Monday, February 09, 2009

Through Water and Fire

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you, for I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Is. 43:1-3)

Anne, you may know that your name means grace. Grace is one of those words that we say frequently, but sometimes we don’t stop to remember what it means. Grace means kindness, favor, mercy. Grace is goodness shown to particular people in particular places at particular times. Like many names that Christian fathers and mothers choose, it not only sounds lovely, but it is also a declaration of faith regarding you. To name you grace is to say that you are grace to them and to your family, and that God has shown his kindness and favor and goodness to them by giving you to them. But it is also a declaration of faith regarding what they believe God will be doing in you. Not only are you a gift of grace, but you are also grace on display. Your life is a stage, a story, a play in which God has begun displaying his grace, his goodness, his mercy.

The passage from Isaiah that I’ve just read goes on to describe how God intends to bring all of his people back out of exile. His sons and daughters who have been driven away from the promised land, he promises to being back. And the exhortation is to ‘feat not’ because God will see them all the way back into his presence. He will see them through the waters, through the rivers, and through the fire. God has redeemed them and called them by name, so though the waters come up over them, they will not be harmed, though they walk through fire, they will not be burned. The reason is because Yahweh is their God, and he is the Holy One of Israel, their Savior.

You may also know what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a slightly different form of the name Joshua, and it comes from the Hebrew root which means “he saves.” Remember when the angel announced to Joseph that Mary was carrying a son who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the angel told Joseph to name him Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. The name Jesus means Savior. What Isaiah was principally looking forward to and prophesying was the promise that the God of Israel would come finally and fully to be with his people, to be their Savior, so that nothing could harm them anymore, so that they might come home to God and not be estranged from him or his people anymore.

Remember also, Anne, that the beginning of the passage starts with God saying that he created and formed Israel. The basis for God’s claim is creation. He created in the beginning and named his creation. And then he created people and named them man. God also has a habit of re-naming people when he is re-making them. Remember he renamed Abram and called him Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob was renamed Israel. And frequently, when God is calling someone from birth, he gives them their name before they are even born. God names Isaac before he’s born. John the baptist likewise is given a name by the angel before he’s born. These names declare God’s intentions to do particular things in and through these particular people. They name our callings, our vocations, our jobs in life.

In a moment, you are going to receive a new name. God calls you by your name, and he adds his own name to yours. You know that one day you will probably be married, and you will take a new last name, you’ll take the name of your husband in marriage. But the wonderful thing is that God does the same thing in baptism. When we are baptized God gives us his name too. He promises to be our Lord, our husband, our Savior. He promises to bring us through the deep waters of life and the fires that threaten us. And the proof of that begins in baptism. We actually symbolize that reality by putting water on someone or dipping them into water. We enact the reality that God promises. We’re going to go down into this water, and God promises to bring you through it. Likewise, God promises you His Holy Spirit, and it is not an accident that when the Holy Spirit first came upon the disciples of Jesus it is pictured as fire. After you are baptized, I will lay my hands on you and pray that the fullness of God’s presence rest upon you just as the apostles did a number of times in the book of Acts. The fullness of God’s presence comes by the Holy Spirit, and our God is a consuming fire. But the promise of God to you is that he will bring you through the waters, and bring you through the fire unharmed, and this promise follows you for the rest of your life.

Whether you are sick, or scared, or worried, or discouraged, or you have sinned and you are facing the consequences of your actions, remember this day, Anne. Remember what God promises you. God has created you, he calls you by name, and now he gives you his own name and promises to be your Savior, your Husband. And he will be bring you through the waters and through the fire, and your life will be more and more a picture of grace, a story of God’s favor. So do not fear, Anne, only believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus today and tomorrow and all of your days. Amen!

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