Sunday, November 30, 2014

With You From Beginning to End (Genesis 26, John 1)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - November 30, 2014
Text: Genesis 26:23-25; John 1:1-5,14

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (arr. Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah" (arr./chorus, Nockels)
Offering of Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (arr. Austell)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Manuscript
There is no manuscript available this week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

==WE BELONG TO GOD (2014)==

“We Belong to God” Discipleship Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
September 14 - November 23, 2014

If you trust and follow Jesus, then your life is not your own. Work, wealth, family, free time, health, hope, and everything else and everyone else that makes up LIFE – it belongs to God. That’s why Paul says YOU are God’s field, YOU are God’s building, created for God’s purposes and God’s glory.

Thanksgiving and Seeing God's Glory (Luke 17.11-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 23, 2014
Text: Luke 17:11-21

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Be Your Name" (Redmon)
Hymn of Praise: "For the Beauty of the Earth" (DIX)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (SCHUMANN, arr. Austell)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” 20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:11-21)
Today we are looking at one of the better known stories about giving thanks. In it Jesus heals ten men with leprosy; actually, he sends them to the priest to verify that they are healed and on the way they are healed. Only one of the ten stops and runs back to Jesus to thank him. This story is often lifted up as an example of the importance of being thankful, and rightfully so. But there is a lot more going on here than we usually realize. For one, and not our focus today, there is a wonderful picture of the interplay between human prayer (“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”), a godly response that is not instantaneous, but involves our faith and participation (“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”), and a miraculous answer to prayer (“as they were going, they were cleansed.”)

There is also the whole dynamic of the one who returned being a Samaritan. In fact, this was probably the main point for including this story, as Luke includes the reaction of the Pharisees in conjunction with this interaction with a doubly-unclean man (leper AND Samaritan). And I will not ignore that key part of the story, but these things are worthy study for another day. Today, I want to dig into what this story teaches us about giving thanks.

Thanks for God’s Goodness 

Over the past few weeks we have been talking about God’s glory, which I defined as a combination of what God has done (goodness) and who God is (greatness). The most obvious reason and way we give thanks to God is for what God has done, particularly in our own lives, but also as we see what God has done in the lives of those around us. This is what we most often pray for as well, for healing or help or blessing or deliverance. And it is most appropriate, when those prayers are answered or simply when we see God’s goodness, to say, “Thank you, God!”

When the man realized he had been healed of the terrible and isolating disease of leprosy, he turned back from his mission to see the priests and have himself declared healed and he returned to Jesus and “gave thanks to him.” (v. 16)  In response to his prayers for mercy or help, Jesus had responded and God had been good to him. The man was thankful and immediately went to say so.

One of the primary ways to be thankful to God is in response to God’s goodness. But, only being thankful in this way is like only praying and asking for things from God. If you remember that acrostic, ACTS, prayer should at least involve adoration, confession, and thanks in addition to supplication or asking. Likewise, thanks itself is far richer than responding to God’s goodness.

Thanks for God’s Greatness

The man in the story was also thankful for God’s greatness, or who God is. We see this expressed twice: in v. 15 when he is found “glorifying God with a loud voice” and in v. 18 when Jesus describes his thanks in terms of “giving glory to God.” Jesus equates “giving glory” then with thanks. And this shows thanks to not only be a “thank you for what you did for me” but an “everybody look how amazing and awesome God is!” Indeed, the man is public with this expression of thanks, as he offers these words (and perhaps gestures) “with a loud voice” on his way back to see Jesus.

I would describe this as “thanks for God’s greatness” – in other words, the thanks is God-focused rather than self-focused. It’s the difference between “look at what God did for ME” and “look at GOD, who helped me.” In fact, we find that it’s not one or the other, but both that are appropriate.

Said another way, this kind of God-oriented thanks – publicly focusing on who God is – is a form of worship because worship is simply “declaring God’s worth.” We see another aspect of this worshipful thanks after all the public glory-giving, when the man falls on his face at Jesus feet, also an expression of extreme humility and respect, and appropriate to a posture of worship.

So in the past weeks I’ve asked you if you’ve EXPERIENCED God’s goodness and greatness; we’ve heard testimony about how that experience has CHANGED people; and today we read about a person’s GRATITUDE for God’s goodness and greatness: what God has done and who God is.

Seeing God’s Glory (foreigners, faith, and Pharisaical blindness)

As a final point, I’m going to lump several things together for comment. First, Jesus notes that the man is a “foreigner.” (v. 18) Luke has already told us he is a Samaritan. (v. 16) Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as racially and spiritually compromised and most Jewish people held a great animosity towards them.  One of the remarkable things about the inclusion of this story is that it underscores God’s movement among the non-Jewish people, the so-called “nations.” This was always part of God’s promise, but Jesus’ contemporaries seem to have forgotten this. So we see this man – a double-outsider as leper and Samaritan – calling on Jesus for mercy. We see him publicly worshiping God and thanking Jesus. We hear Jesus credit his faith. Truly, the man’s thankfulness showed something of God’s greatness in addition to his words of public praise; it showed God at work in a bigger way than folks expected.

Secondly, over the past few weeks, many of you have asked how to see or experience God’s goodness and greatness. It’s inspiring to hear the testimonies and stories, and I’m interested. How do I see that for myself? Over the past few weeks I’ve suggested looking with “expectant hope.” Another word for that is FAITH. How was it that this man recognized that Jesus could help him and that God had healed him? Jesus says he was full of faith: he was looking and hoping for it. If we could punch a code in our phones or say magic words or perform the right rituals to get God to act, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be something else and it sure would make God a lot smaller. Faith is trust, hope, and expectancy; and it opens our eyes so that we don’t miss God showing up.

That leads to a final comment. The Pharisees were missing it. They had asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was going to come. (v. 20) Jesus said it would not be with “signs to be observed” – that’s stuff like comets and alignment of planets and such – nor would it be ‘here’ or ‘there.’ Instead, he says, “Behold (look!) it is in your midst.” In other words, it is already here and it’s all around you. That’s the assumption behind my favorite question: What is God doing and how can you be a part? I assume, with Jesus’ teaching, that God is at work in and around us, in the church and outside the church. The real question is not, “When will God show up for me?” It is, “How can I be a part of what God is doing?” That is the question of faith and I think God honors that question.

Addendum: Eternal Thanks


I know I said that was my final point; and it turned into three points. But there is one last addendum to all of this and it was found in our Call to Worship this morning from Revelation 4:9-11. Those verses are a picture of the heavenly and eternal worship of the Triune God. I was struck at the parallels to our story today. This is true thanksgiving – worship that is described as “giving glory and honor and thanks” and which declares, “Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created.” Do you hear it all in there? You have God’s goodness and God’s greatness together… thanks that is public declaration and also the humbling picture of elders who “fall down before Him who sits on the throne.” And Revelation tells us those gathered will be from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s all there in that glorious picture… as it was in a moment in time there with the Samaritan man. No wonder Jesus said the Kingdom of God was there in their midst!

So as you celebrate Thanksgiving this week and every week, ponder what it means not only to thank God for what he has done, but also for who he is – as an act of humility and worship, in recognition that God is present with you and in the world even now. Amen!




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Church Matters, pt 2 (Luke 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 16, 2014
Text: Luke 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons" (Myrin, Redmon)
The Word in Music: "We Seek After These Things" (Ruchonich/Zabriskie)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Blessed Be Your Name" (Redman)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sharing
Early in the service I asked the congregation the same question I asked last week, "Where have you experienced the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God at Good Shepherd?" To start off that sharing time I shared this video of three responses from church friends who are out of town right now - Cameron Cary, in Washington state; Jason and Tiffany Hinton, who are in Hungary; and Karen Katibah, who is at college at ASU. Here are there responses...
 

I think all three were done in the wee hours...   :)

:: Testimony (audio link)
I asked Shannon Klar to share her testimony as a "living illustration" of the scripture text from Luke 19:1-10, an example of what it looks like to encounter God's goodness and greatness and be changed (like Zacchaeus). Her testimony really served as the 'sermon' for today, so I'm including below the brief remarks I had prepared, but didn't use; and I'm linking her testimony here and on the podcast. 

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. This particular week I prepared an abbreviated sermon to make space for a testimony in the service. What I actually said was even more abbreviated than below. I'm including this here as what I had prepared to say, but the testimony linked above really served in place of the sermon this week and as a "living illustration" of the scripture text.

