Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 43:1-3
Israel, the Lord who created you says, "Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine.  When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you.  For I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you.

You are mine

Recently there was a cooking show on TV that focussed on how to prepare and serve dishes that included kangaroo, emu and crocodile.  It reminded me of a story that went something like this. One afternoon it was decided that it was about time the locals had a meal of emu meat so one of the aboriginal fellas asked the white man to go emu hunting with him.  They soon saw an emu in the distance and aboriginal man said, “There you go.  You shoot him.”  Now, of course, if you want to make sure you don’t miss you need to creep up on the target. 

The white man started to creep towards the emu but no matter how much he tried to get closer, the emu maintained the same distance between them.  The man with the gun would take 6 steps and the emu took 6 steps away.  The man took another 6 steps and the emu walked another steps further.  After a while this was getting to be a bit frustrating. 

Finally his black friend said, “That’s not the way to shoot an emu.  You won’t get anywhere doing that” and proceeded to take off his faded red T-shirt and wave it above his head – very strange behaviour indeed.  Out of curiosity, the emu came closer to get a good look at what was going on.  Finally it was just a few metres away and the emu roast was a certainty.

People may have various ideas and opinions how they might bag an emu; they may even draw on other experiences that were successful in other circumstances but there is only one way to make sure that you will have an emu roast.  In fact, it seems to defy logic.  Waving around a red t-shirt in most other circumstances would frighten an animal away but in this case this is the only way to make sure that you would be going home with the goods.

We can deal with the troubles and problems that life throws our way in lots of different ways and some might work for a while, but there is only one way that to bag real strength and peace and contentment just as there is only one way to bag an ill-tempered emu.  Psalm 37 says, “Trust in the Lord and he will help you”.

It’s sad to say that there are those who yearn for true comfort and hope but they have never experienced it because they don’t know how close God will come to them.   They don’t know how much God longs to help them, weeps with them, grieves with them and how much God wants to wrap his arms around them and assure them of his presence and strength and peace in the middle of so much trouble.  He wants to do all this and more and waits for an invitation, for the smallest bit of faith that will allow him to fill their souls with confidence and courage in spite of the hopelessness around them. 

Today we hear God speaking to his people through the prophet Isaiah.  They had been taken captive and sent into a strange land.  They had become nobodies in this weird world and felt alone and unimportant.  They felt guilty because of their failure to follow God's ways.  They were afraid and could see nothing in their future to look forward to. But then in these middle chapters of the Book of Isaiah there is powerful theme of hope.  God is able and will deliver his people.  When they thought he had given up on them he had had been with his people all along.  He speaks to them words of hope and encouragement. 

Listen to these words from God and hear him speaking to you (from The New Living Translation).
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine. 
When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown!
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:1-3,5).

He goes on to emphasise that these are “my people”.
“I created them”.
“I will bring them home”.
“I will tell every part of the world to let my people go”.
 
“I will give up whole nations to save your life, because you are precious to me and because I love you”.

Don’t you just love these words from the mouth of God himself?  They might have been spoken to people thousands of years ago but they might well have been spoken to you and me right here today.  He knew the despair of his people back then and he knows what gets us down today and he speaks to us right now, “Do not be afraid.  I have called you by name – you are mine.”

We despair over the strife we find ourselves in because of our sin.  How easy it is to be selfish and unkind and to justify our wrong-doing.
We worry over the things that will destroy our families, the peace in our world and our community, and whether future generations in our families will follow Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.
We are anxious over our health, our finances, our loved ones, our work or the lack of it.
We stress over decisions that need to be made and what the future holds for us.
My own personal “where-do-I-start” stress is the number of people - young and old - loosely connected with this congregation who need to not only hear about the love of Jesus, but to experience it in some way and be touched and changed by it.

Any of these can be our own Babylonian captivity experience and feel overwhelmed and overcome to the point of feeling powerless to be able to do anything or make any difference.  It is when this feeling of drowning or sinking or crashing under the weight of it all that I love God's words to us in Isaiah. “When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you … the hard trials that come will not hurt you. … Do not be afraid.  I am with you”. 

Today we heard about the baptism of Jesus.  As Jesus came out of the water the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove and a voice spoke from heaven, “You are my own dear Son.  I am pleased with you”.  Jesus is about to begin his mission beginning with his temptation by Satan in the wilderness.  The next 3 years will be really tough.  They will end with terrible pain and suffering and a cruel death.  Those words from the Father at Jesus’ baptism are something like the words God spoke to his people in Isaiah. 
“You are my own dear son.
I have called you by name; you are mine. 
When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. 

In our baptism God washed us clean connecting us to all that Jesus did on the cross for us, dying for us, taking on himself all our sin, enduring the pain and suffering that should have been ours, and then rising to life ensuring that we too shall rise to a new life of forgiveness and wholeness.  In the water of baptism God is our Saviour and he makes a covenant with us.  He says to each of us,
“You have nothing to fear.  I will save you.  I know each one of you by name.  You are mine.  You are precious to me because I love you.  I created you and saved you.  Do not be afraid”.

What a wonderful message this is for a world filled with so much despair and hopelessness.  In fact, so many people don’t have a clue of the strength and comfort that is available to them from the God who loves them so dearly. 

The hope that we have in Jesus Christ is something to be shared.  The last verse in the Old Testament reading goes like this.  They are my own people, and I created them to bring me glory.”  

“I created them to bring me glory.” 
This is like saying, “You have experienced what it’s like to not be afraid when in deep water and great trouble and to know just how precious you are to God and how much he loves you, now find ways that others may come to know that same hope and confidence and so come to know how precious and special they are to the God who loves them.” 

This will require a good deal of patience and gentleness and wisdom, and yes, sometimes straight talking not to mention forgiveness as we muck up an opportunity to be the love of God in someone’s life.  It’s better to try than do nothing.  Who knows what the Holy Spirit will do with our seemingly humble efforts?

As we are only in the 2nd week of 2013, this text provides us with a good start to the year.  This word from God today reminds us that whatever the future may hold for any of us this year, we have the promise that our Saviour made to us at our baptism – the same firm promise spoken to God's people over the centuries.  They are words that encourage and give us confidence for the future.  Let’s hear again those words from God to us.

“Do not be afraid—I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine.  When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you.
When you pass through fire, you will not be burned; the hard trials that come will not hurt you. 
For I am the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th January 2013
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

More Sermons

Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
All material written by Vince Gerhardy is copyright, but permission is freely given for limited use. Written permission is required for commercial reproduction either printed or on the internet.
Please e-mail for permission, or with questions or comments about this web site