Called and Named

January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7

The art of the handwritten note is one of those practices that has been diminished by easier, quicker options to communicate. I know that I am guilty of it, even though I set the intention to send personalized notes. When we can email, text, or contact through social media, we are able to express our thoughts in an array of quicker, more immediate options.

There is just something about a handwritten note though. It is the next best thing to having the person that wrote it standing right next to you. It can convey a simple message in the voice of the person writing it. It reminds us that someone took the time to reach out to us and remember us. It is something you can keep.

One of my most prized Christmas gifts is an ELW. Yes, you heard me right, an Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal! Just like the ones in the pews in front of you. Why does it mean so much? It is because it was from my pastor a couple years before I started seminary and I was in the midst of starting the candidacy process. It is a prized gift because he wrote a personal note in the front cover. Reminding me that where ever the Spirit may lead me, I am blessed and am a blessing!

I have another note that I have kept for nearly 25 years that I received at my high school graduation from my fourth-grade teacher along with a dictionary. In it, she reminded me that I am part of a very special family. God does the same for us through scripture as we are called and named by a loving God that has come down to earth to accompany us in our daily walk.

Notes like these can touch us and help guide us in times of uncertainty and fear. They give us reassurance when self-doubt creeps in. As we are reminded this morning of Jesus’ baptism, we also rejoice in ours. However, let’s be honest, it is often easy to forget those words that were spoken to us in our own baptisms and as we reaffirm them on different occasions. When we look at the world around us and the evil that persists, we can easily be baptized in fear. A fear that drives us away from everything that Christ stands for. We forget everything in those moments that we are baptized in fear. We forget our heritage. We forget our names, who we are called to be. We forget our purpose. We even forget those resources in which we have been entrusted.

The people of Israel that the prophets spoke to also were no strangers to fear. In Isaiah we are presented with a story of our ancestors living in exile and anticipating a return home, if not for themselves, at least for the generations that follow. They are gripped by fear and a feeling of isolation. Wondering where to turn next and wondering if things will ever get any better. The story in Isaiah spans a couple of hundred years from the time they are taken into exile in Babylon until the time they return to their homeland. They went from an independent people to ones that were conquered. No wonder, they are living in fear and uncertainty.

Amid their exile, they are reminded that they are loved. The beginning of this chapter in Isaiah can be read like one of those personal notes. It reminds them that they are special and that they are very much a part of God’s glorious creation and are personally called. This passage from Isaiah brings hope to a nation that is in turmoil. It gives hope for the time to come.

It not only speaks to those living in exile, it also reaches across millennia and is an incredible reminder for today. We too, are called personally into a life with God. We too have been created. We too have been formed. We too have been redeemed. We too have been called. In these actions by God, we are reminded that we are precious and honored. These are all words that we should be reminded of and listen to daily. Each one of you has been created and called by God and are worthy of the love of God. In this love, you are called to live into a relationship with God that has come down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

We should not be overly concerned about what happens when we die. We should be concerned about how we are living our life today! Isaiah reminds the people who they are and whose they are despite their sins. We too should remember who and whose we are when we are confronted with the fears of society and be reminded of the love of God that came down to earth for us in Jesus Christ.

In his baptism, Jesus hears the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  In the water of our own baptisms we too were reminded that we are children of God and we are loved, now and forevermore. May these words wash over you every chance they get, so that you remember you are beloved and with you, God is pleased.

Let us pray. God of the waters, we fall prey to shortsightedness every time we let fear guide our thoughts and actions. May you guide us with your love as we affirm our baptisms and walk in your light. Amen.

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Seeking the Light

January 6, 2019 Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

My family likes to play games. From card games, board games, and even more recently role-playing games. Doing so, we have the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, share in laughter, and grab bragging rights for the next time that we play.

However, there have been times when we have played that someone has joined us that does not like to lose. They attempt to change the rules midstream so that they also end up on top and will never be the loser. The desire to win often times brings frustration and confusion to the other friends and family that are attempting to play the game honestly. Even when this is brought to the attention of the arrogant player, they still seem to be in the dark. In their desire to remain on top, they alienate themselves and wonder why they are left in the dark as everyone else moves on to have a good time doing something else. Where does the joy come from when one must trick others to guarantee yourself a winner?

The magi have no desire to be left in the dark as they transcend their role to pay homage to the newborn king. The magi are a reminder for us that Jesus, the newborn king, brings light to the world for all to see.

The magi are a living example of what it means to live in the time of Advent. In the gospel this morning we are told of the gifts that they shared with Jesus, but they have also been able to utilize the gifts of waiting, seeking, and discovery. They were waiting for the light to appear, and the star that has risen in the sky is a sign for them to seek out the newborn king. With this new information, they are able to venture out into the vastness that lies between them and Jesus to discover the light born into the world in the form of a child.

Herod, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Advent. In the story of Herod, we receive a message of rejection, fear, and refusal of the light. While Herod is Jewish himself, he was made a client king by the Roman rulers, so that they could appease people in the hopes that he would connect better to the people of Judea. By the time word of Jesus’ birth comes to his ears through the magi, he has been ruling for nearly forty years. His time ruling has been plagued in fear of losing the kingship and the executions of his own family to ensure that he remains in power. In the magi’s message, Herod is once again gripped by the fear of a change that could come to Judea. A change that could result in him losing his authority as king. We can nearly sense the refusal in Herod’s reactions to see the light that has come to the world in which the magi are now seeking.

When we become fearful of change, loss, and even comfort, we can be hindered in our daily lives from opening our eyes to the light of Christ all around us. At times we struggle with putting our fears aside so that we can experience the light that God offers to us. We much rather cling to false hopes and self-preservation instead of seeking the light in others. When we refuse to see Christ in our sisters and brothers, we walk the same line as Herod!

There is an incredible message waiting for us in Matthew today. It is a message of welcome. It is a message that God does not stop at any barrier. God breaks down stereo types and reaches out to shine the light far and wide. The shepherds were sent an angelic choir to sing the praises of the newborn king. To the magi a star appears in the sky to guide them to the light of the world that illuminates the darkness. Even Herod is given the sign of the magi that are going to share gifts worthy of a king; only his jealousy blocks the light for him to see.

Jesus’ ministry will be one of reaching out to those that are on the outskirts of society. Those that have been frowned upon and those that others will not give the time of day. He chooses to eat with the poor, the excluded, the sick, the lonely, prostitutes, and even tax collectors!

In the bearing of gifts worthy of a king, the magi and all of humanity receive something much greater, the light of the world. That light is revealed to us through our own epiphanies. Perhaps, we see it in the eyes of our significant other, in the first cry of our own children when they were born. Perhaps we have even seen it in the last breaths of a loved one as they have come at least to peace in the hands of a loving God. Do we share these experiences and spread the good news?

The magi receive word in a dream that they must not return to Herod and report what they have seen. Instead they go a different route. What route has Jesus called us to follow as we listen to the Word today? We have moved through Advent into Christmas and now Epiphany to experience and be the light. May you all find the route Jesus is calling you to follow as you enter this new year with hope and a promise of the Light that has come into the world.

Let us pray. God of light, may we be guided as the magi were guided to find and pay homage to your newborn son. May we be bearers of this same light in our lives so that others may experience the love of Christ through our words and actions. Amen.