Like last week, today’s sermon and service are a little different format than usual. It is our “Consecration Sunday” and we are talking about why church matters.

We’ve been talking about God’s glory. In an effort to better understand what that means, last week we broke that down into God’s GOODNESS (what God does) and GREATNESS (who God is). And there’s no place we see that goodness and greatness more clearly than in Jesus Christ. John 1:14 reminds us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Last week we looked at two biblical stories of people encountering God’s goodness and greatness through meeting Jesus. Those were the stories of the blind man in Luke 18 and Zacchaeus, the hated man, in Luke 19. We then heard testimonies and sharing from the congregation around the question, “How have you experienced God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS through Good Shepherd?” We’ve also shared some more responses to that question at the beginning of today’s service.

The biblical stories raised three application questions for us last week:

1.    Are you expectantly looking for God to show up?
2.    Will you listen and respond when He does?
3.    How is that changing your life?

Today we are going to look at that third question of what happens when we encounter God’s glory – God’s goodness or greatness – how experiencing God has or is changing people’s lives. For that, and for time’s sake, I’m just going to look at the story of Zacchaeus, and then I’ve asked one of our members to share her story of encountering God and her life being changed.

The Tax-Man (Luke 19:1-10)


We talked last week about tax collectors being hated in New Testament times because they were Jewish people working for the Roman Empire, taxing their own people and free to overtax and line their own pockets. We understood that Zacchaeus was especially hated and despised because we are told he was a “chief tax collector and he was rich.” His wealth came from taxing his fellow Jews.

We saw that Zacchaeus went to check Jesus out… from a safe distance; but also that Jesus came TO him, in more ways than one. Jesus called up to him and called him by name. Jesus called him down; and then Jesus invited himself to his house: “Today I must stay at your house.” Now the change hadn’t happened yet; hospitality would have dictated that Zacchaeus welcome Jesus at that point. But we can sure guess that he was surprised, especially in the face of the public and expressed sentiment that Zacchaeus was a “man who is a sinner.” (v. 7)

All of this is the encounter with God’s goodness and glory in Jesus, but it is in the next verse that we realize Zacchaeus has been changed by it. It is not clear to me whether he says this there at the tree, on the way to his house, or once they are at his home… though the grumbling crowd does say, “He has gone to be the guest….” So, perhaps on the way or at his home Zacchaeus “stopped and said.” Maybe stopped on the way or stopped in the middle of dinner or conversation. But something happened; something in the encounter significantly changed Zacchaeus.

Up to that point Zacchaeus’ life had pretty well been defined by the accumulation of wealth, and at the expense of others. We don’t get to peer into the workings of the change, but it is clear that it has happened, because this man who was notorious for squeezing wealth out of others vows to give it back four times over AND to give half of his possessions to the poor. So there are themes of restitution and of compassion. It sounds so simple and Sunday school-ish to tell the story here, but it is transformation of the wildest kind. Take the worst known traits of the most notorious criminal and meeting Jesus has flipped those traits and that person on their head.

Stealing from children turns into running an orphanage.
Addictions lose their grip and families are healed.
One turns from mocking and hating God to a life filled with love of and service to God.


That’s the change. And it’s not once and done; it’s over and over again because God keeps coming to us in Jesus with His GOODNESS and GREATNESS. That’s why I love to hear your stories. They are the stories of God being faithful to show up.

With that I want to draw to a close, ask the ushers to come forward for the offering, and invite my sister-in-Christ, Shannon Klar, to some share her story with you.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Church Matters, pt 1 (Luke 18.35-43, Luke 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 9, 2014
Text: Luke 18:35-43; Luke 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Christians, Join to Sing" (MADRID)
Hymn of Praise: "I Love to Tell the Story" (HANKEY)
Hymn: "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Hymn of Offering: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" (DENNIS)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons)" (Myrin, Redman)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Testimonies From the Service 
How have you seen the GOODNESS or GREATNESS of God through Good Shepherd?
Mark Katibah (link)
MaryGene Longenecker (link)
Matt and Megan Butler (link)
Chuck and Linda Jenkins (link) 
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

CALL TO WORSHIP
7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9 I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations. 10 For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens And Your truth to the clouds. 11 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
Today’s sermon and service are a little different format that usual. It is our “Stewardship Sunday,” but instead of talking about the giving of time, talent, and treasure or teaching on tithing, I want to talk about why church matters. For the past few months we have been talking about “Belonging to God,” and most recently have focused on how all things (including our belonging) reflect back on God’s name. Both God’s being (holy, loving, right, just, etc…) and God’s works (creation, salvation, redemption, etc…) shine in what we refer to as God’s GLORY.

