Monday, June 23, 2008

Isa.43.1-7, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 22, 2008

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 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. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:1-7 ESV)

Grace and peace to you, Precious… Honored and Loved Children of God, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

She knew it was there… somewhere… it had to be. How could she be such a fool as to lay it down? How could she forget where she laid it? The room, now in shambles, had been scoured from top to bottom in search of her precious treasure, but the wedding ring was no where to be found. And now, she peered over the edge of the sink and gazed in to the blackness of the drain in the middle of the bowl. It was the only place left… it had to be there. Determined she walked to the closet and dragged out a plastic bucket. Tool handles poked up from its rim. Wire and nails rattled as she dropped it next to the sink. She plopped down beside it, and looked over the collection. It was clear nothing would fit over the drain pipe to disconnect it. There was only one solution left in her mind… she had to get the ring. Slowly she began to drag the saw back and forth just above the drain trap. Tiny metal filings began to litter the space below. It would take time, it would be expensive to replace the pipes, but no cost was too high. It was her wedding ring, she had to get it back.

The desert sand blew up from the hot ground and bit Greg’s face. He didn’t want to be there. “Guard that oil well with your life!” Sarge had said. “… with your life!” echoed the final three words in Greg’s mind. How was it possible that that oil was so precious? How could that black slimy gunk be worth more than his own life? Oh, he knew that oil was critical to the war. He knew that factories lived because they had it… he knew that tanks drank it… but what was one single well, more or less, to the effort… what made that one particular well so precious that he was to give his life guarding it? He peered out over the sand, wondering if anyone were out there. Would anyone really kill him for that seemingly insignificant spot in the whole desert? “Would I really kill them,” he wondered, “prevent them from taking it?”

Amy sat, perched on the edge of her couch, with her eyes flickering back and forth from the glowing gray of the television to the brightly colored precious square of cardboard she pinched in her fingers. “… if only this time the numbers match… if only this time, some of the numbers match… then things in my life will be different.” She thought. She had waited almost a week for this one night. This had to be the night that her life would change.

Bob tried to rub the pain from his mind with his fingers, as he sat in the darkness of his kitchen. He couldn’t believe the last 8 hours, they were something from a dream… a bad dream.. No, it was more like a nightmare. Only a few hours ago his little girl was sleeping on the couch, but now… he would give anything to see her lying there peacefully breathing… but now, that just wasn’t possible, his precious little girl was gone. He remembered the horrible sound of the screeching tires and then the dead silence that followed. “Oh my God!” came the voice of the driver as he leaped from his seat to the front of the car. “Somebody please help!” he screamed… Bob dragged himself from the images in his mind back to the darkened kitchen. His eyes passed through the shadowy space, as usual there was a pile of plates waiting to be washed and an opened fruit can on the counter. The milk was on the table… it hadn’t been put away again. All of it blended into the grayness of the room and Bob’s mind. But there was one thing that drew his eye. A beam of light from the street peered in the window and half lit a white crumpled piece of paper on the refrigerator. On that one spot in all the room there was color. Several purple and red lines ran out of the light to form some picture in the darkness. Bob walked to the white box and moved the picture so the light could brighten it all. “Dad” it said with a shaky green line over a stick figure with bulbous hands and a scribble beard. Just as Bob felt he would fold up on the floor in sheer pain, his daughter’s picture spoke again. There were more letters near the top of the page. “Jesus died for me,” they said in red, and below that was a quickly drawn green cross. A child’s faith, marked out in red and green wax. Nothing had ever been more precious. “Thank you, Jesus.” Bob said from his knees.

It was the most precious thing he had ever seen. A small squirming pink mass in the blanket wrapped up in his wife’s arms. Jeremy looked at his wife… she had never looked more beautiful. After all the work… all the time.. all the money… finally they had a child. For them adoption was the only way, something about mumps when he was a boy. But, all of the struggle, money, and worry, now to fell deep into his memory, this moment was worth it all. Here, right here, was a child to raise, a child to teach, and a child to love. He brushed a finger across her soft cheek, she was so tiny, and she would need him very much.

We know what it means for something to be precious. We have precious things all around us. We may even know what it means for us to be precious in someone’s eyes. I think though that often we have a hard time seeing that we are precious to God. After all, fears are right here… our troubles are right here… our sins are right here… our lives are right here and God often feels so far away.

It isn’t a new feeling. Isaiah the prophet was dealing with the same feelings when he wrote the words of our text today. The Children of Israel had put some distance between themselves and God. They quit listening to what God had to say. God even called them deaf and blind. And now, says Isaiah, they were in for trouble. There land, the land that God had given them, would be taken away. And they would be dragged off into exile. Separated from the land they loved, and separated from their own people. There would be a lot for them to be afraid of… when they literally looking down the barrel of the Babylonian army. But in all that, with all that to look forward to, God tells the people to remember who they are… and remember who he is. He gives them a very personal word, to remember that they, in spite of all that was coming, where his precious people.

Isaiah begins by reminding them who is speaking to them. God the one who created them. He the one who formed them with the same care that a potter uses to mold and form a clay pot. They went into Egypt, 12 brothers, and came out a great multitude. He molded them through trials in the desert, water from rocks and manna from heaven. He formed them into a great army that was feared by all the kings they stood against. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, and he would again free them from exile in Babylon. Just as they passed through the red sea unharmed again they would pass through troubled waters that would not destroy them completely. And just as a fire led them in the desert, so they would walk through fire, protected by God. Why does God go to such lengths to tell them this… because they were his precious people… I am YHWH, he says using the name he gave Moses at the burning bush. “I am your God, and your only Savior. You are precious to me because I have put my name on you. Don’t be afraid, I am with you.

But the real beauty of this text isn’t that it tells the story of God’s love for a group of people who lived so long ago. People long dead, individuals long forgotten, and relegated to words written on dry dusty paper. The real beauty of this text is this… In these same words God is telling us that we too are his precious people.

We are reminded that this God, the one who is speaking here to us, is the one who created us. He carefully knit us together in our mother’s womb, a precious treasure. But, he did even more than that, His act of creation continued because of Jesus Christ, and all that he has done for us, his life, death and resurrection. We, just like his precious Israel, have been called by name. We have been Baptized and given his name. He said, “Welcome to My Family, my precious child. I give you my name” I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Fear not, for I am with you, he says. When our fears flood over us threatening to drown us, when our troubles threaten to burn us up, when we face the fact that we are sinful, and God feels far away. He says, Remember who you are and how precious you are to me my child.

We are more precious to God than a lost diamond in a dark drain, barrels and barrels of black gold, or even a multimillion dollar lottery ticket. And the proof is as simple as a few words scribbled in red crayon, “Jesus died for me.” We are so precious in God’s eyes, that he sent Jesus Christ, to be a king’s ransom. His life in exchange for ours. He said fear not, I am with you. He sent Jesus to be with us, literally, to walk the earth, to smile and laugh, to eat and sleep, and to suffer and die, for us God’s precious children. He came to be with us right here, right were we are with our fear, right here with our troubles, and right here with our sins. And Jesus promise that he is always with us. “I am with you always to the very end of the age. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you.” You see, it’s the same promise given to us that was given to the children of Israel.

We are God’s precious children gathered together, in his name, in his presence, to be reminded that we are precious to him. We all need to be reminded often that we are precious to God. Take advantage of what God offers you here. You are precious to God and he wants to remind you of that again and again.

The Lord says to all his people, “You are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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