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    • Jan9Sun

      Do not fear, God has called you by name

      A sermon for Baptism of our Lord Sunday January 9, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
      Filed Under:
      Pr. Sebastian

      Last Saturday was an exciting day. 

      I had been in the office to do some last minute preparations for Sunday’s service, when I heard in the afternoon that someone who attended the English Christmas Eve service had tested positive for COVID-19. 

      At the same time it was becoming apparent that both Pastor Carey and I, as well as Deacon Scott, 

      were coming down with some cold-like symptoms, and would have to isolate. 

      Sunday service could just not happen as planned. 

      Furthermore, many of our assisting ministers had also been present at the Christmas services, and thus were potentially needing to isolate as well. Time was ticking for a decision to be made, 

      and various scenarios were quickly sketched out, 

      including getting other people to lead worship. 

      Finally, we determined the easiest way forward was for me to record the entire service on my phone that evening in the Sanctuary and upload it to the website. 

      There were simply too many complications and unknowns too late in the game to do it any other way. 

      And of course, the in-person worship would need to be scrapped and communication released as soon as possible, 

      including reaching out to some people by telephone who probably would have come, but did not have access to the internet or email. 

      In the end, it worked out quite well with perhaps the quickest COVID pivots for me yet. 

      I was very touched by the many messages of support and gratitude I received from people after the service. 

      You probably heard that my voice was struggling a bit, and yes, 

      I was worried that it might give out as I had a bit of a cough, 

      but I gave myself extra breaks to rest which were then edited out.

      In any case, Pastor Carey, Scott and I are doing much better, thank you. 

      Really it ended up being just a run-of-the-mill normal cold 

      (which we’ve had countless years in the downtime after Christmas), 

      but as this is Omicron season, 

      everything is so much more critical.

      So as I returned to work on Monday, 

      I was overjoyed to have a text from Isaiah which really fits for our Sunday here in the wilderness of Omicron-land.

      The prophet was writing his words of comfort in the mid-6th century BC 

      to a group of exiled people from Judah, held captive in Babylon. 

      Their time of captivity and exile was soon coming to a close, 

      and there was a promise of a return to Judah, their ancestral homeland, their place of normal, 

      where their forebears had lived for centuries.

      The words of comfort are from (V1) 

      The Lord who formed and created you,

      From God who knows us and loves us.

      The Creator who is intimately knowledgeable of our very being, 

      in ways even our parents could never be.

      The Lord says:

      >>DO NOT FEAR

      (V2) Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, 

      I have called you by name, you are mine.

      (V5) I am with you, and I will gather you up.

      What wonderful words of divine comfort!

      But these words of comfort are perhaps not the first ones 

      we turn to when the going gets tough.

      Where do we normally seek comfort?

      Probably we normally seek reassurance and support from

      our roles, from our work, or our peer group or family,

      Maybe we gain confidence and a sense of satisfaction and serenity 

      from our acquisitions and possessions, 

      that we have enough insurance, 

      or enough to eat, or maybe we rest on our laurels, our accomplishments, 

      Or we take comfort that we have astute political leaders, 

      or religious leaders.

      But all these sources of comfort and support will ultimately disappoint.

      Our family can let us down, 

      our religious leaders and political leaders will not live up to expectations, and our stuff can get stolen or lose value.

      Yet despite everything,

      No matter what, 

      no matter that the earthly things 

      we rely on in hard times disappoint us,

      Still God loves us, 

      and that is what really matters.

      In times like these, we need to be reminded of God’s comfort and love.

      We need to remind ourselves 

      that God knows our name.

      We are no longer just a slave, or a Judahite or an Ontarian,

      But John or Judy or Jackie.

      We all know this:

      if you can recognize someone’s face, 

      well that shows you know them a little bit, 

      but if you actually know their name, 

      well that means you really know them. 

      If you can put a name to the face, that shows real intimacy, 

      it means you have a personal relationship with that person.

      And the same goes for God. 

      God knows us by name, and so God knows us personally and intimately.


      God tells us in an intimate way:

      When you pass through the waters

      I will be with you,

      When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you,


      When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

      When you’re between a rock and a hard place

      It won’t be a dead end. (MSG)

      Water can both drown and give life,

      And if we think of the pandemic like a river; 

      Well we are passing through a very wide river right now, 

      we can barely see the other side, 

      kind of like the mighty St. Lawrence river near Rimouski,

      This pandemic just seems to be stretching on and on, 

      and as we cross it, 

      we thought we’d be over it and across by now, 

      many times over, 

      but yet, it just keeps on going.

      These rivers of hurt and pain and disappointment will be there in life,

      These scary rivers are part of living, there’s no going around them.

      But God’s promise is sure: the waters will not overwhelm us.

      We are hurting, feelingout of sorts, tired, afraid, 

      fed-up with this Omicron scourge, when

      We can’t do the normal things we would do to feel better,

      Go to the Gym, go to the movies, attend church, 

      get together with friends and family, 

      (I still haven’t seen my parents for Christmas yet.)

      These normal routines and activities that anchor our lives have been robbed from us again for the umpteenth time in these past 22 months.

      The speed of this latest wave has caught us all by surprise, the Omicron variant, by the time it was identified in South Africa, 

      was already basically here, 

      within a few weeks it had traveled half-way across the world.

      This is a pandemic river of angeras well: 

      Some wonder, what point was all this vaccination? 

      On the date we had to start showing a QR code to get into restaurants all the restaurants shut down. 

      People’s impatience is mounting, 

      as people are losing jobs, their businesses again and again, 

      and for many, Omicron is the last straw.


      How much longer? We cry out.

      Where can we find a grounding and a footing in this fast-raging river?

      Our selfish ways cannot do it alone.

      Even that sense of belonging from our communities, 

      who can disappoint us, is fading.

      But God, who doesn’t disappoint, reaches out his hand.

      We think we are forgotten, but really: we are known and loved, 

      by our God who formed and created us, who said:

      (V3) I AM the Lord your God —your personal God

      I Am the Holy one of Israel your Saviour  — your cosmic and community God

      (V4) You are precious in my sight, you are honoured, 

      and I love you.

      We are redeemed, and we long for a Return from our Pandemic Exile.

      We have tasted freedom in Fall 2021,

      with most buildings and events open to full capacity.

      So the present lockdown is all the more bitter, 

      it almost was a bit of a tease,

      to go from virtually life as normal, back to Step 2 again.

      We can be grateful that the St. Matthews building managed to stay open until the Christmas Eve service this year, although that ended up having accompanying risks, 

      as we found out late last week.

      As a church community, 

      we’ve been scattered since the last time we were all together in early March 2020.

      We’ve all grown older and wiser and perhaps a little weaker, 

      some of our loved ones and friends have died in the meantime.

      So when we hear these words of comfort from Isaiah, 

      we naturally cry out: 

      How? How can this be?

      How will these pandemic waters not overwhelm us?

      Perhaps some of us might turn to Psalm 23 where we repeat: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil”

      We know or we imagine that God won’t create a miracle to lift us immediately out of this mess, 

      and vanquish the unseen foe, this minuscule virus, 

      although many might believe the vaccines to be a miracle of medicine, 

      and their efficacy has so far been quite miraculous 

      in reducing risk of severe disease and death.

      Perhaps God’s comfort rescues us from the worst of the pandemic by calming our nerves, helping us to stay sane, stay patient,

      To put things into cosmic and eternal perspective,

      To cause us to reduce our worry,

      to help us manage our expectations,

      And to remind ourselves to breathe.

      So much of the pandemic horrors have to do with psychological and spiritual forces of despair, 

      and this is precisely where we need God in our lives, 

      this God who knows us by name, 

      who is there when we’re in over our heads,

      This God who says to us; “you are precious in my sight. You are honoured, and I love you”.

      And on this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, 

      we remember our own baptism,

      When we became sons and daughters, children of God,

      When we were first called Christian, by the name of Christ.

      We are God’s holy adopted ones, called by name,

      With a Cross on our forehead reminding us whose we are.

      sons and daughters of the most High.

      Our baptism reminds us of God’s comfort and love,

      Our baptismal identity grounds us in eternal truths.

      In baptism God puts God’s name and Jesus’ name on us,

      And calls us by name.

      I’d like to conclude this sermon with a guided meditative prayer.

      I’ve done this a few times during the pandemic

      I’d like you to put your hand on your belly and notice your breath expanding your belly as you breathe in and then your hand moving towards your spine as you breathe out.

      Join me and Breathe in

      And then breathe out.

      Now breathe in with God’s words to you:

      Do not fear, 

      Breathe out

      for I have redeemed you;

      Breathe in

      I have called you by name, 

      Breathe out:

      you are mine.

      One more time, listen to God’s words to you.

      Breathe in

      Do not fear, 

      Breathe out

      for I have redeemed you;

      Breathe in

      I have called you by name, 

      Breathe out:

      you are mine.

      One last time:

      Breathe in

      Do not fear, 

      Breathe out

      for I have redeemed you;

      Breathe in

      I have called you by name, 

      Breathe out:

      you are mine. 


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