Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Today's Readings: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-1, 21, 22.
Some years ago I was a manager in a large company. A safe secure job for life, or so I thought! One day as a result of one of many reorganisations within the company my role was axed and I was made redundant, along with many others in a similar position. So, on Friday I was needed, useful, a person with responsibilities within the company, but on Monday I was nobody. I had been thrown out unwanted, unemployed; just another statistic. I felt useless since the company continued in business without me, as if I’d never been there. I was not part of the company family anymore. I have no doubt many have experienced something similar. These last couple of years in particular have left many, especially the elderly, isolated in their homes, unable to meet with their families and hug their loved ones. Some may have felt, “I am not part of my family anymore.” In each case a feeling of not belonging.
But then God never promised us that life would be easy.
In this morning’s Old Testament reading the Israelites find themselves in just this situation. Dragged from their homes in Israel into captivity in Babylon, a strange place, a different culture, where people didn’t speak their language, where people worshipped strange idols. And they are slaves! They yearned to be free, to be back home in their own country, with their own people who had been left behind, with their own families and able to worship the God of their fathers freely. To make matters worse, they were aware that the Persian army was threatening Babylon. This probably meant they would just exchange one set of captors for another. And the Persians may be worse than the Babylonians!
It is in these circumstances that Isaiah gives them comfort and the reassurance that they may be away from their families but they are part of God’s family and nothing will keep them from His love. He writes that the Lord, their God, their Creator says: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’. Older commentaries take ‘I have redeemed you’ to mean ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against you’
In our Gospel reading St Luke tells us that at Jesus’ baptism, whilst He was praying, ‘a voice came from heaven “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”’. Now, Jesus did not need to be told that since we believe that Jesus and His Father are One, God. Rather it is confirms and gives direction to something Jesus said to his parents when they found him in the temple after three days of searching for him: “Do you not know I must be about my Father’s business?”
And what was His Father’s business? It was to bring us all together as one family into His glorious kingdom that Jesus came to earth, for this that he commenced his ministry following his baptism. A ministry that laid the ground for the coming of the Kingdom of God, a ministry that ended, not in death on the cross but in his resurrection, in his overcoming death and thereby taking away the sins of the world. My sins and yours.
So what does this all mean to us here and now?
It means, quite simply that God knows and loves us, whoever we are, wherever we are and whatever we have done, or not done. God knows and loves us just as we are and wants us to be members of His family. But we have been given free will, the ability to choose whether we accept His invitation or not.
At his baptism the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came upon Jesus and God called Jesus by name “You are my Son, the Beloved…” At our baptism we receive our name, our Christian name, the name by which God calls us. It is at our baptism that we choose to become a member of God’s family. And whilst a dove may not appear nevertheless the Holy Spirit comes to us. Yes, Emmanuel, God-with –us, is right here, right now, where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. The gates of Hades will not prevail against us, for we believe we will have a place in God’s Kingdom.
How wonderful is that? God is with us and loves us unconditionally. He has called us by name, we are His, part of His family. We belong to Him!
Now is the time to deepen our trust in God to lead us through the mud and muck as well as field and flower. In all of it, God comes to be with us, mercifully. St Luke tells us that at his baptism Jesus was praying. From our own prayers we may expect both the fresh energy of the Holy Spirit and the still quiet voice reminding us of God’s amazing, affirming love for us.
If we accept that by our baptism we are beloved of God then, individually and collectively, we will want to send out a message and an invitation to others “come and share our experience of faith, love and fellowship. The signals we send out as individuals, as families, as parish are really the only way that people who are searching for meaning in their lives may be led to find that meaning in the Gospel. The only way they will be led to become members of God’s family themselves.
So, when we feel lonely, depressed, forgotten, unloved, unworthy, or meet others in a similar situation, let us remember God’s message to the Israelites: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’. After all, Cyrus, the king of Persia allowed the Israelites to return home, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. They did not need to fear the Persian invasion for God had called them by name, they were His chosen people. In like manner, we, as a baptised Christians, are beloved of God, members of God’s family just as the voice proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism.
And yes, after a period of feeling depressed about not belonging to the family of the employed, a friend said: “I can’t offer you full time work but my diary is double booked tomorrow. Can you help me out just this once?” I did. More occasional work followed so that once again I felt useful. I need not have fretted for God knew my needs, He knows me by name, I am as we all are, His; a part of His family.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK