Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sermon for 1/13/13

Sermon Isaiah 43:1-7

Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Walking on water? That’s what we’d all like to do, isn’t it? Picture yourself being able to command all nature, to overcome the laws of physics. And there are some people who will proclaim the Gospel and tell their hearers that in Christ all things are possible, we should expect to do all the kind of miraculous works that Jesus did, including healing the sick, raising the dead, whatever it is. And truth be told, every last one of us has at least one miracle we’d like to be able to do. Most of us think the idea of a genie in a bottle who would give us three wishes isn’t exactly unpleasant. After all, we could probably wrangle a few wishes that would not be misinterpreted and that we wouldn’t regret.

But we’re pulled back to reality, aren’t we? We find out fast enough that we get up day after day and are just the same people we always were. I might think I’m good looking until I look in the mirror. I might think I’m smart until I’m outsmarted by about half the people around me. I might think I’m good with my hands until I actually try to fix something. I might think I’m healthy until I catch the next flu bug. I might think I’m wealthy until I look at my bank account. And then I realize I’m not wise either, that I was not to bed early enough, and that I definitely didn’t get up early enough to have a head start on the rest of the world. The fact is, we’re not above the trials of this life. We aren’t immune to them. The only walking on water I’ve done lately is on frozen water, and that generally involves slipping and falling.

So what will we do? How will we deal with all this disappointment? After all, I’m not alone, am I? Or maybe everyone else here is above all that, pushing perfection really hard. Of course, even Mary Poppins isn’t perfect, just “practically perfect in every way.” I guess we’d better not count on her, then. Superwhateveritis. We aren’t going to walk on the water. I’m afraid we’ll have to go right on through it then.

Of course, in the Bible, water is used in two different ways. They seem to go together. We’d all like to think about the pleasant kind of water. The Lord leads us beside still waters. He gives us living water to drink. He washes us and we are clean. This is a good view of water, and it’s one we think about today, the day remembering the baptism of the Lord. But there’s a different symbolism of water. In the Bible as in everyday life, that same water which gives us life, that same water which slakes our thirst, which washes us, an abundance of water is also that which kills us. Remember Noah and how God preserved him from death by water even while purging the world from sin by drowning everyone but Noah and his family. Remember how the flood of Noah, according to 1 Peter 3, is a symbol of baptism, that which saves us. When I was converted to Christ as a young adult it was in a church body that taught baptism was always to be by immersion and was reserved for adults who had already begun confessing Christ. I’m still good with baptism by immersion. I’m not convinced we need a lot of water. But I have nothing against dipping someone under the water. As we read today in Romans 6 it’s a picture of being put to death. And you know what happens when you baptize someone and leave the person under water. We won’t do that. We bring the person through the water, just like our Lord does.

That’s what God is talking about in Isaiah 43. He has called his people by name. He has purchased them. That’s the idea of “redeeming” someone. It’s buying the person back from slavery, from captivity. But when that person is a captive of death and God calls him to life, he brings the person out of those crushing waters of death. He makes us pass through the waters. He doesn’t have us walking on water and he doesn’t have us drowning under the water. He makes us pass through the water. He is with us. Just like when the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea, just like when they crossed the Jordan River into the land of promise, just like when Daniel’s three friends passed through the fire in Babylon, God brings us through that place of death. He rescues us from death, because we belong to him, the Lord of life.

How does our Lord do this? What is it all about? Does he rescue us because we are obedient, because we are good, because we are useful? Not at all. He rescues us because he has chosen us. Recently a person I was visiting was asking me, yet again, “Why am I still here?” This is an elderly person who doesn’t always feel useful. In fact, this person seldom feels useful. Why would the Lord keep me here? Why not just take me home? It isn’t because we are useful. It isn’t because we are good. It isn’t because we show great promise. The fact is we don’t supply God with anything he needs. We aren’t good, not up to his standards. We confess our sin and acknowledge our guilt. We aren’t really good for much, if you think about it. But our Lord has called us by name. He has chosen us. He has decided that he wants to keep us. It’s kind of like a little thing that I have on a shelf. I have a pig on  a shelf in my office. I had that pig on my desk in my school classroom. I had it on my desk in the bill collecting office where I worked for some years during college. It’s just a little carved pig. Know what it’s worth? Probably nothing. It isn’t heavy enough to be a paperweight. It isn’t really very beautiful. My father brought it back with him from a trip to South America when I was a teenager. I bet he spent at least fifty cents on it, translated into the local currency. Just a trinket. But it’s there. Why? Because it’s mine. Have I had other presents from my family members? Sure. Some of them have been valuable. Some of them have been beautiful. But it’s the pig that’s on my bookcase. Somehow it’s special.

Please remember, if you don’t remember anything else today, you are special in the eyes of the Lord. He chose you, not because of anything but his sovereign love for you. You don’t have to deserve it, which is good, because we can never deserve God’s love. You don’t have to live up to all your hopes and dreams. He didn’t choose you because of those. He chose you because he wanted to. He chose you out of death. He chose you into life. And as you pass from death to life, as you pass from time to eternity, the Lord will bring you through water, through fire, through all manner of trials. Is he going to leave you there? No more than I am going to baptize you for twenty minutes.

What does the Lord do instead? In Isaiah 43:4 we saw that the Lord will give people in exchange for our life. He brings us through water and fire, things which kill. He brings us through this temporal life, something else which kills. But God has given a man for your life. That man is Jesus, our Lord, God the Son. He passed through the baptismal waters, the water of death, so you could know that he would bring you out on the other side. He passed through every kind of temptation that you will ever face. He overcame it. And as he gives you his life, you can overcome temptation as well. He passed through the firestorms of criticism. He can keep you perfectly safe. He passed through death itself, rising from the dead. You also can consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, someone who will, by nature, follow Jesus in his resurrection.

So are we ready to walk on water? It’s wonderful when we get to do that, especially if we don’t slip and fall on the ice. But when we are walking through the water, when we are passing through this valley called an earthly life, when we go through this life which looks a lot more like death, we know that Jesus has been there. He has given a man for you. He himself has triumphed over all. He is able to present you to himself, cleansed from sin. He is able to take that which would bring us death by drowning and make it a refreshing drink to us. He is able to take that which would burn us and kill us and make it a means by which we can be warmed and fed. Jesus our Lord, who gave himself to be sin for you, is able himself to give you his perfect sinless life.

Do you trust that Jesus is your king? Do you trust that he has called you by name? Do you believe that he is able to take you and walk you through the water and through the fire? Do you believe that he himself will care for you, simply because he cares for you? Then cast your cares on him. Give him thanks for his grace. Look to him and proclaim his praises to every generation. Thanks be to God.

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