Homily for Proper 8, Year A, 2011
Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 49:8-16a
“See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands.”
Sometimes it can be hard to believe. Each of us will have moments in which we feel our faith wavering, or even more poignantly, moments when we find ourselves wondering if we believe anything at all. Sometimes, when I encounter other Christians, those filled with such zeal and passion, those who have a Bible verse at the ready for every little problem life throws at them, those who speak of all the exciting wonders God is working in their lives on a daily basis, I take a long, hard look at myself and I ask myself if I really do have any faith at all. In times like this is can be helpful to do a little storytelling, to look back on times when I have felt moved, when I have felt close to God, but even then, sometimes the distance we feel from God can be discouraging. Whether that distance comes from comparing ourselves with others who seem to have caught that holy flame, or whether it comes because we are experiencing other sorts of crises, such as a chronic or terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the breakdown of a family, the feeling of being distant from God can be deeply discouraging.
I suspect that this feeling is one of the reasons God appoints prophets, for one of the things that prophets do is to speak into the vacuum of the seeming absence of God in our lives. Prophets proclaim to a people for whom hope has slipped away that hope may again be restored, the fires of faith again rekindled, and that joy shall return. We often hear talk of prophets speaking about the injustices of the world, and we hear talk about prophets calling sinners to repentance, but there is also a powerful strain of the prophetic tradition in which the prophet proclaims the faithfulness of God when we so profoundly feel God’s absence.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed to his people that God was drawing them out of captivity and restoring them, but they could not see it. They had lived in darkness for so long that they could not catch a glimpse of the light. He called them to sing for joy and to exult, but there was no joy in their hearts. They told Isaiah, “The Lord has forsaken us! Our Lord has forgotten us!” To which Isaiah responded with this powerful metaphor, “Can a woman forget her nursing child; and show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” God loves his people as much as a nursing mother loves her child, and yet, even if that image was not powerful enough, believe this, he says, I have inscribed you upon my hand.
God has imprinted his people upon his hand. What wonderful words of comfort we find in these words, for though it may seem to me that I have somehow lost the imprint of God on my being, I can be assured that my being is imprinted upon God. The prophet Isaiah proclaims this profound truth to a discouraged people. To a people who believed that they had been forsaken by God, who knew captivity at the hands of foreign rulers, who had searched and searched and could not find God anywhere in their situation, the prophet proclaimed that God had imprinted them upon his hand – a powerful symbol that God’s people would never be without the blessing of his touch, that they would always be held firmly in his hand. Thus, when they felt most alone, when their faith failed, God’s faith did not. He loved them so much that he imprinted them upon himself that his people might ever be close to him.
These are words of great hope, then, for you and for me. Oh, how weak and fragile is my faith. How little strength I have in and of myself to keep the faith, much less follow Jesus and proclaim him. But oh, what a gracious and loving God we worship whose faith in us strengthens us beyond any faith you or I could manufacture on our own! What a hope we have when hope seems distant, because the hope we lay hold to is not a hope we dream but a hope God dreams! What joy we touch in that hope because it is not a joy we can muster but a joy that overflows from the heart of God for his creation and for his people!
Difficult as it may be to believe at times, the prophet proclaims that God has not left his people. The time would come again when another generation would feel discouraged, feel abandoned, feel the absence of God; and into their presence as child was born. A rabbi would later gather disciples around him and proclaim the same truth of God’s love for his people. If God cares for the sparrow that falls from the sky, or clothes the grass of the field which is alive today and gone tomorrow, how much more he cares for his people in their sadness and loneliness. These words brought comfort, these words proclaimed the presence of God, but what the disciples would later understand was that the one who spoke these words of comfort was none other than their God in their very midst.
When I forget the baptismal cross that is signed upon my forehead that marks me as Christ’s own forever, God does not forget it, for God has imprinted us, even with all our brokenness and doubt upon himself, upon his own very being, in the crucified Christ, that through him we might be grafted into his divine nature. When the world encloses us round and we lose sight of a distant God, God makes the journey across the chasm that separates us and imprints humanity upon himself that we might share in his faithfulness: that his faith should be our faith, that his hope should be our hope, and his joy might be our joy. This faith, this hope, this joy, are the marks of his love. And it is to this divine love that I cling when I find that human faith, hope and joy are beyond my ability to muster.
c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves