Isaiah 43:1-5, 8-9
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
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,nand the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.”
Reflection by Rev. Kim James, United Methodist Church
In Isaiah 43, we heard God's voice of love for Israel. The people God created and formed were not alone. They belonged to God. I invite you to think about this concept with me. What does it mean when God says, "You are mine"?
When God says, "You are mine," the first meaning is that God loves each one of us individually. Whether we are tall or short, stocky or slight, God loves us. Whether we have curly or straight hair or no hair at all, God claims us as his own. Isaiah 43:7 says that God created us for God’s glory. God formed and made us with divine precision and care, so that we could be God's pride and joy. Verse 4 indicates that we are precious and honoured in God's sight. This intimate involvement with each one of us is affirmed in Psalm 139, which includes these words of praise to God, the creator of each individual human being:
For it was you [O God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
That same Psalm 139 which praises God as the creator of individual babies, also praises God as the one who knows us well and takes a keen interest in us as adult individuals too.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. Where can I go from your spirit?...If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me.
Maybe you've heard the saying, "God loves you, and there's nothing you can do about it." That's true. God loves you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and even me. And that's the first part of what it means when God says, "You are mine."
A second meaning of God's claim upon us is that God loves us as a group. This passage in Isaiah 43 was written to the people of Israel as a nation. God alternately calls them by the nickname Jacob, reminiscent of the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. The Hebrew people were wandering nomads that God had called from one place to another multiple times. They were oppressed slaves whom God rescued and led into the promised land. They were hungry people whom God fed. They were lawless and chaotic people to whom God gave commandments stronger than the stone upon which they were chiseled. They were like sheep without a shepherd, and God gave them leadership with King David and the prophets. God's love wasn't for just individuals, but also for the uncountable descendants of Abraham altogether-the whole community, the entire society, the collective hope and dream of what could be done and realized by a people specially called and chosen by God.
Centuries later, in New Testament times, that family or chosen-people-of-God concept was adopted by the early Christians. They too believed that they were loved by God as a group. In First Peter2:9-10 we read, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God."
Today, it's so helpful for us to remember this love God has for the group. I know there are times when we individuals feel down and blue. We doubt our faith and feel like a hypocrite. Problems overwhelm us and we wonder if God even loves us anymore. After what we've done, how could God love us? At times like that it's tempting to stay home and isolate ourselves from the church. But that's exactly the time when we most need to be with God's people. In the midst of Christ's body, in the group that is loved by God, our faith can be restored. In the midst of the people whom God loves, we can be healed and redeemed. Our confidence in God's love for our own individual selves will grow by leaps and bounds when we embrace the love God has for the group we call the church.
So, we can be confident that God loves us individually and within the group God has called. That assurance of love is wonderful. It enhances our life and brings us great joy. But our sense of God's love needs to go one step farther. When we hear God say, "You are mine," we need to realize that God loves all of us. Not just us as individuals. Not just our group. But God loves all the children of the whole world.
In Isaiah 43:5-7, we hear God's voice saying, "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.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth--everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." In verse 9, God calls "all the nations to gather together" to witness to the truth of God's salvation and love.
When we American Christians think of folks of other religions and countries, we
sometimes feel afraid. They're different from us. They have different stories and sometimes different values. They speak different languages and sometimes wear different clothes. They eat different food and have different holy days. Because we don't know much about them, they are mysterious, and therefore seem dangerous. But, in Isaiah 43:5, God tells us, "Don't be afraid, for I am with you." God indicates that the bringing together of people from far and wide is all part of God's plan of love.
I read a review of a new book titled Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? In that book, author Brian McLaren "notes that there have been two well-attested strategies for [Christian] religious formation." In one, "we mark the strength of our Christian commitment by the intensity of our opposition to" other religions. We shore up our own faith in clear and hostile contrast to those others. Or, if that us-versus-them mentality is distasteful to us, we might take on a second perspective. We might increase our tolerance toward those of other faiths by "adopting a weak religious identity" for ourselves. In other words, it doesn't matter so much to us what other people believe because it doesn't matter so much to us what we believe. The author of the book didn't care for either of those common approaches. He suggested that there might be "a third option: [to hold] a strong Christian identity that is also generous and open toward the other." In other words, we could believe without any question that God's love has come to us through Jesus Christ and the Christian gospel, but we would also believe that God's love is available to Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others who come to God on a different path. God calls his children in the north, south, east, and west--from the ends of the earth--because God loves all of us.