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Rethinking Commitment

Sermon Theme: What Should I Do About Suffering?

Ask God what is precious to him. And he’ll answer. In fact, he knew that people would ponder that question and so he went ahead and answered it even before we could ask. In Isaiah 43:1-7, we see the answer that God gives: you are “Precious in God’s Sight.”

 “Isn’t she just precious?” That’s a part of the running commentary can be heard in the background of thousands of home videos, as mom and dad swell with pride as their daughter takes her first steps, as grandma giggles with glee at the incredible cuteness of their sweet, dear grandchild.

Ask any young child if their blankie is important to them and see what they say. Or maybe a better way to conduct this experiment is this – Try to take that blanket away from that child. How is that going to go for you? Even if you replace that blanket with a better one – bigger or softer – it won’t matter, because that replacement is not theirblanket. That’s not the one that brings them comfort, security, and joy. That child probably doesn’t know the word –but they are illustrating what it means that something is precious! Ask a wife if her engagement and wedding rings are precious. She’ll tell you. Those rings have financial value for sure, and that makes them important. But what those rings represent, the sentiment behind them and who it is who gave them to her, that’s what makes them irreplaceably precious.

Ask God what is precious to him! And he’ll answer. In fact, he knew that people would ponder that question and so he went ahead and answered it even before we could ask. In today’s First Reading, Isaiah shares for us the answer that God gives: But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

God was giving his people a much-needed resume reminder. Many in Israel had forgotten who God was and what he had done for them, so here God gives them a patient and loving history lesson. “Remember me!?!” God says. “I’m the one that created you people! I formed you into a nation and made you great! I’m the One who has never once left you, even though you have often left me. I’m the One who has promised you protection and delivered on that promise time and time again. I am the Lord your God and you are my precious people!”

The tune that God sings about his people here is dramatically different from the one he sings just a few verses prior. In chapter 42 God’s words are not so sweet. There he calls his people Israel blind and deaf. He wanted them to see his love – but they closed their eyes and ignored it. He wanted them to hear and believe his promises, but they stuck their fingers in their ears and just would not listen.

To frame those facts in a different way – God asked for a commitment from them. A simple commitment to worship him and no other gods, to live for him and not for themselves. And they failed, miserably.

And so do we! Jesus said it pretty plainly in today’s Gospel. Anyone who loves their life will lose it (John 12:25).But doesn’t that sadly describe us to a tee. We are life-lovers in all the wrong ways. Our selfishness and pride – the words we choose and the way that we live they expose the fact that deep down in our hearts (and at times not so deep) we make ourselves number 1. We are so focused on our own lives that we can’t see anyone or anything else. We’ll tear someone else down if it means gain for us. We are quick to blame others, slow to accept our own fault. We are just as blind and deaf as Israel of old. We are far too committed to ourselves and not nearly as committed to God as we should be. Which means that just like Israel deserved, we deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We deserve to be cut off from God and his promises forever.

Did you notice the first phrase in today’s reading? You could boil it down really to the first word! ButYes, it’s true that Israel had turned their backs on God. It’s true that we fall far short of living the lives that God demands of us. ButHow sweet it is to hear God speak his forgiving love. We are not at all committed to God, but he is absolutely committed to us. But now, this is what the Lord says

If you only know a few things about God, this is one of the things that you should know: When God speaks, things happen. “God said, let there be light, and there was light.” God told Noah he would send rain to cover even the highest mountain peaks of the earth and guess what? The floodgates above and below opened, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus said “Lazarus, come out (of the tomb)” and Lazarus stood up, grave clothes and all and went out to meet Jesus. When God speaks, things happen.

But now, this is what the Lord says— And we know that what follows we can take to the bank! “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

God has claimed us as his own and nothing can change that! He knows us and loves us, personally and wants nothing more than for us to be close to him, here on earth and forever in heaven. And he does all that needs to be done to make that a reality in our lives. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.