Another way of using everyday words to talk about God’s-being-and-works-showing-forth-as-glory is to talk about God’s GOODNESS and GREATNESS. And there’s no place we see that glory more clearly than through Jesus Christ, who is at once the foundation, the center, and the head of the church. John 1:14 reminds us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today I am using the same scripture texts as I will next week. These back-to-back texts from Luke describe two people experiencing God’s goodness and greatness through an encounter with Jesus. This week I want to describe those encounters to you, highlighting God’s glory. Then, over the course of the service, I want to invite several folks to share with you how they have experienced God’s goodness and greatness in this place. Finally, I will give you an opportunity to stand and briefly do the same. You can see the question there in the bulletin: “How have you experienced God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS through Good Shepherd?”

Bottom-line, what I hope you’ll walk away with is a strong reminder that church matters because this is a place where God shows up – and that is an amazing thing… even a life-changing thing.

Blind (Luke 18:35-43)
35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Both of today’s stories take place in or near the ancient city of Jericho. In Luke 18, Jesus is on his way into Jericho with a crowd following and walking with him. A blind man hears the commotion and asks what is going on. When he hears that it is Jesus, he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” We don’t have to wonder what he wanted or meant by that because Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the man responded, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately, he regained his sight.

Isn’t that the way you wish it would always work… that you could just ask Jesus for something and he would do it?

But wait, let’s look a little more closely. First, Jesus was already showing up; he was present there on the road that day. The man was attentive enough to ask questions, to recognize the power before him, to call out, and to believe Jesus could do what he asked. That’s all on the front end. Do we come to church expecting God to show up? And assuming God does (I believe He is faithful to do so!), do you see it? Do you call out? Do you recognize who we are worshiping? Do you believe God can do anything?

And then look at what followed: after regaining his sight, the man began following Jesus and glorifying God; and all the people around gave praise to God. This encounter with the power and presence of God wasn’t a point in time thing; it was more than healing blindness; the man was CHANGED. He didn’t just start to see; he started to follow and to worship. And the whole encounter spurred the crowd to worship and praise.

There are several parts to consider when we talk about encountering the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God here.

1.    Are we expectant?
2.    Will we believe and be touched?
3.    Will we remember and be changed?

In a bit you will hear stories of people here – people you know – who have experienced the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God. I imagine each of us will hear those stories from one of these points of view.

You may think, “I’ve never had that experience.” I’d ask, “Are you expectant? Are you looking and waiting and hoping to?”

You may think, “Oh yes, I have encountered God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS!” If so, I hope you’ll share that with us at the appropriate time.

A third point of view either realizes “I had forgotten that” or also realizes that the encounter with God changed you. If that is the case, praise God! And I’d like to know and maybe hear about it next Sunday!

From this story, realize that God showed up through Jesus and more than healing physical blindness occurred; a man was changed – through his experience perhaps even a community.

Hated and Despised (Luke 19:1-10)
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
We’ve talked before about tax collectors; one of them named Matthew (Levi) even became a disciple. As Jesus was passing through Jericho, he encountered another one named Zacchaeus. We’ve talked about how tax collectors were hated and despised because they were Jewish people working for the Roman Empire, taxing their own people and free to overtax and line their own pockets. We know that Zacchaeus was especially hated and despised because we are told he was a “chief tax collector and he was rich.” His wealth came from taxing his fellow Jews.

