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.
Isaiah gave this message from God to the people of Israel who were in exile to help them remember that he loved them and would take them from the bondage they had been suffering in Babylon. These words have reassured me many times in my life when it looked as if the fire would consume me, or I would drown in the overwhelming waters of uncertainty, fear or sorrow. I know them by heart and often have expressed them to others who found themselves in those places of fear and destruction or places where they were far from home.
When my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep on the morning of Ash Wednesday, 2002, I experienced those waters of fear and sorrow overwhelming me. It was in the days and months after his death that I began to sink in despair. He had done so many things to help in our marriage, and me in my pastorate, and all of them were blessings that I did not know if I could live without. He had taken care of our taxes each year from 1961, the year we married until he died. He listened to my sermons each week before I delivered them and always asked meaningful questions regarding the message. He helped in the work at home, and supported me in his prayers and actions. As I read these words written by Isaiah at that time I began to rely heavily on God for healing of sorrow and I began to remember that my call as a child of God was one that redeemed me and that God would be with me all the way because I belonged to Him. I could depend on God.
These promises from God are for all of us, because from time to time we may feel as though we are in a far country, a long way from home or on a pathway where we are totally lost, or perhaps in the midst of waters that are overwhelming. Each and every one of us will find ourselves journeying a path which ends in death at some time. I have sat beside the dying and I have experienced those who are fearful, or fighting it, and others who await it peacefully, and even joyfully because they know that God has redeemed them and that they belong to God. They will complete their earthly journey to finally arrive in the home that God has prepared for them, and they wait for that with expectancy and assurance.
This promised protection of God is not from just any fire, but from a fire that consumes. Trusting in this promise from God is knowing that God will be with us in the fire we are going through and it will not consume us. God’s presence with us makes it a refining fire that brings meaning and purpose to us. It is knowing that our suffering will bring us a deeper understanding of how much God loves and cares for us in our earthly trials. God’s protection is from days and lives lived without purpose — where our very purpose is drowned out by doubt or fear. It is an assurance that we are called by God and God will protect us in all things at all times.
Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, was crucified. He suffered the floods and fires that we deserve and gives us the righteousness of his name. We might not know God as well as we would like, but in Jesus Christ, God knows us. Joined to the death and resurrection of Christ through our baptism, we are given a new identity.
No longer anonymous, we now belong to God, who promises, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine”.
- When is a time that you felt overwhelmed to the point that you felt like you could not live through the experience, and then you read God’s words of assurance and you held on tight to God’s promises?
- Can you help others walk through those overwhelming waters or through those fires that threaten to consume them?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.