Fear Not

Epiphany I, Baptism of Jesus, St. James, Glen Carbon

Isaiah 43:1, Fear not I have redeemed you have called you by name, you are mine.

V.5 Fear not, for I am with you.

“I am baptized.”  Martin Luther recommended that we use those words when we are beset by doubt and a troubled conscience.  The “I am baptized” story most familiar is from 1521.  Luther had been declared an outlaw following the Diet of Worms, and his friends kidnapped him spiriting him away to Wartburg Castle.  While in that exile he undertook to translate the New Testament into German.  However, at times he felt under such attack by the Devil that on one occasion he threw an inkwell at the evil angel, and shouted, “I am baptized.”

God has made promises to us in baptism.  In baptism we died and were buried with Christ. We were united with him in his death.  In his resurrection we are resurrected to live a new life, free from the dominion of sin and death.  The result being, in the words St. Paul often read at funerals, “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God to this day continues to keep the promises he made to us in baptism.  “I am baptized” – it is an act that happened in the past, but it is a gift of God that continues to happen every day, as a new person arises to live before God in uprightness and purity forever.

On this day, the Baptism of our Lord, we will consider Jesus’ and our baptisms  through the lens of the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 43.  Twice God tells his people, “Fear not.”   “Fear not, I have redeemed you I have called you by name, you are mine.”   “Fear not, I am with you.”

587 years before Jesus was born the people of Judah and Jerusalem had good reason to fear that God no longer knew their name and that he was no longer with them. The people were being forced into exile.  Jerusalem lay in ruins, the smoke and ashes from still smoldering fires scattered to the east on westerly winds even as the people scattered to the four winds, their lives shattered by Babylon’s might.  The scathing thunder of God’s judgment burned in their ears, “Who is as blind as my dedicated one…He sees many things but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. This is a people plundered and looted…trapped in holes…hidden in prisons…Who gave up Jacob to the looter…? Was it not the Lord against whom we have sinned…So he poured on him the heat of his anger and the might of battle; it set him on fire all around, but he did not understand; it burned him up, but he did not take it to heart.”

Yet, within 10 verses of this withering rebuke Judah believes in God and the Lord says, “You are my witnesses and my servant whom I have chosen.”  How did such a turn-around happen?  There is no sign of repentance on the part of the people; no determination to be more faithful, to improve.  They do not seek nor deserve grace.  How did this happen?  The Lord happened.

“But now,” The Lord says to Judah trudging away from their burned homes.  “But now,” God remembered that he had created them, made them in his own image, after his likeness.   Twice he formed them, once out of clay in the garden of Eden and again into his people when they were slaves in Egypt forming clay bricks.

It’s the same when we were baptized.  There was no sign of repentance as we were carried to the font.  We made no resolution to do better. But the Lord happened.  The Lord was there at the font.  He remembered that he had created us.  He remembered that he had formed us in the womb, knitted us together, made us one of his wonderful works.  Though we were brought to the water a lost and condemned creature, God united us with Jesus who has defeated death.  In our baptism the word addressed to Judah became a word spoken to us, “But now…fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Later God says, “I have called you by my name.”  This is how it happened. The pastor asked your sponsors or parents, “How are you named?” and someone said your name.  Then the pastor said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  In so doing we received a second name.  In baptism God placed his holy name on us and we became, holy and blameless before the lord, recreated in the image and likeness of God.  God had created us in our mother’s womb.  He formed us into one of his own at the font.  We came to the font a sinner and left a saint.  We came as a nobody and we left as one of God’s people.

So we were united with Christ.  Remember what happened in Jesus baptism?  “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Yes, in our baptism we were united with Christ who was without spot or blemish and in his baptism Jesus was united with us taking on our every spot and blemish on the cross.  The Holy Spirit which descended on Jesus at his baptism took up residence in our lives.  The voice of the Father which declared Jesus to be His Beloved Son; also declares us to be his beloved son or daughter.

Remember what happened to Jesus immediately after his crossed the waters of the Jordan. Luke says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…being tempted by the devil.”  Make no mistake about it, when Jesus entered the wilderness it was for a long six weeks in which he underwent a flood of attacks by the devil.  But the Holy Spirit was with him to strengthen and uphold him.  When Judah was going into exile they had already been through fire, perhaps many were suffering from physical burns beyond the burning wrath of God.  They would have to cross rivers which would threaten to drown them.  There would be no mercy from their captors.  Nevertheless, though they may have doubted that God was with them, He was with them.  And they would never hear the gods of the Babylonians telling them, You are mine.  You are precious in my eyes…I love you.”  In Christ God is with us, no matter what!

Country western singer Aaron Baker tells a story about himself and his own son.  His son was born when Aaron Baker was 17 years old.  He thought, “Wow my boy and I can grow up together.”  But there came a day when his son was 16 and had really messed up that Baker had to be a father.  He sat his son down and had some hard and harsh words for him.  After his son went to bed the singer wondered how he could be so angry at his son and still love him so much.  As he considered this he strummed his guitar and a soon a song came to him.  Baker says God helped him with it, though God gets no credit or royalties as cowriter.

The chorus expresses the love of a father:

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love;

A secret that my daddy said was just between us:

You see, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then…

It’s a love without end, amen. (1)

Our heavenly Father says to us, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  Do not fear, for I am with you.  You are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you.”  It’s love without end.  Amen.

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