I Am With You
“I Am With You”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Second Sunday of Epiphany
January 15, 2017
Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-10
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1: 29-41
We have begun another year that God has given us. The year is a repetition of the seasons of the Church calendar because we need to be constantly reminded of the grace and the love of God. Scripture says “hearing and hearing and hearing” (the Word) gives us the confidence to trust God completely.
After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God speaks these words to us in Epiphany: “I Am with you!” We are not alone. We don’t face life, with all its challenges, alone. God knows everything we say, think and do. He will not leave us. He will never fail us. Therefore, we need not fear and be anxious. “God is with me!” This gives us confidence and serenity so that whatever comes our way, we will not be destroyed because God is with us. He wants us to hear this over and over again: “I will not fail you. I will never leave you. I am with you!” It doesn’t matter if we don’t feel this way. Our feelings won’t change this truth.
In the Gospel, we read that it isn’t only Jesus who us with us. The Holy Spirit is also with us. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit rested on His shoulders to let us know that the Holy Spirit is with us. We belong to Him. He created us in His image and likeness, and He will not allow the enemy to snatch us away from Him. After many generations, at the proper time, God sent His Son to save us. Sadly, in spite of this truth, we still think that we’re powerless and in bondage. We should wake up to the truth that Jesus has set us free and we can walk in the freedom and confidence that He came to give us.
Isaiah 49:1b “The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me.” We had the same reading a few weeks because God wants us to realize that He called us; we are His. He placed us here for a purpose. God called Isaiah, Jesus and you and me. He not only called us but named us. The purpose of a name is to give a calling and direction for a person’s life. Each of us was born for a purpose. This purpose is not to gain fame and fortune but to proclaim the greatness of God to the whole world. We are His ambassadors. God told Isaiah and He’s telling us today, “You are My Servant, Israel, in whom I will show forth My glory.” Isaiah was humble, thinking to himself that he can’t do what God has chosen him for him to do, but this was God’s purpose for his life. God is telling us today what He said of the Lord Jesus through Isaiah: “I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. We are the light of the world. In today’s world, there’s confusion about life and why we’re here. People want to be free to do what they want. But God wants us to live a life that will give Him glory. “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel.” Jesus came to destroy the works of the enemy. This is also our task today, and here’s where we get the strength to do it – from the joy of the Lord. This joy comes from our understanding of what He has done for us and our realization of His love for us.
Too often, we give in to anxiety and fear. Remember that it is in the midst of darkness that light shines the brightest. We are to bring glory, honor and praise to God through the difficulties that come our way. When troubles come, we don’t speak of the problem but of what God has done for us. This is our faith. We may struggle for a time, but we know that He will restore us and bring us to the place where we will see His glory. Ninety thousand Christians were slaughtered in 2016; yet in the midst of this persecution, there is a strong drawing to God and His Kingdom. Every time the Church is persecuted, it only becomes stronger.
Psalm 40 “How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust….Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with Thee. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count….I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation. Behold, I will not restrain my lips, O Lord.” It may look like things are not what they should be, but God never fails. People may ask us why things are bad for us if God is with us, but remember that even Jesus was mocked as He hang on the cross. He forgave His tormentors and persecutors. “I will not remember your sins anymore.” Does God really forget our sins? I don’t know if He forgets, but I’m certain that He wipes them out of history, as if they never existed. (Proverbs tells us that to remember the sins and failures of the past is death.) This is our hope in God. He is saying it strongly to us in Epiphany: “I Am with you. I have been with you from the very beginning and I will bring you to victory and glory”.
St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that he was “called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”. This is also what we are – called by God’s Name: Christians. As Christians, we are to live out and manifest His life so people will see that we’re not the same and we can give them hope. I remember after 9/11, I was in a plane to Europe and the flight attendant told me that she was glad I was in the flight so they could be safe. This should be the image we project to the world; the message we bring to the world. The world may deny it, but when troubles come, they turn to God. After 9/11, the churches were filled with people who came to seek comfort and help from God. We are the witnesses to the greatness of God, saints by calling. He gave us holiness and righteousness, and grace. He gave us grace to fulfill what He has called us to do. We need to be constantly grateful for this grace that empowers us to overcome our problems and tests so we can fulfill our calling. Our hope is in this grace, not in education and the other things that the world offers. We don’t fail because God is with us. This is not a philosophy; it’s the truth: God is with us. He can turn to good even our failures. He raises us up each time we fall. “I Am with you every moment of your life.”
1 Corinthians 1 tells us that in everything we were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge so that we are not lacking in any gift. We can do what He asks of us. We can conquer; we can overcome because He is with us. He will not fail us. We should always remember this because in the world today, people have set God aside, wanting to do things their own way.
The Gospel for today is the second time that we see John coming into the presence of Jesus. When he saw Jesus coming to him, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Go back in history when Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac. God saved Isaac’s life when He provided a ram in Isaac’s place for the offering. The ram was a symbol of Christ. In Egypt, at the Passover, God instructed Israel to roast and eat the lamb, in order to save them. After they have eaten of the lamb, they gained strength for their exodus from Egypt. Not one of them became feeble. The lamb gives life and strength. John’s disciples asked Jesus where He was staying. He said to them, “Come, and you will see”. This is an invitation for us to see Him and know Him; to draw close to Him.
We have been given a great inheritance, not only for us to enjoy but for us to realize that God has empowered us to be a witness to others; to be His servants; to live a life that will bring life to others. Jesus did this. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave food to the hungry, and gave life, hope and comfort with His preaching. This is our inheritance – that we were created in the image and likeness of God. Do we grasp this? Fear and anxiety can’t grip us because of this inheritance. This inheritance was given to us that we may be the witnesses of the love and compassion of God. We are sons and daughters of the King. People should be watching us, patterning their lives after us. Part of our inheritance is the abundant grace to do what God has given us to do. Look at the lives of some wealthy, successful people. They started as poor but overcame their poverty through hard work and perseverance. The Wright brothers and Thomas Edison overcame many obstacles and never gave up despite their many failures, and this led to their invention of the airplane and the light bulb, respectively. Because they didn’t give up, today we have bright lights and we can fly.
Everything pertaining to life and godliness has been given to us. God’s inheritance is imperishable; it can’t be taken away from us. It’s resident in us. If we don’t walk in that hope, we will fail. It is never God’s failure. I will not give up because God provides me with all my needs! He is Jehovah Jireh – the Lord, my Provider. He is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord, my Healer. He is Jehovah Shammah – the Lord who is near and always with me. What God does is always more than enough, so we can share with others. If you don’t share God’s blessings, they will not stay with you; they will be taken away.
This is what Epiphany is all about, to encourage us at the very beginning of the year, by what God is telling us: “I AM with you! I will not fail you; I will not forsake you”. If we walk in this hope and don’t give up, we shall overcome. We are going forward in this walk, knowing that we shall overcome. We can be the glory of God in this world. This is Epiphany’s provision for us. Thank God we are a blessed people! God loves us! He gave us new life. May we walk in it.