Pastoral Relief and Retreat

My photo
Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

Pages

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lord's Day Message: A New Name


Message, December 26, 2010

Over the past several weeks, during the time we call Advent, we have looked at the coming of Christ through the lens of time.  We looked at a Day that seems to last forever, an hour that instructs for a lifetime, a minute that teaches patience, and a moment that changes everything.  But these are broad statements.  In fact, you have to really fill in a whole lot of blanks in the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke before you’ll begin to mine anything like an emotional response.  That’s the funny thing about our celebration of Christmas.  All the carols, the candles, the symbols; all the meta-text – the text that explains the Biblical text – nearly all the emotional content of Christmas is stuff Christians added centuries later. 

Not that the meta-text of Christmas is inaccurate or that the symbols don’t point us in the right direction.  Even a paper star on top of a gaily-decorated evergreen has its roots in the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem to see the Christ.  But these are embellishments; glosses on what is really a very bare-bones narrative.  In fact, with the exception of the one conversation between Mary and Elizabeth, which prompted one reader of my daily blog to write, “Did people back then really talk like that?” the most intimate moment in the birth narrative of the gospels is when the angel told Joseph that “his name shall be called Immanuel – God with us.” 

The really odd thing about the whole birth narrative is that if you were to construct your Christian experience solely on the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, it would be very easy to believe that God is quite formal and distant, and that if he ever spoke to humankind, it was mostly through angels, and all of it happened very long ago indeed.  And judging from the difference in the number of people who show up in churches world-wide on Christmas, that is exactly what most Christians today are basing their experience of God upon.

What the lectionary has given us as a follow-up text this day after Christmas fills in the blanks for anyone still here to listen.  We are not getting rid of the symbols of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, of shepherds and wise men.  We are going to look deeply into what moved their hearts and what moves us who are here this morning.  That is not to say that church attendance one day after most of us had a huge party is any indication of the condition of a person’s soul.  In fact, church involvement is only a distant result – an outpouring of the affection the text we’re looking at this morning speaks of.

If you are with me then, turn in your Bible to Isaiah 61, beginning at verse 10, and let’s listen to what this great prophet has to say about his relationship with God.  Isaiah writes:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
                        my soul shall exult in my God,
            for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
                        he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
            as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
                        and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
            For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
                        and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
            so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
                        to sprout up before all the nations.

 
            For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
                        and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,
            until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
                        and her salvation as a burning torch.
            The nations shall see your righteousness,
                        and all the kings your glory,
            and you shall be called by a new name
                        that the mouth of the LORD will give.
            You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
                        and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
            You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
                        and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
            but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
                        and your land Married;
            for the LORD delights in you,
                        and your land shall be married.
            For as a young man marries a young woman,
                        so shall your sons marry you,
            and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
                        so shall your God rejoice over you.
 (Isaiah 61:10-62:5 ESV)

There is a key question I always ask when I’m mentoring someone.  I really ought to ask this question more often than I do.  When I greet the check-out clerk in the supermarket, they nearly always ask me how I’m doing.   And as you know, they’re not really interested in an answer.  It is just an automatic question – small-talk while your groceries go by on a conveyer belt.  It breaks up an awkward human moment.  We have met someone, but they are simply fulfilling a function.  Their job is to get our groceries into a bag.  But rather than asking how you are doing, the more important question; one that will immediately take the conversation somewhere far deeper, is “how is your soul?” 

When Isaiah writes here at verse 10, it almost seems that someone has asked him that mentoring question.  “How is your soul, Isaiah?”   And Isaiah’s response is from the heart, and is full and immediate.  He doesn’t have to think about this one.  He says, “OH!  I’m so glad you asked…”

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
                        my soul shall exult in my God,

What good mentor could pass up a moment like that one.  If I were to ask one of you after church this morning how your soul is and you gave me a response like that, we would definitely be sitting at a table in a diner with a cup of coffee about 30 seconds later.   Diners are where all the best mentoring conversations happen. 

The next question Isaiah’s mentor asks is, “Why?  Why is your soul exulting and rejoicing like that?  What has God done for you that is making you feel that way?”

And Isaiah says back to his mentor, “Oh, it isn’t just one thing God has done.  It is five things.  There are five almost embarrassingly intimate things God has done for me.”  And here they are.

First, He clothed me.  You know, until I met Jesus, my soul was a mess.  I was dressed in rags of shame and pride and self-interest.  Spiritually speaking they didn’t even cover the raw nakedness of my soul.  I was completely exposed to the elements – a person no one would have wanted.  My soul was sick – as sick as death – and ugly.  But he came to me, just the way I was and…
he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
                        he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
            as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
                        and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

It is like coming in from digging ditches all day and finding there is someone waiting at the door with the most beautiful, and yet most comfortable clothes you could imagine, and then having that person tell you they are taking you in to the most sumptuous feast you could imagine.  “don’t worry, they say.  I’ve taken care of everything.  I’ve invited all your friends, and we’re going to have a grand time.” 

