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But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, 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 fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3a).
Cheri, Scott, Brendon, Cyndi, and other members of Pat’s family, her friends, and Our Saviour’s congregation:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
When I speak at a funeral service, there are often younger people, and maybe some not so young, who are trying to find the place for religion in their lives. They’re asking themselves, “Does this mean anything to me? Is this just something my parents cared about?”
But then, at some point, everybody faces something he or she can’t handle, something that scares us. Maybe it’s the biggest stress we’ve yet faced in this life, maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis of a dangerous disease, or maybe it’s the eventual realization that we have to face the end of this life. And suddenly we wish there could be some place to turn—or Someone to turn to—outside ourselves.
Then maybe those who’ve gone before can teach us something after all—like how they dealt with those fears themselves. Turning to their example we see that as they learned and grew, their faith became absolutely foundational.
Pat, I think, is one of those people from whom we can learn. We can learn from Pat because she knew where her Christian faith fit into all this. She knew she could face fears because her Redeemer promised to deliver her from them all. In Pat, God illustrated His assurance that we need not fear.
Our text begins, “But now thus says the Lord.” This is important. There are many philosophies, ideas, and different ways to live life out there in the world. There are many ways to handle fear. You can be crippled by it. You can try to act as if no problem exists. You can try to face it on your own strength. Or you can turn to the Lord. As Christians, we want to know what the Lord says, so when we hear, “But now thus says the Lord,” we listen, we turn to the Lord.
Isaiah continues, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel” That’s how Hebrew poetry works: say something, and then say it over again with a little twist for emphasis. In this passage, God says: “I have created you,” but then adds, “I have formed you.” That’s a closer relationship. “I didn’t just bring about some great cosmic force that ultimately produced you,” God is saying. “No, I ‘formed’ you. Like a potter with a piece of clay, I have lovingly and skillfully molded you and shaped you to be who you are. From the time of your conception, while you were yet in the womb, I have been actively involved in your life.”
Then come two great words that are the theme of our text: “Fear not.” Literally, “Stop being afraid.” The same thing the angel said to the shepherds at Christ’s birth and to the women on Easter morning. Fear not. That’s what God tells us through Isaiah; and then He tells us why: “For I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”
Life is full of fears. Pat went through most of them. Growing up—that’s terrifying for everybody, isn’t it? We each struggle to find our own identity. We wonder what our life will be like, where we’ll work, if we’ll ever get married and have a family. When we do tie the knot, there’s the fear and tough business of making it work, facing the fears and worries every couple experiences: finding jobs, making a home, planning for the future. And when it doesn’t work out as we expect, there are the worries of what to do now, how to carry on and begin anew.
With children in the equation, there’s a whole host of new fears! There’s worry about paying the bills, keeping the kids fed and healthy, about the friends they hang around with, and the choices they’ll make as they establish their own way in the world. In addition to juggling family responsibilities and a job at the Pipestone County Star, Pat somehow still found time for also serving her church and being actively involved in the Pipestone community.
After her children were grown, Pat entered a new phase of her life. It had to be scary as Pat moved away from Pipestone and began a career in economic development in Northfield, MN. But she was up to the challenge and advanced as new opportunities arose in Manchester, Iowa and Granite Falls, Minnesota. Then she returned to Pipestone in retirement—a move Pat called “the best thing she ever did.” And God opened the doors to new adventures and challenges.
Finally, in life, Pat, like each of us, had to deal with her own shortcomings, her own insecurities, her own sinfulness, her health issues, and ultimately, her own mortality. And that can make any of us afraid, too.
No doubt, there were times when Pat was scared. But she heard the Lord say, “Fear not. I not only made you, but I was born that I would experience everything that you can experience. I understand. Don’t be afraid. I redeemed you on the cross when I took all your sins upon Myself. I want you to look at that cross and know that every bit of punishment due you ended right there. I redeemed you, and in the resurrection of Jesus you know that even the last enemy—death—has been defeated in Me. Fear not.”
As the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He also said to Pat: “I have summoned you by name.” That happened many years ago when the pastor put water on Pat’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, God said, “Pat, you are My child. You are Mine. I called you by My name. No one shall ever pluck you from My hand.”
And to make sure Pat stayed in His flock, the Lord fed her regularly in the worship service with His life-giving Word and His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith.
Our text from Isaiah goes on: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” The first word there is interesting. Maybe we think God should say “if.” If you pass through the waters.” If hard times come.
But the text does not say “if”; it says “when.” We have somehow taken it for granted that there ought to be a way to get through life without difficulties—some medical breakthrough, some fitness program, some perfect planning will help us avoid trials and troubles. But the Bible says, “No. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” In this fallen world we can expect, we must expect difficulties, troubles, and trials to come. Because of sin, such things are inevitable.
Even so, the Lord promises, “The rivers… shall not overwhelm you.” Oh yes, they will bother you; they will try you; they may make you want to give up. But fear not. I will be with you. When you walk through fire, the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Pat believed these verses. When asked if this were her true confession, she affirmed again and again to the time of her death: “Of course. Of course, God made me. Of course, God redeemed me. Of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit He will watch over me no matter what happens. Of course, He will raise my body on the Last Day that I may have eternal life with Him and all of His people.”
It probably won’t surprise those of you who know her best, but when I visited with Pat a few weeks before her latest stay at the hospital, she wasn’t interested in talking about herself and her weakening condition for very long. She preferred to talk about how much God had truly blessed her. She wanted to talk about her life, her children, her grandchildren, her hobbies and interests.
You know why? Because she believed God’s promises. She wasn’t afraid of her final moments because she knew her final destination was to be with the Lord.
Yes, there’s sadness today, certainly, and there is going to be more sadness I’m sure. You can’t lose someone you love and not feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness. But I pray that in the days to come, you will also feel a sense of peace.
Think of a rainbow. Rainbows don’t appear on clear days. Rainbows come on rainy, drizzly days. You come here today with the storms of your grief. You come here with the grayness of your thoughts. You come here with a sense of emptiness and sadness—but God gives you a rainbow.
Part of that rainbow is God’s work in Pat. Pat’s life lets us see one band of color in God’s whole beautiful promise also to us. In Christ Jesus, who redeemed you by His death on the cross, in your Baptism, by which God called you by name, you have the whole spectrum of His whole bright, many-colored promises. This is why the Lord, your God, the Holy One, your Savior, the One who created you and formed you, says to you today: “Fear not!”
By God’s grace, may you, like Pat and other saints who have gone on before us, find comfort and peace in Him and His Word. May God continue to work in you through His powerful Word to drive away all worries and fears with His forgiveness and love.
I close this message with the Irish blessing Pat wished you to hear:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.