Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 17, 2016)

Epiphany 2 – Series C (January 17, 2016)

“New Names” (Isaiah 62:1-5)

“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.”  In the original Hebrew, Forsaken is “Azubah,” Desolate is “Shamamah,” My Delight Is in Her is “Hephzibah,” and Married is “Beulah.”

Azubah.  Shamamah.  Hephzibah.  Beulah.  Those are some unusual names, names we don’t hear much anymore.  I doubt if you’ve heard anyone named by the first two, but perhaps you’ve heard of the last two.  Those remind me of names that a southern belle may have been called during the Civil War.

There is a small town named Hephzibah in Georgia.  Hepzibah Pyncheon is a chief character in the 1850 novel “The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  And while doing a bit of research, I learned that in the Marvel comic book series “The X-Men” there is an alien by the name of Hephzibah.

Some of you who have been on this earth for a while may remember a radio and later a TV show called “The Beulah Show” featuring an African American maid named Beulah.  There was also a famous gospel hymn written in the late 1800’s titled “Beulah Land” which refers to heaven.

Two of those names are used in improbable ways in the Bible.  The mother of good king Jehoshaphat was named “Azubah” … “Desolate” (1 Kings 22:42); while the mother of evil king Manasseh (if not the most evil of all the kings of Judah) is the one named “Hephzibah” … “My delight is in her” (2 Kings 21:1).  Doesn’t seem fair that those particular queen mothers received those specific names considering how each of their sons turned out.

Azubah … Forsaken.  This is what the people of Judah and Jerusalem would be known as.  Shamamah … Desolate.  This is what their land would be called.

Forsaken.  Desolate.  That’s quite a reputation.  In using these names, Isaiah is telling the people what would soon happen to them.  Because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord, they would be taken away into captivity.  In those days, since it was thought that the gods had control over certain lands and territories, it would appear as if the God of the Israelites had forsaken them.  They were no longer in their own land.  Not only that, their land would appear to be Desolate.  God had abandoned them.  Their homes were left empty.  Their fields and vineyards abandoned.  God’s House, the Temple, was destroyed.

            How would you like to be known by these names?  How would you like that to be your reputation?  Forsaken.  Desolate.  This is certainly what we deserve.  We deserve to be forsaken every time we forsake God’s commandments.  Like the Israelites, we commit spiritual adultery every time we flirt with the gods we set up in our life other than the Triune God … wealth, relationships, success, our job, sports, anything that we make to be more of a priority than our relationship to God.

Our life sometimes seems like a desolate wasteland.  We look for all kinds of things to fill our lives with love and joy.  Many of them leave us feeling empty.  They don’t last.  They don’t truly fulfill us.  Trouble and temptation overwhelm us.  We recognize the sin in our life, and we feel far away from God and his love.  Instead of a burning torch of salvation, we feel as if our heart is a smoldering wick, maybe already a pile of ashes.   

            The Lord promised restoration to his people, to bring them back from their captivity.  He kept that promise.  And his promised restoration pointed to the day when he would deliver the world from its captivity to sin in the death and resurrection of the Only-begotten Son of God.  Those new names apply to all who receive his forgiveness and salvation by faith.  

            Hephzibah … My Delight Is in Her.  Beulah … Married.  God joins himself to his people as a bridegroom marries his bride.  It’s a relationship of love, commitment, tender care, and sacrifice.  Jesus seeks you out in your forsakenness, your desolation.  He embodies divine love, in particular in the way in which he showed his love … by his willingness to die for you.  That’s love.  That’s commitment.  He wore a crown of thorns so that you are can wear a crown of beauty, a royal diadem.  The crown that you wear is the righteousness of Christ, the brightness of God’s love and saving grace for you.  The glory that is upon you is the glory of the cross, the glory of God’s forgiveness.

In Holy Baptism, you take the name of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church.  He is present with you.  The Holy Spirit fills you with the life and love of God.  The name of the Triune God is placed upon you and you are given the new name of “Christian.”  You become a member of the Church, the Bride of Christ.  And “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

It’s probably no coincidence that Jesus’ first recorded miracle took place at a wedding.  Among other things, this signifies his affirmation of marriage, and his blessing and presence in marriages.  And because his Church is his eternal Bride, it can also remind us of his presence for those of you who have lost your spouse, whether through death or divorce.  It can remind us of his presence for those of you who have never been married.

But there’s more to it.  This was not just a miracle for the sake of showing off.  It was not only to prove his deity … which it does of course.  John says that this was “the first of his signs.”  Jesus did miracles as signs.  They were meant to point to something of significance about himself.  And what was this “sign”?  He turned water into wine.  This is a sign that he is the promised Messiah.  The prophets foretold that there would be wine aplenty in the Messianic age:

·        On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Is. 25:6).

·       “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1).

·       “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:24).

·       “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord” (Joel 3:18).

In this world on this side of the veil, there are times when you will still feel like an Azubah … forsaken.  This is especially true for those who have been victims of abuse or adultery.  There are times when you may feel like a Shemamah … desolate.  This is especially true for those who are lonely, for those who have been the victims of unrequited love.  This may also be true even in good marriages.  Let’s face it.  Even the best of relationships go through times of difficulty.  When you put two sinners together, there’s going to be conflict.

Remember that in Christ Jesus, you have a new name.  Hephzibah … My Delight is in her.  God delights in you.  Beulah … Married.  As a member of the Holy Christian Church by baptism and by faith, you are a part of the Bride of Christ.  Remember what a mystery this is.  Not a mystery in the sense that we can’t figure out what it means.  A mystery in the sense that only God can reveal its meaning to us.  This is how he revealed it through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5:

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, for we are members of his body.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25-32).

Christ Jesus loves you.  He gave himself up for you.  You are made holy and cleansed.  You are a member of his body.  He holds fast to you.  He promises to never let you go.  Come to his table today where he nourishes you, not with water turned to wine, but bread and wine wherein he gives you his very own body and blood.  Celebrate today at this wedding feast, a foretaste of the feast to come where you will be presented to himself in splendor and glory … because just as at that feast in Cana, he has saved the best for last.


No comments: