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Isaiah 49:8-16

Meg Peery McLaughlin
May 30, 2021
Isaiah 49:8-16

Scripture:
Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,[a]
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights[b] shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.[c] 13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;

Sermon:
This week, out in the garden, I had the joy of baptizing Hall Hutchins
While I long to celebrate the sacrament when all of you can be in 3D as you make your baptismal vows to the children of this church, being outside does lend itself to water play.

When I poured the water, Hall’s little fingers went right for it.

I told him it was my prayer that he continued to play in the waters of baptism his whole life long.
To delight in the good news.

Of course Hall doesn’t fully understand it all now,
and that’s okay, he doesn’t need to be able to articulate God’s love
to be saved by it.

But once he’s able to read,
I do hope he’ll go back and hear this declaration of love from the prophet Isaiah.

God saying, I have answered, I have helped you; I have kept you as my people.
I will guide you to clean water, turn obstacles before you into a smooth road.

To those in prison, God says “Come out”

To those in the shadows, “Don’t Hide”

To those who are thirsty, “Drink”

To those who are displaced, “Welcome Home”

It is no wonder some scholars call Isaiah, “the Fifth Gospel,” for this is good news.

So good that the prophet tells us that even the mountains burst into song.
It is as if all of creation cannot contain the joy of knowing that God is Good,
and that to be God’s own is a remarkable gift.

Except, the celebration of God’s goodness is interrupted by God’s people:
‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’

What?! That doesn’t make any sense!

Was it that they didn’t hear what was just said.

Or perhaps they couldn’t hear it,
because their ears were only tuned to bad news.

These words were first heard by those in exile:
home as they knew it upturned
life as they hoped it disrupted
faith as they’d known it fractured

It’s no wonder that even swimming in this good news of who God is,
and how God promises to act, these people are drowning in grief.

For them, the news of God’s saving love is too good to be true,
or too hard to trust given the circumstances.

“The Lord has forgotten me,” they speak in the flat voice of sadness. As if it’s a done deal.

As Easter people,
we know that it’s risky to say anything is a done deal with God.

But God doesn’t dismiss their sad comment, but patiently responds with a haunting question:

Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Seems an odd rhetorical question for God to ask.
It seems unthinkable for a woman to forget any child, much less a helpless nursing one.
Our instinctual reaction is NO!,
and God says “Even these may forget.”

And if we stay with that awfulness for a moment, we know it to be honest.
Not all mothers are the kind that are your first call on a bad day.
Not all mothers are equipped, supported, stable enough for the job:
this week in New Jersey a 14 year old walked into a restaurant with her newly born daughter,
and placed that baby in a strangers arms, and turned around and walked out[i].

If I understand the text, what this scripture teaches us is
God has not, can not, will not forget us. It is a bond that cannot be broken.
We are always, always remembered.
For our very names are tattooed on the palm of God’s hand.
our names are inscribed in God’s very body.

One of the saints of the church where I was ordained is Stormy Shank.
By now she is, she can make you laugh on the spot
and can’t see past her nose, though that doesn’t stop her from singing in the choir.
When she doesn’t know the words, she just says “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon”.

And though she can make you smile, Stormy carries a heavy grief.

Gary Leslie Shank, Stormy’s 25 year old son, was a pilot in Vietnam.
His plane was shot down.

Gary’s name is inscribed in the stone of our nations’ capital.

Etched in on the Vietnam memorial—
that smooth surface
black as the night sky,
his name is on the 1 west Panel, line 59.

In the mid-eighties, soon after the Memorial was opened, someone told Stormy that they couldn’t find Gary’s name, that it wasn’t there.  While I was serving that church, two of our youth traveled to DC for their family vacation, they took some paper and some charcoal to the Wall and prepared a rubbing to bring Gary’s name back to Stormy.

When those two teenagers returned with their carefully rolled up rubbing, Stormy—still somewhat blinded by grief and nearly completely blinded by macular degeneration—Stormy held that name so close that charcoal dust smudged her wrinkled cheeks.

She needed to know that his name was there.

God says, I will not forget you, See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Perhaps what we need to know most is that God knows our name
and will never forget it.

Trusting that is what gives this church courage to do it’s work.
It’s why we partner with refugees,
equip teachers in Haiti,
and build Habitat houses for neighbors in Carrboro.

God says, I will not forget you, See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Trusting that is what propels the church to
send graduation cards to every senior,
reminding them that we know their name and bless them on their next steps.

And it’s what encouraged our endowment to fulfill a grant for UPC to make
new nametags for every friend of this church so that when we come back together this summer, we can call one another by name.

God says, I will not forget you, See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Behind the little boy playing in the water
was a banner
with a name spelled out in felt letters.
Hall.

A week earlier another one read Tucker.

This is what we do, church.

We learn each others names,
and remind each one who bears a name
of the good good news of the gospel,

that we could play and delight in it our whole lives long.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.

[i] https://www.newsweek.com/newborn-baby-new-jersey-el-patron-restaurant-1593549

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.