“I Have Called You By Name” January 13, 2019
“I Have Called You By Name”
Isaiah 43:1-7/ Acts 8:14-17/ Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
But now, says the Lord – the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t 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; when through the rivers they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior. Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.
Funny thing: I’m having a hard time getting this out of my head. This wonderful passage from Isaiah, this ancient text, got hold of me somehow and has refused to let go. At first glance, it seems to be just the normal sort of poetry that prophets write that begins with, “But now says the Lord..” But this time it’s different. This time, it is a love letter; a love letter to the nation of Israel and therefore a love letter to you, a love letter to me, and a love letter to us all. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” It is comforting, it is reassuring, and it is the perfect text to hold in our heart if we are to wanting to better understand this thing called Baptism.
Hello, my name is Ken Johnson: husband of Marjorie, son of Bernard and Emma, father of Zach and Elizabeth, and step father of Justin, Austin, Autumn, and Drew. I am called by lots of names: Ken, Kenny, Kenneth (if we want to get all formal), as well as titles like pastor, dad, friend, and dirty rotten so-and-so depending on who you ask. But for today, let’s have a look at who I am -and therefore, who we are – in the eyes of God. And I say that, I ask you to ask that, because it seems to me that this is what the Christian baptism is all about. It’s all about telling the world about our journey of faith, it’s all about our personal relationship with Christ – simply put, it’s all about the moment that we answer when God calls our name.
The most common definition of Baptism – the one that I’ve heard for years – is that baptism is “A visible and outward sign of an inner spiritual reality.” (X2) Sounds pretty official; all nice and tidy. Our Gospel text today tells the story of the baptism of Christ according to Luke. I might mention that Jesus’ baptism by John is told in all 4 of the Gospels and even though they are worded differently, they all end the same way. They all conclude with the spirit of God coming down from heaven and resting on this, the one we call Jesus Christ. A visible and outward sign, if you will. But this is where things get sticky because this is where the question is going to come up, “Why does Jesus need to be baptized? If the whole point is to be gifted with the spirit, why does Jesus, the very son of God, need to be baptized by…us?” From the account in Matthew 3:13 we read, Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But Jesus was determined and said to John, (vs 15) Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “It’s all right. I permit it; just do it. This has been my father’s plan since before forever; trust me on this, I have to do all that is right.” I’m confused here. Does Jesus, the one without sin, need to be cleansed of his sin? Does Jesus, the salvation of the world, need to be saved? I think we can all agree that the answer is no. But does Christ the Messiah need to be baptized. Yes, most definitely, and surprisingly for the same reason that baptism is important to us as well. God calls us; he calls us by name. But you know that’s not enough. God calls us constantly but sooner or later we have to pick up and step up and answer that call. Baptism isn’t some kind of magic hocus-pocus ritual. It is, as I said, a visible and outward sign of an inner spiritual reality. And when you take that plunge, when you walk into that fire, there’s no telling what that spiritual reality is going to look like.
I was talking with our friend Jonathan Booth last week. He mentioned that an elder of the Anglican Church had mentioned that we need to have more baptism. It was refreshing to hear. It was refreshing because it seems to me that folks have gotten too careful about this ancient sacrament. It’s as if we have to be careful what we say when God calls our name; as if we’re afraid that something could go wrong or we don’t deserve it or the power of the Spirit might be …well, too much. I don’t know. But I do know that when he calls our name and we answer that call, there’s no turning back. It changes things, and maybe that’s what scares us.
Which brings me back to the wonderful text from Isaiah, the words that I can’t get out of my head. Don’t 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; when through the rivers they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior. Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.
Jesus needed to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan and for this we may count ourselves blessed. Because the truth of the matter is that he needed to answer the call not for his salvation, but for ours.
Amen & Shalom