The text for our
reflection is from the prophet Isaiah, the 43rd chapter, verses one
now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the Lord your
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
was epiphany, that season when we observe and remember the story of the
Magi coming from the east to bring their treasures to the Christ
child. Whereas I didn't see any Magi from the east here in Eugene
yesterday, we did have Kings of basketball from the south, of whom the
virgin Mary, I am convinced, said: 'He has brought down the
powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly'. And so the
mighty [UCLA] Bruins have fallen, and the lowly Ducks have been raised
You might say that
was an epiphany experience for those fortunate fans at McArthur Court,
the light of God shone on them.
now we come to the Sunday after epiphany. The time on the church
calendar when we are invited to recall the baptism of Jesus, when the
voice from the heavens proclaimed "You are my beloved Son, with you
I am pleased". And we here a very similar proclamation from
the prophet here, known as second Isaiah, who says not just to one
special son but to an entire chosen nation "You are precious in my
sight and honored and I love you".
The reason the
baptism of Jesus is on the calendar every year on this Sunday is not to
remind us of Jesus' baptism, but to remind us of our own. That we
are baptized with Christ, and therefore, are also beloved of God.
Baptism is that
ritual of the community of faith which acknowledges that we have been
called forth by name, by the one who created us, who formed us, and who
says to us 'You are precious in my sight, and I love you'.
We need to be
reminded of that, because sometimes it's difficult to hear.
Sometimes it's hard to believe. Sometimes we are so rotten we
don't believe we deserve that love. And sometimes life is so
rotten we don't believe that God cares. And it is precisely in
such a time that 2nd Isaiah brings this message of hope to God's people
when the people were in exile. Metaphorically if not literally
scattered to the four corners of the earth. And he says 'Now the
time has come that God will gather you up'. And they had given up
hope of ever returning home. And the prophet is very blunt -- he
says, listen, you have no one else to blame. You did this to
yourself. In the immediate preceding passage, we read:
gave up Jacob to the spoiler and Israel to the robbers? Was it
not the Lord against whom we have sinned? In who's ways they
would not walk, in who's law they would not obey. So he poured
upon him [referring to Jacob or
Israel the nation] the
heat of his anger and the fury of war.
And then, the prophet
says, 'but now, says the Lord, who created you, who formed you, do not
fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine,
you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you'.
God's love for Israel
is not because of how good they were, it's in spite of how good they
weren't. The reason that we can all have hope, and why this text
that is spoken in a very specific context to a specific people at a
specific time also applies to us, is that it is a message of God's
all-encompassing, unconditional love that applies to all.
And if God can love
an entire nation, then God can love the world. And if God can love
the world, then God can love us. This is God's confession, spoken
to us. 'You are precious in my sight, and I love you.'
What does it mean to
know that kind of love? I want to illustrate this with a story
that I have kept in my files for over 20 years, have never quite found
the right time to share it. And maybe also because I was a little embarrassed
to share it, it seems like a children's story. Though, a little
heavy for children. I think you will find in it, something with
which or whom you can identify. A pain that you carry, or an
emotion that you have known.
And I'm also reminded
that stories are the way that Jesus conveyed the gospel. So I hope
this is a story in which you can also hear the gospel.
It is entitled
"The Porcupine Who's Name Didn't Matter", the author is Martin
Bell, and this comes from the book "The Way of the Wolf":
upon a time there was a cautious Porcupine name Joggi. Joggi lived with the mystery of his own life, much as any other porcupine,
but he was exceedingly cautious. Joggi lived and loved, laughed
and cried tentatively. One might say that anger, frustration,
and tenderness had been so delicately woven into the fabric of his
person as to make it difficult for us to perceive.
was cautious in the face of the mystery of life. So cautious, in
fact, that almost nobody knew his name. Most of the animals in
the forest who had seen the near-sighted porcupine moving slowly
about, poking his pointed black nose into the vegetation, bristling
and puffing, squinting and stumbling. Few had spoken to him.
and then, someone would say hello and attempt to strike up a
conversation. It never really led to anything. When asked
what his name was, he would answer: "It doesn't
matter. It doesn't matter what my name is, can't you see, what
difference does it make? It doesn't matter". More
often than not, that would be the end of the conversation.
could not embrace another, he would not tell anyone his name.
And the result was almost always the same -- the other animals avoided
him. With one exception, this was Gamiel, the raccoon. It
did not bother him when the prickly little porcupine was silent for
hours at a time. And he never even thought to ask about Joggi's
name. Gamiel could remember very little before the accident, and
much of what had happened since was blurred somewhere in the recesses
of his brain, all but lost to memory.
are generally alert and resourceful creatures with keen perceptions
and excellent memories. But all of this had changed. There
had been a flash of light and then something hard ripped into the side
of his head. His whole body convulsed with pain, white-hot,
thrashing, 'God-when-will-it-stop' pain, that pitched him bleeding
from the tree into the under-bush. Screaming pain that shrieked
behind his eyes the one and only word of hope he knew, and then as
suddenly as it had come, it was gone.
changed. He did not even look like a raccoon. The whole
left side of his head was missing, he could barely pull himself along
with his right front leg. Gamiel had only to look at himself in
the forest pond to realize why everyone hurried past when he called
out to them. Except, ever since the accident, Gamiel had been
found Gamiel about 2 days after the pain had stopped, and
approximately 3 hours after the raccoon had given up all hope.