God made these words come true literally for his Old Testament people. He gave foreign nations, Egypt and Cush and Seba, to the Persians in exchange for their release of the captive people of Judah. He bought them back, redeemed them, so that they could have freedom and peace.

God has given people in exchange for us as well. In fact, he gave not just any old person, he gave his One and Only Son to be our Redeemer and Savior. He gave us that which was most precious to him. Jesus was willing to suffer and die. “But why? Why did Egypt, God buy us back. Why was Jesus willing to pay such a lofty price?” God is glad that you asked, because he has the answer. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you. Really, God says that we are dear and “heavy” in his sight. Like a fine metal that is more valuable the heavier it is, we are like gold, solid-gold, to our God. Since we are precious and worth our weight in gold to our God, he bought us with something far more precious than gold or silver. He gave us the blood of his Holy Son, Jesus exchanged his own life for yours so that you could be one who is blessed to hear the most precious words that human ears could ever hear. God says to you: “You are mine!” When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

 Did you notice that God said “when” and not “if you pass through the waters”? As certainly as everything else in this text will come true, so will this! There will be floods and fires in your life. There will be hindrances and hardships. It’s part and parcel of living a Christian life. As much as we’d like to think that once God puts his name on us, then we have smooth sailing through life, actually the opposite is true. Once the Spirit takes up residence in your heart, now the battle begins. Now the sinful nature and New Man in us have a territory war. Now the trials and temptations will appear. Now the waters will rise and the fires will burn.

But what else does God say? I can’t think of a simpler way for God to make his point. He says: with you am I. I know that sounds a little bit like Yoda, but that’s what God says. In fact, the word you and the word I, in the original Hebrew of this verse, are actually connected with a hyphen. You can see the truth just by looking at the words – you-I – connected, like the 2 becoming 1. God and his people are connected in a remarkable way that is nothing but blessing for us. So when the waters rise and when the fires burn, even then God says: with you am I. And what does that mean about even the hard, heavy, hurting day in this life? When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

 If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is with us, it doesn’t matter, even a little bit, what we are without. In him we have all that we need!

In case you missed it in verse 2, God says it again in verse 5: Do not be afraid, for (with you am I) I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

God called his people up out of the south, from slavery in Egypt and gave them new freedom and the land of Canaan to be their own. God used Isaiah to foretell that he would call his people out of from their captivity in the east, in Babylon. On Pentecost, God’s faithful people were called from all 4 directions and they gathered in Jerusalem to hear God’s Word and receive his promises.

God promises this reunion, this gathering for Israel’s children, but he has other children in mind as well. His own. Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— God’s calling and gathering of his people continues today. In fact, God’s talking to you. God calls you to aid him in gathering his people. You are Precious in God’s Sight – purchased and won, loved, and cherished and protected. God has called you into his Church and now he calls on you to be the one that calls others. He gives you a part in the gathering. There are people in your family, in your neighborhood, in your workplace who are Precious in God’s Sight as well. God calls on us to point them to Jesus. Then they will have eyes and ears open to see and hear Jesus for who he truly is: the Lord…God, the Holy One of Israel, (this world’s) Savior.

 Then they can join you, in the greatest and most glorious gathering that will ever be. On the Last Day, Christ will return to earth from heaven to gather to himself those who are his. From every corner of the earth and every corner of history, Christ will gather those who are his, those who living in faith and those who died in faith. Heaven is the eternal reward that God freely gives to us and to: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

We live in a world filled with people who are consumed with finding their identity. That means that we all will ask: “Who am I? How do I fit in? What is my value?” There are a lot of voices weighing in with a lot of opinions that don’t really matter at all. The one opinion that does matter is held by the One who holds you in his protecting hands. The opinion worth listening to is from the One who speaks and who is the truth. He’s the One that tells you that you are Precious in God’s Sight! Amen.

Pastor Brian Hackmann
Grace Evangelical
Lutheran Church
1209 North Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 271-3006

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