Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Have Called You By Name...Do Not Be Afraid

A couple of months ago, I sent a present to a couple I know who had just become parents. It was a very fine work of art, an original by a local artist, featuring a well-known Bible verse from Isaiah 43 -- "I have called you by your name; you are mine." 

I had inserted the name of their son in the middle of the verse, so it read like this: "I have called you by your name, Owen Oliver, you are mine." 

 Seems like a perfect verse for a baptism, doesn't it? You just have to conveniently lift that one verse from Isaiah out of its context and you get a great sentiment: God calls us by our name at our baptism; we belong to God. God holds us in the palm of his hands. I could go on and on. It's a great verse. 

At my first church, we even had a big banner commissioned with this verse printed on it; in felt letters, we personalized the banner for every baptism: "I have called you by name -- Alicia, Daniel, Mary, Madison...... you are mine." Yes, this verse seems perfect for a baptism, and it is, conveniently, the first lesson for The Baptism of Our Lord this Sunday, but really, the words originally had nothing to do with baptism. Also, there is the verse immediately following: 

 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; 
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, 
and the flame shall not consume you.

 Can it be true? What is the Lord promising here? To pass through the waters sounds a lot like the Israelites' first Great Escape, the Exodus from the land of slavery to the land of freedom. 

But what about the second promise? "when you walk through fire..... the flame shall not consume you." 
On our last night in Mexico, we went out in the dark and windy night to stand by the sea to watch what they called a "Fire Show." We didn't know what a "Fire Show" could possibly be, but who is not fascinated by fire? So we stood there, folding our arms across our chests, and watching, listening to the drums beating insistently, and watching as men and women made intricate designs by juggling with fire. The fire made circles and lines and hula hoops around them, but they were not consumed. We were in awe of them, because of their agility, their skill, and because they were not afraid. 

 "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you," says the Lord. Do not fear. Do not fear the fire, or the water, or the chemotherapy. Do not fear the scorn of others, do not fear poverty, or wealth, or prejudice, or oppression. Do not fear. I will be with you. The rivers will not overwhelm you. I see the woman with her chemo cap, or the man who has been out of work for months, or the family who is coming apart, or the woman who's been banging on the door of the state legislature, or the man who needs medical assistance, but he's been cut off. And I think, how can I say, "the rivers will not overwhelm you"? how can I say, "you will not be burned"? Sometimes I can see the burn marks. Sometimes I can see the scars. 
 But there it is, I can also see: the rings of flame, the hula hoops, the figure eights dancing while the crowd gasps at the beauty and the danger. Do not be afraid, they say. You were meant to fly, to soar, to walk through the water, through the flames: to be free. I have redeemed you, he promises. 

 And somehow, somehow, it all has to do with the One who went down into the water, the one called Beloved Child. God knew him by name, and yet he was overwhelmed, he was burned. I can see the scars. 
 First, he walked into the water. That was the beginning.

 Fear not.


Terri said...

on all my better days this is what I tell myself. fear not. it is very difficult, though, on other days, to believe this even as I walk into the cold dark water and wonder what comes next....bankruptcy or another job? homelessness or a the ability to afford a new home? and if so, where? fear not, I say to myself when I am up, like tonight, with insomnia. fear not.

and, of course, my prayers are with you, too. fear not.

Fran said...

Fear not, do not be afraid.

Diane, your gift of writing is so profound. I wonder where you are being invited with this.

Law+Gospel said...

Lots to think about here. I too somehow wonder where God is leading-you and each of us who connect with these words.

Di McCullough said...

Really love it. Thanks so much.

LoieJ said...

This contrast, seemingly, between what so many Bible verses say and what we, seemingly, see with our eyes is so ever present that I sometimes wonder how anyone can believe the Bible message. I do, but.....

One of a pastor's greatest jobs is to "explain" this contradiction to people in need. I've heard a sermon (different branch of Lutheran church) where the pastor gave the 2nd graders' exposition of "I will always take care of you and I will always protect you." if no Christian has ever been in trouble. I wanted to walk out. I did turn to my husband during the sermon as say, "He couldn't have said that the week after Katrina." and he said, "Nor after the Tsunami."

Maybe when we all get to heaven we'll understand [or it will no longer matter.] In this life, we need people with the gift of faith and language to help us understand.

Elaine (aka...Purple) said...

Diane...very nice. I worked on my sermon on Thursday and it has similar "flavorings". Catching up on your posts...great place.

Elaine (aka...Purple) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan said...

As Fran, wrote, your writing is profound and God is nudging your forward with this beauty to help us know the good and cutting Truth.

Rev SS said...

Beautiful ...

(I know God's promise to be with us is true ... and we don't have to be afraid of being abandoned by God ... and I'd still prefer to not have to be homeless, hungry, and unemployed even if God is with me!)

altar ego said...

This is fabulous. Thank you.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

That chapter of Isaiah is one of my all-time favorites. You've written about it beautifully.

Diane M. Roth said...

Ruth -- it is also one of my favorite passages of scripture.