Bible reading: Isaiah 43:1-4a, 18-19
But 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.
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 Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia[a] and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you.
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
It is not often that a Bible passage can change your life, but these verses changed mine. The first four verses were given to me at a time of great personal difficulty. They quickly became part of my call to train as a Methodist Local Preacher, the beginning of a journey into Methodist Ministry. The passage spoke to me because it is so grounded in reality: not ‘if you walk through fire and water’, but when. It is also very personal: ‘I have called you by name, you are mine’.
God reminds us that when bad things happen, God walks with us because we are loved and precious. These words came back to me at various points when life was tough. A reminder to hang on because I am not alone. As we have travelled through COVID-19, so many of us have needed this reminder that we are known and loved by God.
We are called to share such knowledge with others and rural churches have found all kinds of ways to do that in the last year. Practical help, staying in touch, prayer with and for our communities have helped others to see that they are not alone.
The next challenge we face is to work out how we continue to be church. What are we called to take with us from the past and what should we leave behind? What lessons have we learned? These questions bring us to the last two verses of this reading. They came to me alongside the first section at a retreat in 2014, a reassurance that applying for my present post as National Rural Officer for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches was the right thing to do. Seven years later, as I prepare to retire this summer, they cropped up again in a sermon.
I may be heading in a new direction, but God is still there, helping me to consider the new things, readying to serve him in new ways. I pray that as rural churches we may be able to consider the new things that God is doing and join in, learning from our past but not be tied to it, remembering that best of all, God is with us.
thank you that you have called us each by name,
that you know us and love us, that we are precious in your sight.
thank you that you walk with us,
through the rivers and flames of COVID.
You help us to grow even through the difficult times.
help us to see the new things you are doing and join in.
Give the strength to take your message of love to those around us.
God, Three in One and One in Three,
bless us and keep us now and forever.
Spend some time thinking of the people and practices that have brought you this far. Give thanks to God for them.
Look at the new things you have begun or been part of during the pandemic. Where do you see God in them? What new thing may God be calling you to?
Revd Elizabeth Clark, National Rural Officer for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches