Monday, January 7, 2019

You Are Mine

Isaiah 43:1-7, the First Lesson appointed for the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord in the Year of Luke is one of the most glorious words of gospel ever spoken.  Promises abound, even specifically for those times when we "pass through the waters" or "walk through fire."  Both sons and daughters are mentioned as well, "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."  Who, we might ask, is excluded from these promises?  No one.

(The following questions have been developed in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching as a way of getting at some of the fundamental concerns we have as Law and Gospel preachers.  These questions are meant to be used in conjunction with other fine sets of exegetical questions which unearth other insights.  For more on this method, see my book, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is all gospel.  First there is the declaration of what God has done in creating, forming, redeeming, naming, and claiming us.  Then come the promises of presence, protection, affection and redemption.  Nothing is left for us to do but sing the praises of God and glory in God's amazing power and love.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  At first glance there seems to be little hint of Law in this text.  Upon examining it further, however, we see the theme of captivity, undoubtedly having to do with Israel's release from Babylon.  There is talk of ransom payments, giving up people "in return for you, nations in exchange for your life."  There is talk of sons and daughters who are held far away and at the "end of the earth."  Though there is no word of accusation or condemnation it is clear that the people of God have been in bondage. This is a function of the Law.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those who have been in bondage.  We are those who have been living in the far country.  We are those who stand in desperate need of a redeemer, a champion, a protector, and a lover.  We are those who hear this good news.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the text functioning to invite us to live in a certain way in response to God's gracious work.  This function is not present here.  If we wish to include this as part of the sermon we will need to include other texts.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Looking at the bondage theme we might come up with a number of possibilities for couplets:  bound/free; overwhelmed by water/rescued; consumed by fire/protected from the fire; enslaved/ransomed; distant/homecoming.

6.  Exegetical work: Claus Westermann's classic commentary on Deutero-Isaiah offers several important insights into this "oracle of salvation", as he calls it.  He notes that the text is constructed in two parts (vss.1-4, 5ff.), which are parallels.  Each part is set off with the imperative "Fear not."  Westermann also notes something which is easily seen in translation, that this oracle of salvation is addressed to an individual (i.e. all the second person verbs are singular).  Westermann argues, however, that what is intended is that the nation of Israel be addressed "as a unit."  Finally, he states that the end of the first unit (vs. 4a) is "one of the most beautiful and profound statements of what the Bible means by 'election'." (The Old Testament Library, Isaiah 40-66, p. 114-119).  I love that.  What could be a better way to describe election than to say "You are precious in my sight,and honored, and I love you"?  This, of course, fits right into our understanding of baptism where God says, "You are mine.  You are a child of God."  What better to raise up on the Festival of the Baptism of our Lord?

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  There is no better day to heed the advice of Henry Mitchell and include celebration in the sermon design than on this day.  If this text isn't a cause to celebrate none is.

Blessings on your proclamation!

1 comment:

  1. How are you, Glenn? I enjoy reading your insights!
    your former Luther classmate, Elizabeth