Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 62:2b, 5b
You will be called by a new name, a name given by the Lord himself. Your God will delight in you.

Pride of the Murray

God delights in you

A young boy struck up a conversation with an old man who was fishing from a jetty along the Murray River. Their chat about fishing and bait and the river was suddenly interrupted by the whistle of the paddle steamer the Pride of the Murray as it made its way along the river with its giant paddle wheels churning up the water on either side.

Then above the noise of the paddle wheels was heard a small boy’s voice calling across the water as he jumped up and down waving his arms, ‘Stop! Pick up me! Let me ride!’ The old man turned to the boy and tried to calm him down explaining that the Pride of the Murray obviously had a load of tourists on board and could hardly be expected to stop and give free rides to little boys.

But the boy kept on yelling out, ‘Pick me up!’ The man was stunned as the paddle steamer turned toward the banks of the river and pulled up to the jetty. A gangplank was lowered. In a flash the boy ran on to the deck waving to the old man as he boarded the boat. With its new passenger safely on board the boat pulled back into the main stream. The old man couldn’t believe his eyes and kept looking for the boy.

A few minutes later the boy appeared in the window of the wheelhouse. The boy yelled out, "Hey mister, I knew this boat would stop for me. The captain knows me. He’s my father!"

We might well say as well, "I know God will stop and pick me up when I need his help. He knows me. He’s my Father!"

However, there are occasions when it seems that God is far away and doesn’t intervene in the lives of his people. When tragedy and disaster strike the question is asked, "Where is God in all of this? Why hasn’t he come to our rescue? Why does it seem that he doesn’t care what is happening here on planet earth, and closer to home, here in my life?"

A time that stands out in my mind when questions like these were asked was when Les had just retired from work. Evie, his wife, told me how much they were looking forward to joining the gray nomads and doing the trip of a lifetime around Australia. They had never had any children. They just had each other. They had bought an old caravan and had spent some time renovating and equipping it for the trip that was going to take at least two years travelling from place to place. The day before they were due to set out Les was working on the van and for some reason decided he need to move it a bit and put his weight behind it to give it a push. He had a severe heart attack and died on the spot.

You can imagine how devastating this was to Evie. Just as they were about to spend some quality time together after a busy working life, this was all taken away. I can understand why Evie demanded to know "why". It just seemed all so unfair. Surely God could have given Les and Evie just a little more time.

There are times when we are like the little boy and we stand on the shore, waving our arms wildly to get God’s attention, jumping up and down to get noticed, shouting at God as we ask him to come closer and show some mercy, hoping above all hope that he will intervene and come to our help but it seems that God just passes us by.

Today’s Old Testament reading reminds us that God is our captain. He doesn’t ignore us; he is our father. There is a special and unique relationship between a parent and a child. People might abuse a parent-child relationship but our heavenly Father never abandons his children and treasures the extraordinary bond he has with us. This is what the prophet is passing on to God's people. In fact, he uses another relationship to describe his connection with his people – that is the special bond between a husband and wife. We read, "Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, he who formed you will marry you. As a groom is delighted with his bride, so your God will delight in you" (Isaiah 62:5).

Remember that the people had been in exile in Babylon. They had been taken captive and removed from their beloved land. They were crushed, without hope and discouraged. They had been promised that one day they would be released and allowed to return to their homeland and to their holy city, Jerusalem where they would live in peace and not be subject to a foreign power. As the years dragged on in exile they wondered whether this would ever happen. Would God really come to their rescue? Would he really intervene in their sad history and give them a future?

And so when we read Isaiah today we read God's reminder that no matter how bad things get, he will never abandon his people.
He is like a husband who is always faithful to his wife;
a father whose love for his children never fails;
our Saviour who calls us to trust his grace and rely on his never-ending love.

A theme that resounds throughout the Bible is one that reminds us of God's loyalty and commitment to his people. On many occasions he speaks to whole nations and families, and even though they have disappointed and disobeyed him on so many occasions, he nevertheless renews his commitment to them saying, "You are mine. I shall be your God and you shall be my people. I will not abandon you now when the going gets tough. I am your shield and strength. I will never forget you". God says to the people of Jerusalem, ‘The mountains and hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end; I will keep my promise of peace’. So says the Lord who loves you" (Isaiah 54:10).

God not only commits himself to nations and cities but also to individuals. Remember how rebellious Jacob had to run away from his angry brother Esau because he had tricked him out of his inheritance. Even though he was a scoundrel, God appeared to him in a vision and committed himself to Jacob and his descendants saying, "Remember, I will be with you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised you" Genesis 28:15).

God also commits himself to us in holy baptism. He promises his grace to us and gives forgiveness and eternal life as we die with Christ, are buried with Christ and are raised to life with Christ in the water of baptism (Romans 6:4). God commits himself to loving us and protecting us and providing for us, and (this is important) calls us to faith and repentance as we trust in his love for us and as we turn away from the sin that impacts on us and our relationships with others every day.

Paul often reminded his readers that they have been chosen, adopted, made holy through the blood of Jesus, made right in the sight of God through what Jesus has done for us, and joined us to Jesus through baptism.

God said to you in your baptism,
"(Add your own name here), you have nothing to worry about or to be afraid of.
I have rescued you from sin through the death of Jesus on the cross.
I have rescued you from death itself with the promise of life forever.
I have rescued you from all needless worry and anything that will hurt you. I will replace your fear with confidence and trust in my goodness.
I know you intimately and personally.
I know what your future holds.
I know the talents I have given you and I know what life’s journey holds for you.
I know that you will be upset, afraid, and feel as if I don’t care what happens in your life.
I also know that there will be times when you will fail to live the new life you have received in Christ and let Christ's love shine through you. You will let meanness and selfishness take over.
However, regardless of what happens, I will never forget you. I will never abandon you.
This is my gift to you and my promise to you".

I am reminded of God's commitment to the young Jeremiah when God called him to be his spokesperson. "I chose you before you were born. … Do not be afraid for I will be with you to protect you. I the Lord have spoken" (Jeremiah 1:5,8). In his grace God came to Abraham, Jacob, Jeremiah, the whole nation of Israel and committed himself to them, and he comes to us claiming us as his own through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his grace he commits himself to be the helper and comfort of all those who trust in him.

Without a doubt, knowing Jesus’ love for us has an impact on our lives. As we grow in our baptism, and as we experience the power and the glory of the grace and love of God in the events of our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, this will change us and draw us even closer to the God who loves us. We grow in our trust and rely on God in the most difficult circumstances. This is what happened to Evie when her husband was taken from her unexpectedly. Even though this wasn’t what she had planned, she came to trust that God's love for Les and her can be relied on totally. She could join with the psalmist who wrote, "You are my refuge and defence; guide me and lead me as you have promised. … My trust is in you, O Lord; you are my God. I am always in your care" (Psalm 31:3,14,15).  Knowing Jesus' love for us will make us more determined to be more like Christ - be the love of Christ to other people, be the hands of Christ to those who need help, be the ears of Christ who need someone to talk to, be the mouth of Christ for those need to hear words of encouragement and hope.

As we are confronted with all the complexities that life can throw our way or we make all kinds of bungles and errors of judgement or we sin against God in such shameful and foolish ways, let’s remember our baptism, the love that God has shown to us through his son Jesus and recall his promise to us, "I chose you before you were born".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th January 2010

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