Like the blind man, Zacchaeus also heard the commotion of Jesus coming through Jericho and went to check it out. Because he was small – or perhaps because he was hated? – he ran ahead of Jesus and the crowd and climbed up in a tree to see him. Unlike the blind man, Zacchaeus did not call out to Jesus; instead, Jesus called out to him. And it wasn’t a “hey, how are you?” or a “come, follow me.” Jesus looked up and called his name and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” How did Jesus know his name? Maybe because he was Jesus… or maybe Matthew knew him. But Jesus did the same thing he did with Matthew’s friends in Capernaum; he went for dinner at his house. And Zacchaeus received him gladly.

The people grumbled just as when Jesus ate with Matthew… Jesus is hanging out with “sinners” again! But that storyline is interrupted by a declaration from Zacchaeus, who says, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Again, God showed up through Jesus and someone’s life was changed. There’s no other way to explain Zacchaeus’ declaration. We don’t quite have all the figures to do the math, but it sounds to me like he’s pretty much giving all his wealth away, both to help those in need and to make right his wrongs.

Again, thinking back on the blind man and now on Zacchaeus, I ask:

1.    Are you expectantly looking for God to show up?
2.    Will you listen and respond when He does?
3.    How is that changing your life?

Big questions; but then again, we are talking about when God shows up!

I look forward to hearing more from you later in the service and also to digging some more into these texts again next week. Amen.

**Audio links to the testimonies from the service are included in the top section of this post.
 



Sunday, November 2, 2014

For God's Glory (Isaiah 43.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 2, 2014
Text: Isaiah 43:1-7

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (arr. Robert Austell)
The Word in Music: Choir - "Psalm 86" (Nygard)
Hymn of Response: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (arr. Robert Austell)
Video: "Thought on Worship: What is meaningful about communion?"

Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Sending: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin et al.)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

     1 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
     3 “For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 “Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
      5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. 6 “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, 7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:1-7)

We have been talking for weeks about belonging to God, first through our experience of responding to Jesus’ call to “follow me” and then last week through Kathy’s reminding us that we are God’s own possession, more surely and purely His than anything we can comprehend or imagine belonging to us. Today we continue looking at how we belong to God, turning to words of the prophet, Isaiah.

This part of Isaiah is directed to God’s people in the Babylonian Exile. If anyone had reason to question whether they belonged to God, it was the defeated and conquered Exiles who had been taken from their homes and land and Temple. So much of their experience and understanding of God was wrapped up in that former place of land, family, and blessing. And with all that seemingly stripped away, it was natural for God’s chosen people to wonder if they even belonged to God at all.

Today’s text rings with the assurance that they not only still belong to God, but that God has held them securely all along. And God is at work in and around them in a way that all of it – their exile, their redemption, their protection, their deliverance, their testing – it will all point back to God’s great love and holiness and character, to God’s GLORY. And that demonstration of glory – that God is GOOD and God is GREAT – will serve to be a reminder that God is still working through them to bless the world around them… the very thing God had originally promised Father Abraham and the promise they thought they had left behind in their conquered land.

Do Not Fear, You are Mine! (vv. 1-2)


The text divides neatly into three sections, forming an A-B-A pattern with the first and third sections repeating the same refrain: “Do not fear!” (vv. 1,5) In the first A section, God names Himself through Isaiah as “Creator” and “He who formed you, O Israel.” (v. 1a) This same creating and forming God then declares to a people who have wandered, strayed, and believe themselves cut off: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” (v. 1b) What a glorious declaration! I often like to describe salvation history in similar terms, saying that God created us, and though we turned away from God in disobedience and sin, God did not abandon us, but pursued us in love to rescue and reclaim us. That’s just what we read here in Isaiah: God’s people had wandered far away, spiritually and physically; but God reminds them, “I made you and love you and haven’t given up on you. Indeed, I know you and have named you and you belong to me!”

God continues in v. 2, using both water and fire to illustrate the great challenges they have faced. And God declares His faithfulness in terms of presence and protection

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you (PRESENCE)
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. (PROTECTION)
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched (PROTECTION)
Nor will the flame burn you. (v. 2) (PROTECTION)

What a reminder for us, who are no less God’s people as the Church than Old Testament Israel was. God has created and formed us, has redeemed and rescued us (despite ourselves!), and walks with us and protects us.

Do not fear; you belong to God!

