Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday, the day in which we are reminded of Jesus’ baptism – and our own. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear a voice from heaven proclaiming: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." It’s just a short statement – but with it, God names and claims Jesus as God’s Son and calls him “Beloved.” I’ll come back to this pronouncement.
But today I would like you to turn to the reading from Isaiah, it’s on page __ of your bulletin. This is another proclamation from God. It is a poem – actually just the heart of a poem -- from God, speaking through Isaiah, to God’s people. Like the Gospel, this poem makes a declaration of love, and names and claims God’s people. I think he uses poetry since in poetry– like lyrics of a song… truth is spoken to the heart in way that bypasses all the objections of our brains and gets right to our hearts and souls.
Here’s the context: the people of Israel were conquered and a large portion of their people – all of their leaders - had been forced from their country to serve their captors in Babylon. A generation has passed and the people.. especially the new generation… but the older people as well… have begun to forget about their homeland and forget about or maybe gave up on God. The prophet Isaiah has just gotten done chewing them out!
Here’s where we pick up the poem.. “But now thus says the Lord.” But now... With those two words, Isaiah proclaims that God is turning the page, forgiving them for all of the times they have messed up – the times they have turned from God, and from their neighbor – the bad choices they have made.
With words reminiscent of the very beginning of the creation story, Isaiah reminds the people that God is the one “who created you and formed you.” In this poem “Jacob” and “Israel” refer to the whole tribe of God’s chosen people and the “you” in this passage is also plural – it means you all. God has formed ‘you all.” God has redeemed “you all.”
Being redeemed – in Biblical times – was not a “get of jail free” card or the result of lawyers getting a case dismissed on a technicality. Being redeemed meant that someone else – a loved one – had paid a price for your freedom. God says to God’s people, “I have redeemed ‘you all’” God reminds them of their relationship: “I have called you all by name, you all are mine.” Why? Skip down a few lines. God says clearly and unequivocally: … “because you all are precious in my sight…. And I love you. I love you all”
Hear the Word of the Lord: You all are precious in God’s sight. God says to you individually and as the whole people of God… “I LOVE YOU.” Hear those words again: “I LOVE YOU ALL.”
God doesn’t say those words quite so clearly again until God speaks them to Jesus, who opens the door for all people, all nations -- not just the tribe of Israel… to be God’s people. So hear these words again. God says, “I LOVE YOU. I love you ALL.” Because of Jesus, this love poem is written not only for God’s first chosen people but now… for you all too.
This is the last scripture that I shared with Valerie Wietzke when I visited with her. And these are words that you can claim too.
God promises you: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Some of the images in the Bible refer to the pastoral context of their day. Not many of us have used a winnowing fork on a threshing floor – and so sometimes images take some translation for us in our world today. But in this poem, God talks about water and fire. And we know what a blessing – but also how dangerous they can be. Here in Minnesota, we love our 10,000 plus lakes and being on, in and by the water. But we also know that hurricanes and tsunamis, blizzards and raging rivers can cause devastation.
And, while we love the smell of a campfire, the Campfire wild fire in California devastated not only forests but homes – and whole towns like Paradise, California. Maybe the people in the Northwest have grown accustomed to living with the threat of fire, but I will never forget seeing the wildfire in the distance when camping in the wilderness the summer before last. When we came around the corner after spending the day at a beautiful alpine lake, we discovered that what had been a green carpet of trees on the mountain across the wide valley from us – that was also filled with timber -- was aflame. We could smell soot in the air. Knowing how fast fire can travel –– we got out of there. We quickly packed up our tents from under the wooded trees in the valley and hiked up a rocky mountain ridge. I prayed lots of prayers before going to sleep that night. The next morning we woke before dawn and we could still see the fire… but it was going the other way.
I believe in the power of prayer. But I also know that God does not put a protective shield around God’s people so that nothing bad ever happens. Bad things still happen to good God-loving people.
In God’s love poem, God does not promise that bad things won’t happen. But what God does promise is that – even when they do, God will be with you, you all – and with me.
God even uses some hyperbole to assure the people of Israel that God will not abandon them – but instead will gather God’s people, including your sons and daughters from the North and South, the East and West.
And because of Jesus Christ, this promise of God’s gift of love and grace is extended to people of all nations and people who have no nation, people who have riches and people who have nothing, people from the North and South and East and West.
For when God’s voice broke through the heavens and claimed Jesus as God’s son, as beloved, that changed everything. And when you were baptized into Christ – drowned in the waters of baptism and reborn a child of God… that changed everything for you too. God’s love poem is for you…all. God claims you all saying: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (43:1) and again at the end of this passage, claims “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (v. 7).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been created by God, redeemed by God, named by God, and claimed by God. This is why you do not ever need to be afraid. For God is with you.
And it is because we know that God’s presence is always with us –we can be confident that there is no water that is too deep, no fire that burns too hot, no problem that is too big and no situation in which we find ourselves that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the promise of God for you, but not only for you but for you all. And…because we know this, and are sustained by this, we all can dare to wonder: what is God calling me to do and to be today? How is God calling me to live? May you remember each and every day that you are a beloved, claimed child of God, and may the love of Christ poured into you joyfully overflow in all of your words and deeds. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran church January 13, 2019
The Holy Gospel according to Luke 3, the 3rd chapter.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." The Gospel of the Lord.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.