You Are Mine

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Because he created us, God calls us by name and declares in no
uncertain terms that we belong to him.  And from all our pain and
trouble… and from everything that has tried, or ever will try, to tear
us away from our creator and his will for us… he redeems us.  He has
declared that these things cannot have us.  Despair, grief, shame, loss,
sin, death… these things cannot have us.  The first and final acts of
life belong to God, and he will always act to save what is his.


Baptism of Our Lord

January 13, 2013

Isaiah 43:1-7

Peder Stenslie

As a teacher, I’ve sat in on many difficult meetings with parents and
other teachers to talk about problems with a student.  I will never
forget a meeting regarding a particular student who had been removed
from the regular classroom. 

A couple months earlier, he had been placed in an isolated setting
because he was just unable to function in the regular classroom.  Such a
decision is never made quickly or easily, but it was the choice made in
this case.  He sat there in the meeting as the adults discussed how
things had been going in his separate environment. 

The consensus of those working with him was that he hadn’t shown any
growth in the problem areas.  He had not even shown interest in growth. 
As a result, it was decided that he would remain in the isolated
environment until some change was seen.

When that decision was made, the boy began to cry.  It was sad to see
this 11 year-old boy’s grief over his separation from friends and
peers.  But I was also troubled by his stubborn refusal to use the time
and opportunity he had to grow and change.  And I was frustrated by our
inability to help him. 

Teachers are often witnesses to the hurt and grief of children.  Not
only are there children who must be removed from the classroom, there
are also children in pain because their family has been ravaged by
alcoholism or drug addiction.  There are children who have a parent or
parents in prison… children who lose their home… children who experience
the death of a close family member… or children who struggle to deal
with their parents’ divorce. 

It’s hard to see children living in pain.  One wonders, “How can a
child cope with that?”  The truth is… many of them don’t cope well. 
Some just don’t have anything to hang on to for strength; and they don’t
have, in their life, any source of guidance to lead them through their
pain.  So they get lost… lose their joy and energy, lash out at others…
make bad choices that inflict further pain on themselves or transfer it
to others. 

It seems so unfair…. And certainly it is; but living with grief and
loss and pain is a part of life.  Sooner or later, all face these things
in one way or another.  The bible is full of stories of people who are
overwhelmed with trouble.

The people to whom the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s O.T. lesson
had known great pain and sorrow for many years.  Much of their trouble
had come about because of their own doing.  They made choices and lived
in ways that brought devastating consequences down on them.  As a
result, they lost their freedom and were living in forced exile in
Babylon.  They felt lost and forsaken.  They felt like they had no
future, no hope. 

To these grieving people the prophet Isaiah announces astonishing and
wonderful news.  It begins with a statement of fact about what has
already happened, but is easily forgotten when our world is filled with
trouble.  Isaiah writes:  “Thus says the Lord… he who created you… he
who formed you:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you
by name, you are mine.”

We are reminded that this truth is where our certain hope always
springs from… the truth that you and I share the breath of life that
comes from the same source…the creator of all that is… the author of
life.  We live because God, in great love, called us into being… formed
us into the creatures we are. 

Because he created us, he calls us by name and declares in no
uncertain terms that we belong to him.  And from all our pain and
trouble… and from everything that has tried, or ever will try, to tear
us away from our creator and his will for us… he redeems us.  He has
declared that these things cannot have us.  Despair, grief, shame, loss,
sin, death… these things cannot have us.  The first and final acts of
life belong to God, and he will always act to save what is his.

The prophet Isaiah sees and knows the pain of God’s people.  Neither
he, nor any other prophet, ever declares that people of God will not
suffer. Sometimes, we think that’s the way it should be, and therefore
assume that those who suffer must be forsaken by God.  In truth, God’s
people often suffer greatly. 

That is what God means when he promises through Isaiah:  “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.” 

Walking through water and flame refer to living through painful and
hard times, being in the hands of violent and destructive powers.  These
are common experiences for God’s people.

Many of us have on our minds, today, our dear brother, Don Fischer. 
He was a faithful servant of God throughout his life, and yet he knew
much hardship and pain.  And though he loved life and his work here, he
found himself passing through the waters and flame of terminal cancer. 
He died.  We all feel great grief and a sense of powerlessness when
someone we care about goes through that.  It’s hard to bear.

We also remember our own pastor Renee who yesterday observed the 3rd
anniversary of her husband Ben’s tragic death in the Haiti earthquake. 
He died, while doing ministry there, along with over a quarter of a
million Haitians.  Who can comprehend such tragedy, destruction and
death?  It is not possible.

Yet the Word of God aims to fill us with hope and strength… and even joy… as we… or those we love face hard and painful times.

Isaiah’s words in today’s Old Testament lesson are meant to sustain
God’s people who suffer.  They are meant to give them strength and
hope.  They are meant to give them light to see the truth about where
they are and where they are headed.  God’s people are never lost or
forsaken. They are never alone.  They are never without hope.   They are
always in the hand and heart of God.

The assurance and reason why we… God’s people… are never lost or
forsaken is expressed beautifully in our Isaiah lesson.  Listen to these
words:  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love
you….  Do not fear, for I am with you.”

All one has to do is look at the world around us… the sun and stars,
the hills and rivers and all living things… to know that nothing can be
more powerful than the love of God that powers creation.

And there is no more intense expression of God’s love for us than
Jesus Christ.  There is no greater expression of his will to be with us
or of his work to redeem us from our sin and suffering. 

Christ was the very being of God in human flesh.  He walked among us,
tending to the sick and outcast, raising the dead (sharing with us the
Kingdom of God in his words and actions).  To complete his
identification with us, he suffered rejection and cruel hatred.  He
entered the darkest anguish that people can know… the anguish of feeling
completely forsaken by God… as he endured painful death on the cross. 
He did this to be with us completely through all things and to redeem us
from sin and death in all its forms.

When I see my young 6th grade students in the grip of pain and grief
and trouble that seems too great for them, it’s easy to get
discouraged.  “What will happen to them?  Who can help them?  How will
they get through this?” I wonder.

Don Fischer faced these same questions as his body and life were
ravaged by cancer.  Pastor Renee faced them as well in the aftermath of
the earthquake and the loss of her husband. All of us go through times
when we are faced with these questions.

When I look at some of you and consider what you’ve been through and
what lies in your future, I wonder the same thing.  “How will you come
free from the trouble and pain that brought you here?  How can you learn
to fight for your own well-being?  How can others who want to… help you
find new life as a child of God?  Who can help you?!”

The most important answer to these questions has been proclaimed
today through scripture.  All of us, in times of great grief and
darkness, need to take refuge in, and take strength and hope from the
Word of God that we hear today:  “Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you….  Do not fear, for I am with you….  I
created you.  I formed you.  I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Amen.