"Is someone there?", Gamiel whispered. At first, Joggi
didn't say anything, the near-sighted porcupine moved closer.
"You are a raccoon", he said out loud. "Oh yes,
indeed I am", Gamiel stuttered. "Only I think
something awful has happened to me. I cannot see anything at
all, and I can barely move. Please tell me what has
happened to me. Am I going to die? Why won't anyone stop
when I cry out? Why can't I see? Please, I'm afraid".
in Gamiel's searching, empty, sightless eyes, tears began to
form. Joggi sniffed and said to himself: answer him.
Don't just stand there with your spines bristling and your heart
pounding, answer him. Joggi spoke with a steady and quiet
voice: "I believe you have been shocked. I cannot be
certain, of course, but that is my opinion. Are you in a great
deal of pain?" "No, at first there was pain, but I
can't feel anything now. In fact, my whole left side is
numb. No, no more pain. Just, well, nothing".
was silent. His tiny body shivering, breathing labored, short,
difficult breaths. Gamiel spoke in a hoarse voice:
"Are you still there?". Joggi's heart beat
faster. "Yes, I'm here. I was just wondering what to
do now?". "Oh, you don't have to do anything.
Honestly, I mean that, you don't have to do anything at all.
Just stay with me for a little while. Just stay there.
Just don't go away. Please. I'm afraid. You won't go
away, will you?" Joggi swallowed hard. "No, no I
won't go away". "Thank you", Gamiel said
quietly. And then the wounded raccoon fell asleep.
stood beside Gamiel all that day. Then when evening came, a cool
breeze made his spines whistle slightly, the sound woke the
raccoon. "Are you there?". "Yes, I told you
I wouldn't go away". "I'm hungry". "I
thought you might be", Joggi replied. "Can you move at
all?". Gamiel stretched his right leg forward and pulled
himself along the ground. "Good for you", said Joggi,
"that will do nicely. I can bring you food, but you will
need to maneuver for yourself in order to get water. I believe
you have enough strength to reach the pond, it isn't very far, and I
can guide you directly to it. Come on, let's see how it
was how it began. An unusual partnership perhaps, certainly the
rest of the animals in the forest were surprised to see the pair of
them moving slowly about, managing to live from one day to the next
without really doing much of anything. Occasionally Joggi would
describe something for Gamiel, or answer a question, or direct the
crippled raccoon toward a tasty morsel of food. Gamiel, for his
part, chattered happily, basked in the sun, and generally enjoyed his
made a home for one another, Joggi and Gamiel. Not a regular
home, exactly, not a place. More like a shelter from the
excessive pain that each of them had known. A coming together of
two lonely and frightened creatures. A bond of trust that asked
no questions, expected nothing at all except the merciful being
together that made waking up tomorrow possible.
was with Gamiel for one full year before the injured raccoon finally
died. It was a quiet event, almost a surprise, but that Joggi had been expecting for so long.
Gamiel's strength just finally
gave out. "You know, I've been expecting this for quite
some time now", Joggi said to the raccoon, who lay their on the
ground no longer able to hear. "I'm surprised that you
managed to stay alive as long as you did. I knew the day that I
found you that it couldn't last, and yet, well, I hoped it might have
been a little longer. Do you know what I mean? You see, I
never knew anybody very well before. Not that we ever talked
much, or anything like that, but I felt like I knew you anyway, even
without talking. I have a really hard time talking to anybody,
or getting to know anybody. And nobody ever wants to get very
close to me because of all these spines that I have sticking out of
me. I don't suppose that you ever knew that I had spines
sticking out all over me, did you? They're sort of like needles,
and they're sharp. I guess they scare everybody a bit. I
hope you don't mind my talking so much."
really don't know why I'm talking to you now. I really suppose
it's just that I had a little more to tell you before you died.
I have been wanting to say this for almost a year and never quite
found the right time to do it. It's too late now, I realize, but
I've been wanting to tell you that it has been an honor to meet you,
and that you indeed are a very handsome raccoon. And that I
would like to consider you my friend.".
porcupine cleared his throat. Tears dropped onto his nose.
'Tell him', he said to himself, don't just stand there with your
spines bristling and your heart pounding, tell him. "Oh,
and by the way, I'd like to tell you what my name is. It's a
funny name, I suppose, but I'd like you to know what it is. It's
another word, the tiny porcupine turned away from Gamiel's lifeless
body, and began to cry.
But now says the
Lord, who created you, who formed you, "Do not fear, for I have
redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through
the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through
the fire, you shall not be burned. And the flames will not
consume. For I am the Lord your God. You are precious in my
sight, and honored. And I love you".