Have you ever had someone dress you?  I can tell you, it is one of the most intimate experiences you can have with another.   Remember that first they have to undress you.  And in salvation God comes to us and he tenderly removes the filthy rags we are wearing, and he lays them aside and, like Jesus did at the Last Supper, he picks up a basin and a towel, and he washes us – not just our feet.  But in salvation, Christ washes our hands and our faces, and then our whole body, and then he reaches in and washes our soul as well.  And then he dresses us in these amazingly rich garments.  How much more intimate can you get than that?

He tells us.  Not only does he clothe me.  But, more intimate and more completely connected than that… He grows me.  For, Isaiah writes,
            as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
                        and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
            so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
                        to sprout up before all the nations.

This is more than simply a shoot growing out of the stump of Jesse, as an earlier prophecy of Isaiah testified.  God is the earth, the very ground the seed of my soul is wrapped in.  And he is supplying all the nutrients my soul needs so that, when it sprouts up, it is not merely a flower that has its season and then wilts.  For earlier in Isaiah 61, he says that God is growing my soul to be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord that he may display his beauty. 

So it isn’t just that he dressed me.  He grew me, and has paid me the intolerable compliment of placing me like an oak tree in the middle of a garden, so that all the nations, all the principalities, all the powers in heavenly places will look at me and say, “O the beauty of God!”

Now there is an uncomfortable silence in the mentoring conversation.  This mentor really did want to know how Isaiah’s soul was.  But he never imagined he’d get such a gushing reply, and he’s not entirely sure he wants to hear any more.   The mentor fidgets with the silverware on the table… takes a sip of coffee… and half looks up into Isaiah’s face, wondering what might come next. 

Isaiah knows how awkward and yet how intimate even this moment of explanation has been.  But he can’t help himself.  He plows on and hits the table with his fist for emphasis. 
            For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
                        and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet,

You see, not only does God dress me; not only does he grow me.  But he makes me burn! 
            until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
                        and her salvation as a burning torch.
            The nations shall see your righteousness,
                        and all the kings your glory,

And believe me.  Now every eye in the diner is on this man who just pounded the table.  The passion that is in his heart is palpable and is infecting not just the mentor sitting across the table, but the rest of the crowd quietly having their coffee and sandwiches. 

When Isaiah talks about righteousness going forth brightly and salvation shining as a burning torch realize that the only way God can get the attention of the nations is for those oaks of righteousness that he planted to burn.   The miracle of the burning bush that Moses saw was that the bush was on fire and yet was not consumed.  If we will trust him, God will set you and me ablaze as surely as the sacrifice on the altar was burned.  Imagine the light that would be created if not just one oak burned, but if a hundred hundred thousand oaks burned simultaneously.  All kings would see a blaze like that.  The thing that stops most of us from burning for the Lord is that we believe we will be consumed in the flames.  Will it hurt?  Of course it will hurt.  You have been set on fire.  But if you will trust him as savior enough to burn for him, you will not be consumed.

Not only has he clothed me and grown me and set me ablaze.  He named me. 

In the ancient world, the give someone a name was to have power and authority over them.  It was essentially a mark of ownership.  Someone who owned a slave in those days had the right to name and rename them over time if he wished.  They were a possession.  But look at the names by which God calls those whom he clothes, those whom he grows.  Look at the names by which God calls those willing to be set ablaze in him: He calls us “Crown of Beauty.”  He calls us “Royal Diadem.” 

            and you shall be called by a new name
                        that the mouth of the LORD will give.
            You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
                        and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
            You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
                        and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,

And finally, in the greatest demonstration of intimacy the world knows anything about, He marries me.  Can you imagine taking a slave and marrying him or her? 
But that’s what God has done.  And the name he gives his bride is even more intimate.

            you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
                        and your land (shall be called) Married;
            for the LORD delights in you,
                        and your land shall be married.
            For as a young man marries a young woman,
                        so shall your sons marry you,
            and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
                        so shall your God rejoice over you.

You wanted to know why Isaiah’s soul is rejoicing so?   Now a great smile comes over the mentor’s face, for he knows this is not just true of Isaiah.  God wants this to be true of every believer. 

Beloved in Christ, God wants to dress you and grow you.  He wants to make you burn and not be consumed.  He wants to give you a new name and he wants to marry you.   As the calendar turns to a new year, don’t make a resolution.  You’ll break it in a day.  Turn your heart over and tell God you want to be his bride, that you want him to give you a new name.  And then revel with squeals of delight as you burn and shine forth brightly for all to see. 

No comments: