Sunday, February 27, 2011

Engraved on God's Palms

Today I led worship and preached at nearby Zion Lutheran Church in Baker, WV. The text I preached from is Isaiah 49:8-16.

            I have two grown children. Though it now seems like a blur, I sometimes think about their early months of life. Everyone knows people who have such good babies. They don’t cry much, they just seem so happy. They sleep at night. I know those kinds of babies exist, but I didn’t have them.  My firstborn, Sarah cried for the first 6 months of her life. She would be fed, dry, and seemingly have all her needs met…yet she would cry and cry and cry. After a while, I cried too. The only way to settle her down was to walk her. I walked and walked and walked. I felt like I would never sleep ever again or eat another meal in peace. Yet as my daughter, I wanted to do everything in my power to take care of her and let her know how much I cared about her. 

            In our reading from Isaiah, we see God as a loving, caring, providing parent. I have to admit that Isaiah is probably my favorite Old Testament prophet. His writings are full of such wonderful imagery.  Sometimes we think that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is so different from what we see in Jesus in the New Testament—an angry vengeful God versus a God of love. What do you hear in these few verses? Do you hear anger, contempt, or frustration on the part of God?

            Isaiah’s audience was in exile in Babylon, more than 500 miles from home. They were far from their homeland of Judah, far from the temple in Jerusalem, the place where God’s presence was thought to dwell. 

Isaiah was not addressing the generation that was sent into exile because of their rebellion against God. The people he was talking to were two full generations later. For them, Babylon was home and Jerusalem a place that was only in their imaginations. God had put their ancestors into a very long time out.

Isaiah describes their situation as that of prisoners in the darkness who were suffering. We hear their pain in these words, “…The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me   (v 14). Have you ever felt like that? Have you wondered about where God was in your darkest hour? I have. I think we’ve all had times like this where the pain and anguish are so deep that you wonder if you’ll ever live through it.

We hear a lot of voices when times are tough, as did those in exile. There were obstacles to be overcome. How would God return them to their ancient homeland? There were armies and kings and rulers in their way. They were in exile, but God uses whoever God wants to use to accomplish God’s purposes. God exiled his people through the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and God set them free through the Persian King Cyrus. With the promise of being set free, the Jewish people had a dilemma.

Despite the call to sing for joy, the people felt forgotten. They were in exile not only physically, but spiritually and emotionally. Even though God cared for them, they felt forsaken.

Are there times in your life when you feel forsaken or forgotten? What do we experience as individuals, as a community, as a church? Are we exiled from one another because of relationships that are broken? Maybe we were not the cause of the break, but only suffer because of it.

When my brother died, my niece was 10 years old. With his death, family relationships died as well. I wondered if this break would ever be healed. I kept wondering, could I have done anything different that would have changed the actions of my sister-in-law? It took a while for me to let go. God did what I could not do. Just before Christmas, I was contacted by my niece whom I had not seen or spoken with in 16 years. Last week, while on vacation, we had a family reunion which included that niece. God cares about us and feels our pain. When God chooses, God can restore the broken pieces of our lives in ways we could never imagine.

To bring this point home, Isaiah uses mothering imagery about the nature of God.  I know we have mothers here in this congregation. Could you forget your nursing child? Can you be indifferent to your children even when they have wandered? When they are all grown up, they’re still our children. We cannot seem to turn off our emotions of love and concern for them. If we feel this way, how do you think God feels about us? God says, “Even [if] these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (v. 15).

God holds us close. We are inscribed on his hands. The Hebrew word for inscribed is the same word used for digging out a grave, for scratching or marking in a stone tablet. We’re not just written in ink on God’s hands. We are carved into the palms of the One who will never forget or forsake us.

As I was preparing for this morning, I kept hearing this song by David Haas running through my mind. I’d like to share it with you:

You Are Mine

I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live


Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine.


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