Jan 13, 2019

“I Have Called You By Name” - Isaiah 43:1-7

“I Have Called You By Name” - Isaiah 43:1-7

            On the way to be christened, a British baby somehow loosened the stopper of his bottle.  Milk spilled over the christening robe and made a frightful mess.  The mother was greatly ashamed.  But she had no choice but to hand the child over to the clergyman at the baptismal font.

            The clergyman whispered to her, "What’s the name of your baby?”

            The agitated mother failed to understand him.  She thought that he was complaining about the mess on the robe.  So she offered back this explanation.  "Nozzle came off.  Nozzle came off!"

            The clergyman was puzzled, so he repeated his whisper.  "What’s the name of your baby?"

            Still not understanding, the woman repeated what she had said earlier.  "Nozzle came off.  Nozzle came off!"

            The clergyman gave up and continued with the ceremony.  He picked up the baby and said this.  “Nozzlecameoff Smithers, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

            Our Older Testament reading for today is also about a special ceremony that is about to take place.  And the speaker lets us know that if we listen really closely, we can hear it.  A still, small, voice.  The voice of someone speaking to us.  Calling out to us.  Calling out our names.  And getting each one of our names right.  

            And this person doesn’t have to ask what our names are.  Doesn’t have to ask who we are.  That’s because he knows.  Knows who we are and every little thing about us.  Knows how many hairs are on our heads.  Knows about our scars and our injuries.  Even knows our mistakes.  And loves us anyway.  Even loves us as the apples of his eyes.  Seems pretty amazing, doesn’t it?  But it really isn’t.  That’s because he’s talking about God.  It’s God who’s calling out to us.  God who’s calling our names.  Now, who wouldn’t want to listen to a message like that?

            The speaker telling us all of this is the great prophet Isaiah.  He’s giving great news to the chosen people.  And today, he’s giving great news to us as well.  And aren’t we all desperate for some good news? 

            Isaiah lets Israel know, and he lets us know that there is still reason to hope.  God hasn’t left.  God hasn’t packed bags and got the heck out of Dodge.  God hasn’t given up on us.  God hasn’t written any of us off as lost causes.  God is still here.  God is still very much in our midst.  And God still loves us.  Still cares for us.  We count.  We matter.  We’re important.  That’s because we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.  What a marvelous message Isaiah has to share with us.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            The people of Israel are desperate for good news.  Israel has had a really hard time of it lately.  The people struggle to survive.  You see, Israel has been crushed by the power of Babylon.  Their city has been destroyed, and the precious Temple has been bull dozed to the ground.  The last Davidic king has been taken captive.  And just before they put his eyes out, they kill his children right before his very eyes.  It’s the last thing he’ll ever see.  And most of the remaining people are carted off to Babylon to live for decades in exile.  There, they have no land, no temple, no leader, and no hope.  They’ve hit rock bottom.  They feel abandoned and forgotten.  They feel they no longer matter.  That they are on their own.  No one to turn to.  No one to cry out to.  No one to hear their prayers.  In fact, many of them have even forgotten how to pray.

            Into their great darkness and into our darkness steps Isaiah.  A great prophet sent by God.  He steps right up to the microphone and delivers the good news to Israel.  And at the same time, delivers the good news to us.  Good news straight from the only one who truly counts.  That’s right.  Good news straight from God.

            “Listen to me, people of Israel.  Lend me your ears for a moment.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Just get a load of what God has to say.  That’s right.  They’re God’s words.  The very God who created and formed each one of you.  And God says this to you.  ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.  I’ve called you by name.  You are mine.’”

            Yes, you and I are created by God.  Even made in God’s very image.  Declared to be good by God.  So, we matter.  We are important.  We are special.  We are loved.  Loved more than we can possibly fathom.  And God knows us.  Knows us by name.  That’s what Isaiah shares with the people of Israel and with us this day.  “You are mine.  You are my beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”  Yes, that’s what the great Isaiah says.  Indeed, good news straight from the horse’s mouth.

