The Sunday Sermon: Baptism of the Lord – January 13, 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7
And … I Love You
If you are not already, you should really be glad that you are here this morning. Snow, slush, rain, even a bit of ice has not kept you from going forth, from getting here, from gathering together. And I know some of you think you’ve done that so you can support a loved one – husband, wife, father, mother, daughter, niece, or just a fellow church member – in the new roles they’ll accept as Elders. Or perhaps you think you’re here because your obliged to be. A few of you may even think you’re here because you don’t want to disappoint your Pastor. And a handful of us think we’re here because it’s our job!
And, well, maybe those reasons, in part, or others. But I have to believe that you – that we – are here first and foremost because we are loved, we are longed for, and our presence together is important to something beyond us that we cannot fully name, but that is as real as the hand we can hold next to us, or the music we hear in this room, or the sound of my voice in these moments. We call that “something” God. This reality, this “God,” has brought us here to tell us, again, “I love you.” And this morning, there is no possible way you can “not” hear it.
Let’s pray first … And let’s get started.
Imagine this: A new student looks out at a sea of strange faces in the high school cafeteria, wondering where they should sit, which group they should join, how they will be received by those already so seemingly accepted.
Or this: A woman walks down the hall in her empty house to look at her daughter’s bedroom. The bedroom contains pictures, and souvenirs, trophies and awards, of childhood and high school, left behind when this youngest child set off for her first year of college. And now the woman, this mother, wonders what lies ahead – not just for her daughter but for herself, suddenly (in spite of eighteen years of preparation) feeling cut adrift.
Or this: An older man groans as he gets up out of his recliner to make some dinner for himself. Retirement a few years before from his successful career as a school principal (or a printer, or a farmer, or an engineer) had been that difficult. But now he has been plagued by chronic pains and even sickness that leaves him feeling lethargic, with nothing to show for the days. He feels useless. Or worse, worthless.
Who am I? Where do I belong? What makes me worthy? These are the questions of our whole life. They come to the forefront in adolescence and young adulthood, after a beautifully and blessedly un-self-conscious childhood, but they never really go away. Whether we ask them explicitly or only subconsciously, we seek answers for the rest of our lives. And we most often seek those answers in the wrong places: in our roles as sons and daughters, or husbands and wives, or mothers and fathers; in our work, our peers groups, or our accomplishments and acquisitions. But not this morning. This is why you’re here this morning. To hear the Word of God.
May those with ears to her, listen. Read Isaiah 43:1-7. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God. Amen. What a Sunday morning. Did you hear the sermon title right n the middle of this reading? Part of verse four, almost an aside, the third thought in a list of reasons why this God bothers with us at all. Because you are precious … you are honored … and I Love You. And I love you! I love you. How many times do we actually hear that in our day to day lives? Not enough, I’ll tell you that. For many reasons, I’m sure, but not enough. We don’t’ hear it often enough even when it’s the one thing we need to hear the most.
Second Isaiah is writing to a group of exiles, exiles in Babylon. He writes of passing through turbulent waters (new schools and new friends), through deep rivers (children growing up and leaving the home), and even fire (retirement and old age). Isaiah seeks to reverse the deep fear of a people on the precipice of extinction under the domination of a foreign power, a people whose future is in grave doubt and whose “God” seems to have abandoned them, or perhaps worse, lost out to the gods of another land.
Isaiah writes to us.
In our own world, in this twenty-first century, those of us who still claim allegiance to the Christian religion (any religion, for that matter) find ourselves living in a similar kind of exile. The God we grew up with has been taken from us, too. It didn’t happen in a single moment of defeat, but over the centuries as the steady and relentless advances in knowledge challenges and alters our ability to believe in what we used to believe in.
Copernicus and Galileo in the fifteenth and sixteenth century de-centered the earth. Newton in the sixteenth and seventh century decentered “God” as the explanation of natural disasters or natural beauties. Darwin in the eighteenth century caused most of the remaining ideas of how human life was understood in religious terms to be called into question. Twentieth century advances in science by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Albert Einstein (just to name a few) in the twentieth century have simply continued to push us into our exile. And the twenty-first century is just getting started.
Like the Jewish people in the sixth century BCE, we have had to re-define God. Like the Jewish people we can’t return to the good old days. Our questions today must be precisely the ones that those believers in exile so long ago asked themselves: Who are we? Where do we belong? What makes us worthy?
Isaiah forty-three speaks not only to us as individuals and as a community of faith. Our core identity lies not in our roles as individuals, or as individuals who are part of a community. We find our value, our worth, our importance not in what we have or what we do, not in our relative size or wealth as a congregation, but in our Love of one another and of the world. What makes us precious, all that makes us precious, is the gracious love that is ours from far beyond ourselves.
This passage is read and heard on Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It is paired, therefore, with Luke’s description of Jesus’ baptism in our lectionary. In the waters of baptism God marks and claims us as children, sealing a love for us that will never diminish, no matter what we have done or may do. We are God’s Beloved. Our God says, “And I love you.”
The comforting and hopeful words of Isaiah are easier to read and write about than they are to truly hear and believe. I know that. So, this is a passage and a message that we need to return to over and over and over again, just as we need to be reminded of our baptisms. Words this good – love this uncommon – takes time to believe and absorbed.
But when they are believed, when they are absorbed, even if only for a few fleeting moments or days, we respond in uncommon ways. We open our minds, we open our hearts, we open our lives to deeper calls and a deeper identity than our roles, or our jobs, or our acquisitions can offer.
This morning we are responding to four of our own who did, in some way or another to one degree or another, hear the words of Isaiah and believed them, and responded in an uncommon way: They pledged last fall to give even more of themselves to this community. These four represent our newest class of Ruling Elders. We ordain two and install all four this morning, not to “rule over” us, but to “take the measure” of each one of us, as they seek, with those who have already responded to this call, to lead our community where the Spirit of God is calling – through the waters, through the rivers, through the fire and flames. If only for the next few moments, let all with ears to hear, listen to the Word of God: “And I love you.”
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 13, 2019