Creekside Church
Sermon of January 10, 2016

"You Are Mine"
Isaiah 43:1-7, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I have a question for you, and I don’t expect you to answer out loud or even talk to me after the service, because it’s a very personal question. So I’m going to invite you to consider this silently for a few moments: Who in your life tells you, “I love you,” or “I am pleased with you”? I hope you can each think of someone. Let me acknowledge than in my experience, the people who claimed to love me, were not always the people who told me so. My father was cut from the same cloth as the old Church of the Brethren man who loved his wife so much that he almost told her so. If we kids had asked my dad if he loved us (I don’t think I ever asked him this question directly), he probably would have replied, “I go to work every day, don’t I? Who do you think makes the money to pay for this house and your food and your clothes?” All valid points, but not exactly an answer to the question. I don’t know what conversations he had with my mother, but “I love you” were not words we heard him speak aloud very often.

I’m sure many of you remember the musical Fiddler on the Roof and the main character Tevye, who has been shaken by his oldest daughter ‘s determination to marry the man she loves rather than the one the matchmaker has chosen for her. Tevye is pondering this, and it prompts him to go to his wife, Golde. Here’s the scene from the movie version of the Broadway musical:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_y9F5St4j0

It’s a very sweet moment in the musical, and it speaks to a basic need for us to know that we are loved. It’s part of what makes this text from Isaiah 43 so powerful. This is direct address from God to the people of Israel, the tribe of Jacob. There is this whole string of “I” statements: I have redeemed you, I have called you, I will be with you, I am the Lord your God, I formed you, I created you for my glory. Most startling of all is God’s statement in Isaiah 43:4, “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you.” I can remember when I was taking a January intensive class on the book of Isaiah during my seminary studies. We had been reading a lot of Isaiah, chapters and chapters (there are 66). The professor was reading passages to us and we were buried in our Bibles following along and trying to take it in, and he read, “You are precious and honored in my sight and I love you,” and my head jerked up, and I looked at the professor in surprise, and he just grinned at me. These are not the words many of us have come to expect from God, especially the God of the Old Testament. In fact, this is the only place in the Bible where God is recorded as speaking directly to the people and saying I love you. There’s plenty of talk about the steadfast love of the Lord, and we’re told that God loves the world. The psalmist talks about loving God, and the apostle Peter tells Jesus three times You know I love you. But this is the only time that God looks us straight in the eye -- so to speak -- and says “I love you, and you are mine.” The other place in the Bible which comes close to God’s direct address of I love you is the narrative from the New Testament of the baptism of Jesus. The version we heard today is from Luke, but the story also appears in Matthew and Mark. God’s statement to Jesus is almost identical in all three gospels: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.

This is powerful stuff. It is not only a statement of God’s love, it is affirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. It’s powerful for another reason, too. Maybe not one you’d expect, but one which I believe is crucial to our understanding of God and God’s love: when Jesus went to John to be baptized in the Jordan River, he hadn’t done anything yet. Maybe you could count him staying behind in the Temple and making his mom mad, but Jesus’ baptism in each of the three gospels happens at the very beginning of his public ministry. It is the first thing which happens, immediately after he comes up from the waters of baptism. Jesus hasn’t taught a crowd or preached a sermon or healed a single person, and still God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.”

This affirmation of Jesus’ identity is different than the answers my father would have given, or that Golde gives to the question Do you love me? Of course I love you! I work hard: I’ve given you children, milked your cow, I go to the office every day, I clean the house, I make personal sacrifices for you. Isn’t that evidence of love? Those commitments are unquestionably a part of love, but I suspect that for most of us, when we ask the question Do you love me? the answer we really want to hear is Yes, I love you. Just because of who you are. I suspect we shy away from asking this question because it’s a risky question -- and makes us really vulnerable. The stakes for asking that question are pretty high. What if the answer is No, I don’t love you, I’m just here because someone has to milk the cow. That’s devastating.

It is so important, not only for Jesus’ ministry, but for each one of us in our own ministries, to understand that God loves us and we belong to God. God doesn’t love us because we serve as ushers, or bring in food for fellowship time, or sing in the choir. I love you if you sing in the choir, but God is bigger than that. God loves you because you belong to God: that’s it. Identity and purpose all wrapped up in two three-word phrases: I love you. You are mine. Both of these phrases have been corrupted by humans, so we need to be careful not use them in ways which are coercive or manipulative. In other words, if the sub-text of “I love you” is so you have to do this for me, or I love you so you have to take care of me we are not honoring the intent of love. If we take God’s words “You are mine” and use them to control other people You are mine and you have to do what I say we have distorted our identity as beloved children of God.

I got a request to bring back something we had here at Creekside several years ago. I wish I had thought of this myself, but I am happy for us to have the opportunity to practice this again, even if it wasn’t my idea. How many of you remember the Terrific job! cards we used to have? They look like this: (Slide) Terrifc job card and there’s a whole stack of them out in the Gathering Area. I will be the first to admit that this is not the same as telling someone that they are loved and valued. These cards express appreciation for God’s gifts that we see in each other. It’s to recognize stuff that we do. Although this falls far short of the gift of identity and purpose which we receive from God, I think it’s a place to start. I hope that the wavy blue lines at the bottom of the card will make you think of Creekside, but also remind you of your own baptism and that God loves you and has blessed each one of us for ministry. We all share the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ. We are all God’s children, and God loves us. We are all given gifts to use for the kingdom of God. (Slide down)

This isn’t a contest to see who can receive the most cards, or who can write the best one: although I have to say that I got one of these cards from Tia that I kept for years. It’s simply a practice of being grateful for the people around us, and acknowledging that God is at work in their lives. If you want to start with the people to whom you’re closest and who you know the best, that’s great. But I’d challenge you to look beyond the people who share their gifts in the most public ways. You can always thank me for a sermon -- many of you do already -- and if you don’t like what I say, you can always be grateful when I stop: kind of a win/win for me really. But how about the folks who do things we don’t always notice? How about folks who may not see things from the same perspective as I do, but are still using their gifts to serve this church or people outside the walls of this church? I know this is a risky thing for me to do, but I want to mention someone specifically: Joe Kohler is as intentional about expressing gratitude as anyone I know. Telling other people they’re doing a terrific job does not detract from my gifts at all. There’s not a limited amount of gratitude to go around. The more secure I am in my own identity and purpose, the easier it is to recognize and affirm God at work in the people around me. The cards will be out for as many weeks as you want. Use them all up! We’ll print more -- I promise.

Being formed by God and created for God’s glory is a gift which no one can take away from us. Being redeemed by Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we can ever receive. Acknowledgment and affirmation are the gifts we can share with one another as we walk and work and care for one another. During our service of anointing, we’ll be singing one of my favorite songs, based on the text from Isaiah 43. Please come forward at the beginning of the song, and either Elizabeth or I will anoint you for the forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of your faith, and the healing of mind, body, and spirit. Like the water of baptism, the oil of anointing is a sign that you are loved and you belong to God. Our prayers for healing extend beyond those who are here this morning, to surround those people we hold in our hearts and in this family of faith.

 

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