Some scripture passages stick with you: your confirmation verse, the Christmas story, Psalm 23. This Old Testament lesson sticks with me because it was the text for Daniel’s funeral.
Daniel died a week before he was to go off to college; after a night of partying, he drove too fast and wrapped his car around a tree. His dad chose this passage because it was Dan’s confirmation passage, but also because of this phrase:
“when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you,” for Daniel was to be cremated. I was asked to preach the sermon at the funeral.
Daniel’s parents were friends of ours, but I had known Daniel only as a teenager and he pretty much did his own thing when our families were together. I could really only remember one story about Daniel, about a time when Dan and his family were on vacation in Vermont. Dan was about 13, and like most 13 year olds, thought he was pretty self sufficient. One afternoon Dan decided to take a hike around the lake, but didn’t tell anyone where he was going. After awhile, everyone began to wonder where Dan was. They figured he would turn up shortly, but as the day stretched on, they began to worry. They all began searching for him, calling out his name—Daniel! Daniel! It was getting a little scary. Where was he? Was he injured out there in the woods? Had he got lost and couldn’t find his way home? Just when they were about to call the police, here came Daniel, walking up the driveway, wondering why everyone
was looking so upset.
This passage in Isaiah 43 is a response for when your worst fear becomes reality.
These words come from the time in the history of the people of Israel when their world had ended. Their country had been conquered by the enemy, their land overrun.
They had been forced to leave their homes and live in land hundreds of miles away,
refugees with nothing more than what they could carry. But most painful of all, the people of Israel had lost their identity. Their identity had been built on being the children of God. God had given them the land of Canaan; but now their land had been stripped away. God had lived in their temple in Jerusalem; now that temple was destroyed. God had favored them and cared for them and forgiven them so many times and now it seemed that God had completely abandoned them and they were all alone. It was their worst fear come true.
But into this worst case scenario, God proclaimed these words:
“I have called you by name; I have redeemed you; I will be with you; you are mine.”
God had not forgotten them. Instead God claimed them, called them by name.
Despite their failures, God never stopped seeing them as beloved children.
Their treasured identity was still intact. These words, however, are not a magic wand.
When I read them at Dan’s funeral they'd not take the suffering away or protect from future hardship. But they were a sign of what I have come to call “The Big OK”:
that while our current circumstances shift and there is plenty that is clearly not ‘ok’
nonetheless, with God our ultimate welfare is absolutely certain.
In this larger view presented by Isaiah, we see that God’s love is stronger than our pain, and God’s redemption reaches even into our most forsaken places. God is with us and will bring us through, intact and whole, in the end. On that day when Dan wandered in from his hike around the lake in Vermont, everyone else was in turmoil, but he was perfectly fine. In the wake of his death, it was not so different. Though we were
lost, worried, and broken hearted, in the biggest picture, Daniel was fine.
He was in God’s care, where no harm could touch him.
The Big OK matters not only in our most dire hour, but also day to day.
We spend a lot of mental and emotional energy on what might happen.
Our fears dictate from the background where we head and what we take on. But God clearly says, “Do NOT fear,” If God can say this to people for whom the worst HAS happened than God also says it to us when we are just worrying about what MIGHT happen. This passage puts us on the path to move forward with a much larger perspective because our anxiety hasn’t already narrowed the field of possibility.
So whether the worst has happened, or you are just wondering if the worst can happen, do not fear. Pray this passage from Isaiah and reorient your thinking. When you walk though the fire you shall not be burned.In the Big OK, everything will be all right.
We are God’s beloved, and nothing else matters. Nothing can take that away.
In a few minutes we will have the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows.
It’s a version of the liturgy used for confirmation, called Affirmation of Baptism in our hymnals. It is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the Big Picture that no matter what befalls us in life, that our identity is sure. We are God’s beloved children,
sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. That’s what matters. May we live today in courage and confidence, knowing that God’s promises are sure and that indeed everything will be ok.