Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: He Has Called You By Name

The prophet Isaiah begins chapter 43 by relaying to the people God’s Word. Isaiah writes, "But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."

What does it mean to have God say to you and to me, "I have called you by name."?

First, I believe it means that God has called us and claimed us in the waters of baptism. He has given us the forgiveness of sins and has shown us the path to a new way of living.

King Duncan, in one of his sermons relays the following illustration: Some of you may have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a whimsical retelling of Homer's Odyssey set in 1930s Mississippi. Three hapless escaped convicts--Everett, Pete and Delmar--are hiding out in the woods, running from the law. There they encounter a procession of white-robed people going down to the lake to be baptized. As they move toward the water they sing, "Let's go down to the river and pray." As the baptism ceremony begins, Delmar is overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of this rite. He runs into the water and is baptized by the minister. As he returns to his companions, he declares that he is now saved and "neither God nor man's got nothing on me now." He explains that the minister has told him that all his sins have been washed away. Even, he says, when he stole the pig for which he'd been convicted. "But you said you were innocent of that," one of his fellow convicts exclaims.

"I lied," he says, "and that's been washed away too!"

Later the three convicts steal a hot pie from a window sill. The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the window sill.

Delmar wasn't made perfect by his baptism any more than any of the rest of us are made perfect by our baptism. But he was conscious that it was time for him to make a new beginning. That is why in understanding baptism we begin with the washing away of our sins. Having God call us by name begins in exactly this spot.

But there is more. Secondly, when God calls us by name, this means He wishes to continue communicating with us. He wants to help us make our way through this messy world. He wants to offer us comfort when we are in pain and suffering. He wants to give us discernment when facing difficult choices. He wants to affirm us when we make the correct decisions. He wants to let us know He is watching out for us even when things don’t necessarily look all that great.

But, you might wonder. " If God wants to communicate like this, why am I not hearing Him? Why does it seem like God is silent so often? How come I seem to be missing His guidance and instruction?" These are good questions and not to be taken lightly. There are occasions when God is intentionally silent allowing us to come to conclusions on our own, just as a good parent tries to give his or her children the opportunity to make their own decisions. But there are many occasions when it is we who are at fault and who are not listening.

For instance, there is a story which occurs back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication. The story tells about a young man who applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn't heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.

Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, "Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man."

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, "Wait a minute--I don't understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That's not fair."

The employer responded, "We sent the summons on the telegraph in Morse code. The rest of you didn’t hear yours; however, this young man came back to be interviewed, and the rest of you stayed put. He understands the code already. Thank you for your time."

Just like that telegraph in the background was beating out a message that some couldn’t or wouldn’t hear, God is very often speaking in the background of our lives. Many times we are either too busy or too focused on other noises to hear His voice. But the good news is that God does not stop trying to communicate. God does not cease to offer up His voice, mostly that still, small whisper that reaches out to you and to me. Because He has called us by name and has given us the promise at baptism, He won’t desert us. He won’t stop trying to reach us. He cares that much.

Finally, when we realize He has called us by name, has forgiven our sins, is seeking to communicate with us, and when we finally hear Him, we find meaning in life and a purpose for doing what we do.

There is an old story about Mozart, I think it was, (it could have been Beethoven, but I am not sure as I am recalling this from memory), who one day went to visit a friend who had lost her husband. Seeing his friend’s grief, words escaped him. He had no earthly idea what to say to console her in her grief.

So, Mozart sat down at the piano and began to play. Through the piano, he poured out his feelings for his friend. He poured out his grief and his wish to console her even though words escaped him. He played and he played. After he was finished, he offered his friend a few words of goodby and left.

Later, the woman expressed just how meaningful Mozart’s visit was. His music had touched her heart and soul and brought her great comfort in the midst of her grief.

Now, perhaps Mozart was frustrated by his lack of words and wondered if he even made a difference by his visit, but the truth of the matter is that God used Mozart’s gifts, his talents, his abilities to make a difference in the life of his friend, and, of course, in the life of music.

When we hear God’s voice and understand our own gifts and talents are our gifts from Him to used within our sphere of influence, we find ourselves delighted in what we are doing. Sure, at times we may become frustrated and wonder if we are even coming close to making a difference, but if we are listening–if we take the time to look at those most affected by what we do as we use what God has given us, we will indeed come to a deep satisfaction with our lives knowing we are serving God and serving others. And we sense that satisfaction all because God has called us by name. Amen.

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