Sunday, January 11, 2004

Isaiah 43:1-7 - “Fear Not Lutheran Church”

First Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C - LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, January 10, and Sunday, January 11, 2004

I propose changing the name of this congregation. I think we should call it Fear Not Lutheran Church. I even designed a Website to help explain our new name. You’ve got a copy of the Website in your bulletins today. We’ve just to got to make a few last minute additions to it, but then we’ll be able to tell everyone why our congregation is now called Fear Not Lutheran Church.

You see, it is inspired by our Old Testament reading for today from Isaiah chapter 43. In verse one, the Lord says, “Fear not!” In verse 5, the Lord says, “Do not be afraid!” Really it is the same words there, “Fear not!” The Lord is telling us there is nothing to be afraid of, and I think that would be a wonderful thing to remember every time we said the name of our church.

Someone might ask, “Where do you go to church?” “Well,” you say, “I go to Fear Not Lutheran Church.” They would say, “Well, gee, I sure wouldn’t be afraid to check out your church. Tell me about it!”

Or someone asks you, “Aren’t you afraid of death?” And you say, “No, I’m not. In fact, that’s why we named our church Fear Not Lutheran Church, because we know that we don’t have to be afraid of death.” And then they say, “Why? Why aren’t you afraid of death?” And because of that question, that’s why we need to finish our Website today.

Isaiah chapter 43 gives us all of these different reasons why we don’t have to be afraid of death, why we don’t have to afraid of God. The first reason is in verse 1, “Fear not! For I have redeemed you.” That should be the first reason on our Website. Put that in the blanks there. REDEEMED. There is no need to fear God, because He has REDEEMED you. God paid the price to free you from slavery, slavery to sin. The idea of a redeemer is one who pays the price of a slave not to buy the slave but to set the slave free. We were slaves to sin, death, and the devil. Sin held us in its chains, and there was no way we could free ourselves. We couldn’t pick the lock, couldn’t run past the guard, couldn’t talk our way out of it. We were stuck as slaves.

But God came as our redeemer. God came to pay the price to set us free. How much did it cost Him? It cost Him the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ. It cost the innocent and precious blood of Jesus. But through that blood, through that death, you have been given freedom. You won’t be held by chains. You won’t suffer under an evil master. You won’t die in some dark corner. You have been freed. You’ll have eternal life in a great big beautiful land of God. God has redeemed you, because He regarded you, He paid special attention to you, He singled you for particular attention. God has paid attention to you, given you freedom in Jesus Christ.

Fear not! For you have been redeemed, set free, given the promise of eternal life. Fear Not Lutheran Church sounds just about right, because it sure sounds good to me to know that I am free, truly free.

The Lord doesn’t stop there. He gives us 3 more reasons for saying that we don’t need to be afraid. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Do not be afraid, Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” The second reason why we don’t have to be afraid, the second reason to call our church Fear Not Lutheran Church, the second reason on our Webpage is REGATHERED. There is no need to fear God, because He has REGATHERED you.

We were scattered in the world, following after many different ideas, chasing after wild goose dreams, being led by false gods and false teachers and false hopes, and now God has said that He will bring us all back, He will regather us, He will gather us again. From the four corners of the Earth, from the four winds, He will bring us back into His kingdom. We might have been lost in the kingdoms of this world, but God will bring us back together. He wants us to be His people again.

As sinners, we were lost, but we have been brought back together in Jesus Christ. Our worship services mimic this great event. We gather here, coming from different directions, regathered in this place around God. God brings us together, so that we know His hope and love and victory.

Fear not! Even if you have been lost in the world, even if you have wandered off on your own, even if you’ve felt separated from God, do not be afraid. God is here to bring you back into the walls of His love and protection, back into His Kingdom. Fear Not Lutheran Church sounds just about right, because it sure sounds good to me to know that God has brought us back into His Kingdom.

And the regathered people of God will be RENAMED. In verse 7, the Lord says, “Everyone who is called by My Name.” So the third reason for being called Fear Not Lutheran Church is that we are RENAMED. This is no need to fear God, because He has RENAMED you. God has given you a new name, His own Name.

God’s personal name is Yahweh. You can see the spelling there on the Webpage in the RENAMED section. Yahweh is the Name that God revealed to Moses. Moses asked, “Who should I say sent me?” And God said, “Yahweh,” in Hebrew, which roughly translates to “I am who I am.” That’s God’s personal name, a sacred Name, a holy Name, a Name we can use because we are the redeemed children of God, a Name that God gave us to use to show our personal connection to Him. And now it isn’t just a Name for God. God gives the Name to us. God calls you by His Name.

You have a new last Name; it is Yahweh. When you were baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you were given the Name of God. So, now, you are Tom Yahweh, Becky Yahweh, Tyler Yahweh, Alissa Yahweh. God has given you His Name to show that you are part of His family. You have all of the privileges of a child of God, the Creator of the Universe. You have all of the promised inheritance—eternal life, peace, joy, love. Welcome to the Family! You’ve been RENAMED, and like we just said, you’ve been REGATHERED. So indeed, this is one big family reunion, the family of God, gathered again to hear our Father’s promise of love.