I AM the Lord (vv. 3-4)


There in the middle, in the B-section of vv. 3-4, we hear the great declaration of who God is: “I AM the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v. 3) There is so much in so few words! “I AM the LORD” is the great self-revelation – God’s name, Yahweh, spoken to Moses from the burning bush and used throughout the Old Testament as God’s self-identifier. Then a whole string of other names and descriptors: God, Holy One, Savior. Each reveals who God is and what God has done. Perhaps most unusual in this Old Testament setting is “Savior,” since we often think of Jesus when we hear that term. But the verses that follow, which reference God’s rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt, show God to be just that: Savior.

The end of verse 4 is confusing, speaking of giving others in exchange for the lives of God’s people. But the references to God as Redeemer (v. 1) and Savior (v. 3) and the naming of Egypt, Cush, and Seba, point not to the value of one person or people over another, but to the lengths God went to for the rescue of His people in the Exodus and beyond. Even a world power, if set against God’s purposes, will not prevail.

More personally for us, what a reminder that God is no less our Lord and God, our Holy One and Savior. Has God not gone to even greater lengths to buy us back (as Redeemer) and rescue us (as Savior) from captivity and enslavement to sin, and even from death!

Do Not Fear, for I am With You (vv. 5-7)


Finally the third section parallels the original A-section and is signaled by another statement of “Do not fear” in verse 5. If in the first section the message was, “Do not fear, you are mine,” here it is “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (v. 5) The connection with the old promises to Abraham are strong, for now God promises to look after the children of Israel – sons and daughters. In a poetic survey of the four corners of the world, God declares: 

I will bring your offspring 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. (vv. 5-6)

 Back in v. 1, God was identified as “He who formed Israel” and said, “I have called you by name; you are mine!” Now, connecting back to those statements, God identifies those covenant sons and daughters with “everyone who is called by my name and whom I have created….” While it is secondary to the main point, this whole text is strikingly poetic; it’s the kind of thing that would have stuck in the mind of Hebrew people like a memorable song does for us. It is in classic Hebrew form in so many ways.

The reminder for us here is much as in the first section: that section reminded us that God walks with us and protects us. This third section reminds us that the same God will not forget us though we wander far and wide. As Romans 8:38-39 will later remind us, nothing can or will separate us from God’s extraordinary love, neither life nor death nor things present or future, or anything else.

Do not fear; God is with you!

For God’s Glory (v. 7)


Before I let go of the format of this text, I would note that any time there is an A-B-A format, the main idea – the thing to not miss – is there in the middle. In this case it is there in v. 3, “For I am the Lord your God.” Though so much of this text focuses on what God has done for us, it really is all about God – God who is Lord (v. 1), Creator (v. 1), Redeemer (v. 1), Holy (v. 3), Savior (v. 3), and (implicitly) Covenant Promise-Keeper (vv. 5-6).

And just in case you were a Hebrew student who failed Poetry and Prophets 101, the very end of the text points us back to the main idea in case we missed it. There, at the end of the list of all that God has done FOR US, we are reminded that we were “created for [God’s] glory.” (v. 7) It is certainly true that in overcoming Pharaoh, the Egyptian army, and the Red Sea, God delivered His people from slavery; but it is all the more true that doing so demonstrated to the watching world (in Israel and outside of Israel) that God is God, more powerful than Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, and more powerful even than the waters of the sea.

Let me make that more current and applicable to you and me. Though it is true that in sending Christ to die for your sin that you might live, God became your Savior; it is even more true and significant that God shows himself in Christ to be THE Savior. At every point you and I encounter and experience God in our world and in our lives, it also points to the greater news of God in THE world. God is ultimately not my thing or your thing; God is God. That’s what glory means. That’s why, in v.3, before any other qualifiers like “your God” and “of Israel” and “your Savior” we simply read: “I AM the LORD.” That’s glory; God is who He is and will be who He will be: YAHWEH.

Why is that important? It’s important because we dare not lose sight of just how “God” God is. Otherwise we package and limit and personalize God into an experience, a mini-god, a controllable god, a thing we can take out when we need it and dismiss when we don’t. If we can begin to acknowledge and comprehend and WORSHIP and SERVE the One who is “I AM the LORD,” that’s when we will witness and experience God in our own lives and in and before the world. And that’s when we will know and understand those declarations: “Do not fear, you are mine; do not fear I am with you.”