            Isaiah continues.  “Hear what else God has to say to you.  Trust me, it gets better.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  The rivers shall not overwhelm you.  When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.  The flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God.  The Holy One of Israel.  Your Savior.”

            Yes, God is always there for us.  There with us.  There with us and for us come hell or high water.  God promises to be with us.  To be there for us.  To be right by our sides.  Even the rivers of evil will not overwhelm us.  Nor the flames of death consume you.  That’s because we’re in God’s hands.  Good hands.  The Savior’s hands.  In fact, God’s got us and the whole world in those powerful and loving hands. 

Yes, for some unfathomable reason, we are precious in God’s sight.  Every single solitary one of us.  We are assured that God loves us.  That for some reason, God finds us precious.  That God will do whatever it takes to save.  Whatever it takes to heal and bring us safely home.

            But Isaiah has more good news.  “Listen up, Israel.  Pay attention, all of you.  Hear God’s best promise.  It’s a calming and peaceful promise.  “Do not fear, for I am with you.  I will gather your children from the east and from the west.  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up.’  I will say to the south, ‘Do not withhold them.  Bring all of my sons from far away.  Bring all of my daughters from the ends of the earth.’  Yes, you heard it right.  God’s going to host the best family reunion ever.  There will no longer be insiders and outsiders.  No longer will there be separations and enmities.  No walls or barriers.  All are invited into God’s family.”

            So, do not fear.  Do not be afraid.  God’s still right here with us.  Right in our very midst as with gather to worship.  And right with us as we travel through this troubled world.  Yes, Isaiah proclaims that God is right beside us.  And that God goes with us every step of the way.

            A family reunion is about to take place.  God is about to gather all of God’s family together.  God will bring your sons back to you from far away.  God will bring your daughters back home safe and sound.  Even if it means going to the ends of the earth to do so.  And once everyone is back home.  Safe and sound.  God will gather us all in loving arms.   Like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. 

            Out on the cattle ranches of the West, the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as "mavericks."  They are claimed by whoever gets a brand on them at the annual round up.  One Sunday morning in a small western town, a little girl was baptized by the Methodist minister.  Her schoolmates questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the baptismal ceremony.  "Well," she said, "Let me put it like this.  I was a little maverick out on the prairie and that man put the Jesus mark on my forehead.  Now when Jesus sees me, he’ll know I’m one of his children."

            Like the mavericks and this little girl, we too are marked in the waters of baptism.  There, we are claimed.  There we are chosen.  There we are called.  And that should feel great.  It should feel spectacular.  That’s because it’s so wonderful to know that we are part of God’s family.  Sons and daughters of God.  Brothers and sisters of Jesus.

            As we reflect on the baptism of Jesus during this season of Epiphany, we are reminded of our own baptisms.  And just as God spoke to Jesus and claimed him.  Just as God called him the beloved Son.  Just as God said he was well pleased.  So it is with us.  So God’s voice speaks words of welcome and love to us as well.

            Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah knew this to be true as well.  He knew that the voice of God calls to each of us.  Calls out to us by name.  Calls us beloved.  Says this to us.  “You are my daughter.  You are my son.  Welcome home.  I’m so pleased.  And I’ve got your back.”

            Indeed, what precious gifts we are given by God.  The gifts of love and hope.  Gifts meant to use and to share with the world.  A world filled with people who seem to be living without love and without hope.  We are called by name to share those gifts of love and hope.  God keeps giving those gifts.  We’ll never run out.  There’s plenty more where those came from. It’s what we’re designed for.  Designed to love.  To give hope.  To make peace.  To  care.  To heal.  To encourage.  To build up. 

            God says we need not fear as we do this.  Ever.  Because God is with us.  Loving.  Watching.  Protecting.  Keeping us safe and secure from all alarms.  That’s exactly what Isaiah’s trying to tell us.  That we are loved.  Truly, for what more could we ask?  Thanks be to God.  Amen.