer those very simple questions, I first think it comes down to the next three:

1. How is the Kingdom of God at hand – here and now?

2. Do we REALLY want God’s unending rule to reign supremely and exclusively?

3. Does the Lord’s call cause us to radically reorient our lives and subsequently the world all around us?

[From “Looking into the Lectionary” by Rev. Jill Duffield, The Presbyterian Outlook, January 20, 2020]

The first two questions are solely rhetorical ones, designed to make you think; designed to make you consider that recruitment poster except with the Lord pointing to you and saying He needs you. The third question is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. If you aren’t seriously willing to consider becoming a true follower of Jesus Christ and take on all these questions and possibly more, then the closeness or distance of God’s Kingdom is irrelevant to you.

People are dying right now in places around the world because they chose to follow Jesus. They looked within their hearts and chose to respond.

God’s light will ultimately shine. God’s Kingdom will be at hand for all to see someday and for none to deny.

But until that “great-getting-up-morning” occurs, we have work to do.

And the Lord Jesus wants us now.