Fear not! Even if you feel like your name has been dragged through the mud, even if you’re not proud of your heritage, even if you feel like you’ll never be accepted, fear not! God calls you by His own Name. Fear Not Lutheran Church sounds just about right, because it sure sounds good to me to know that God has given me His Name so that I can be in His family.

Finally, our Webpage lists one more reason why we don’t have to be afraid of God. Fear not! You are RECREATED. There is no need to fear God, because He has RECREATED you. Our reading from Isaiah concludes with God saying that He has done all of this for those whom He created for His glory, whom He formed and made. Created, formed, and made. You might be thinking of Genesis, the Creation of the world, when God made the first man and woman, and rightly so, because that’s when God created, formed, made people, His special Creation. But there’s more going on in this passage from Isaiah than just looking back at Genesis.

If it was just about Genesis, we’d just be talking about you being born, coming out of the womb, but you’re not the same person you were when you were born. We’ve been seeing all of the ways that God has changed you. You are redeemed, set free. You are regathered, brought back into God’s Kingdom. You are renamed, given God’s own name. And now you are recreated, created, formed, made new. Created—to produce a new thing. Formed—to shape what has been produced. Made perfect—to make complete.

God has given you a new life through faith in Jesus Christ. He created, produced a new faith in your heart. He formed, shaped that faith into a true faith. He made perfect, completed what you needed to receive eternal life, made you perfect in His sight through Jesus Christ.

Once you were dead to God, dead in your sins. As one scholar said, you were like Israel who had fallen away during Isaiah’s time; they were Israel in name only, they weren’t living as God’s people, and so really they weren’t Israel at all. They were dead.

But God recreated Israel, recreated them, made them new again, so that they could be Israel in deed and truth, so that they could live as God’s children again, renamed,// so that they could be back in God’s kingdom, regathered,// so that they could be set free from their sins, redeemed. And this is true for you too! Once you were dead, but now you have been recreated through Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Romans 6 today, in your baptism, you were buried with Christ, your sinful nature was put to death, but in Christ, you have been given new life, you will be raised to life. In your baptism, God has recreated you, created, formed, made someone who is new and holy in God’s eyes.

Fear not! For you have been recreated. God has produced a new faith in you, shaped that faith, made it complete. Fear Not Lutheran Church sounds just about right, because it sure sounds good to me to know that God has made me new.

But you know, you look at this passage, and it all comes back to being redeemed. That’s the first reason God the Father says here in Isaiah, “Fear not! For I have redeemed you.” While He goes on to say that we have been regathered, renamed, and recreated, that idea of being redeemed is so central to understanding our relationship with God. It is just so amazing—God paid the price to free us from slavery, even though that meant dying on the cross.

Listen to this quote from Carl Rudolf Reichel, a theologian writing about Isaiah 43 verse 1,

We cannot comprehend what an inexhaustible depth this [phrase] (I have redeemed [you]) contains within itself. . . . Redemption, redemption, redemption, that should be our creed, our theology, our distinctive character, our daily song of praise, our secret wisdom, our pearl of great price, our invaluable jewel, our one and all. . . . May we know nothing but the wounds which have redeemed us; may we look at nothing, but the blood which has saved us. May I think of nothing else, see nothing, feel, hear, honor nothing else than [Your] love and [You, Lord].”+

He’s right, you know. Redemption, redemption, redemption. That is what makes Christianity different from all of the other religions. Redemption is central to our theology, our understanding of Jesus, the cross, our salvation. We don’t have to be afraid of judgment, because we have been freed by Jesus. Freedom in Christ, that is salvation, and that comes through the Redeemer.

Well, maybe you’re already guessing what I’m going to say, that Redeemer Lutheran Church isn’t such a bad name after all. Those who came together to form this congregation must have understood what Reichel the theologian said, “Redemption. Redemption. Redemption.” Jesus paid the cost with His own blood, so that we could be freed from sin, death, and judgment.

We don’t need to change the name of our congregation. The name Fear Not Lutheran Church would remind us that we don’t have to be afraid, but our name, Redeemer Lutheran Church, reminds us of the reason why we don’t have to be afraid: for I have redeemed you, the Lord said. Jesus is our Redeemer. The name of this congregation points to this Good News, this comforting message, this message of hope, this great announcement: you have freedom in Christ.

So while we really won’t change our name to Fear Not Lutheran Church, I want you to remember that name. When you tell people that you go to Redeemer Lutheran Church, when you see the name of the church on a letter in the mail, when you see the sign out front, remember that because Jesus is your Redeemer that you do not have to be afraid. Fear not! Jesus has redeemed you.

As a reminder, take your copy of the Fear Not Lutheran Church Webpage home with you. Check it out on the Internet. It’s really there. You’ve got the address at the top of the handout, Fear Not Lutheran Church. Use it as a reminder that when we say, Redeemer, we’re saying that we’re not afraid of death, we’re not afraid of God, because Jesus has freed us and given us the promise of eternal life. Fear not! For you have been redeemed.

+ Carl Rudolf Reichel, Der Prophet Jesaias, as quoted in Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. III, p. 140.