St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401


  • God Calls Us All By Name – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    January 16, 2022

    When we read the words of the prophet Isaiah, it’s important to take a moment and understand context. Because we read a lot of Isaiah during our church year. And we even have a carving of Isaiah on our altar… up there opposite Moses. Isaiah is an incredibly important part of our tradition.

    Isaiah is also an incredibly important part of the Jewish tradition. All of the people who wrote our scriptures were Jewish – even those who wrote the new testament scriptures. They were Jewish people coming to understand Jesus as the messiah for whom they had been waiting. They were raised as Jewish people and identified themselves as Jewish people. The word Christian wouldn’t come into usage until the second century.

    And Isaiah wrote long before that… about 700 years before Jesus was born, to be exact. But the relationship of the prophet Isaiah to the scripture is a complicated one. Some scholars have come to the conclusion, for example, that the first 39 chapters were likely written during the time of the original prophet, although he may not have written all the words himself, while the rest of the chapters were written during later periods, some 100 years later and some 200 years later.

    Regardless, the book we have come to know as Isaiah was written after Israel split into two kingdoms – the Northern Kingdom retaining the name Israel and the Southern Kingdom adopting the name Judah.

    The split occurred, as we may remember, because Israel had existed as a confederation of 12 tribes. They wanted power so they asked God for a king. Israel had 3 kings – Saul, David, and Solomon – over approximately 200 years until, because of power grabs, the kingdom split into 2. This is when most of Isaiah was written – in the nation of Judah after the kingdom splits. And Isaiah is highly critical of this split, offering oracles against Israel and its division. The message being: Israel’s demise is divine judgment on its need for power.

    And then, the Northern Kingdom falls to Assyria after about 200 years. The Southern Kingdom remained for about another 200 years until the Babylonians captured Jerusalem by destroying Solomon’s temple 586 years before Jesus was born. This Babylonian exile was relatively short-lived because the region was so turbulent that it wasn’t long before Persia conquered Babylonia. And, under Cyrus the Great, the first Persian leader, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Jerusalem, rebuild their temple, and renew their worship of God.

    It’s at this point in history, that someone connected to the prophetic school of Isaiah, wrote the words we read today.

    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 Savior…
    Because 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.
    Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;

    A time of returning. A season of recommitment, of renewal, and of reconciliation.
    Do not fear, God says, for I am with you. I am your savior. You are precious in my sight. And when you pass through the waters, they shall not overwhelm you. I have called you by name.

    This promise of redemption, then, is not a wish or a fanciful longing. This promise of redemption is truth. It is incarnate hope – alive and real and tangible. Because hope is not about wishing. Hope is about the knowledge that, even when we cannot experience it, God is with us. God loves us. And, we will be renewed. We will know reconciliation. We will know wholeness and belovedness.

    And from this place, we will know who we are called to become. We will know what we are called to do. Because God calls us by name.

    This is what ministry is. A new temple, if you will.

    We often think of ministry as the things we do at church… and that’s true, to some extent. We cannot have church unless we have people who are willing to do various jobs for the greater community. And this is where I introduce you do the blue Ministry survey found in your bulletin today…

    This is a list of all the ministries of St. John’s. And where you have the opportunity to serve your community this coming year as we live into our mission as the community of St. John’s. In two weeks, we will come together for our Annual Meeting on January 30. So, for the next 2 weeks, I am asking you to pray over this list and how you might be called to grow in your ministry at St. John’s. Even if you think you cannot do something because of physical limitations, I ask you to speak with me. There are always ways to make things more accessible and easier for all of us. No one should be prevented from any ministry where they sincerely serving to the best of their ability.

    If no where else, church should be a place where we truly experience this freedom to serve as we are called to serve. Because all are truly welcome at God’s Table and this shows us how the world should be. And ministry as the Body of Christ gives us an example of how the world can be, how ministry can be what we do in and for the world.

    Because our ministry extends beyond the walls of the church – the waters that Isaiah refers to, where God calls us by name and we will not be overwhelmed. We know we have found our ministry when we have found a way to offer our gifts to the world and we can do so with the love of Christ in our heart. Our ministry, then, is the way in which we live into our Baptismal Vows.

    And this, is what renews us. This is what brings reconciliation – reconciliation between us and God and between us and the other members of creation. So this is what we recommit to, 4 times a year.

    Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
    (Will you recommit to a worship life, a prayer life, a life of study?)

    Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
    (Will you do your best to do your best and when you don’t, will you forgive yourself and forgive others in your life?)

    Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
    (Will you share with others, the faith that you have – through your invitation and your actions?)

    Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
    (Do you promise to look for Christ in all people and extend love and care, instead of judgment, to others and to yourself?)

    Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
    (Will you act on behalf of the most oppressed people in our society, trusting and believing in their inherent dignity as children of God?)

    Worship and prayer – Christian formation

    Ministry is when we can put most, if not all, of these into action. God promises us that this is the path of redemption. Because God promises to be with us in these waters of baptism. This may mean that we are not always 100% comfortable, that we may have to lay down some judgments or preferences from time to time in order to actually recommit to our ministry.

    But we have no need for fear because God is with us. God calls us by name.