Yeah, But We’re Precious
Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I read in the paper this week that Billy Graham fell in the shower and broke his hip. Although the timing for an 84-year-old man to break a hip is never good, Dr. Graham was showering that day in order to go to the Mayo Clinic for his annual physical exam, so instead of an exam, the doctors did a partial hip replacement, and Billy Graham expects to hold his crusade in Kansas City in June, just as he had planned. He’s an amazing man, Billy Graham. I recall him once saying that he never planned to retire. He said there isn’t one example in the Old Testament of a prophet retiring; they either died, or were stoned to death for their message, and that’s what Billy plans to do. It sort of got me thinking….
In his book Rebel with a Cause, Franklin Graham spends 300 pages detailing what it was like, growing up as the eldest son of the world’s most famous preacher since Jesus. The expectations on Franklin were so great, the rules, so rigid. By his own admission, Franklin Graham was a rebel; in fact, he openly opposed every value and every virtue his parents stood for, including the Christian faith. He smoked, he drank, he cursed, he caroused; he did it all. But no scene in his book is more poignant than the day that Franklin Graham was kicked out of his conservative college in Texas for taking a co-ed off campus for the week end and piloting a rented plane to Florida. My description could not do justice to this vignette, so I will let Franklin’s words describe it for you. He writes;
The drive home from Texas was dreary. Maybe by driving slow I was prolonging the inevitable; I would have to face my parents. I knew they had to be disappointed in me – I was! They had invested a lot of money in my education, and now I’d messed up.
I drove through the gate and started up the road to our home, imagining the lecture my parents would give me. So many other times when I had come home I could hardly wait to say hello to everyone. But no joy this time. I felt so badly when I finally reached the house. Then I saw mama standing on the front porch and I wanted to run and hide in the nearest hole. It was one of the few times I can remember not wanting to look her in the eye.
When I walked up to her, my body felt limp. I barely had the nerve to lift my head or extend my arms for a hug. But I didn’t need to. Mama wrapped her arms around me, and, with a smile, she said “Welcome home, Franklin.”
I’ve been thinking lately about my own growing up years, and some of the stupid things I had done. As dysfunctional as my home was, we still had some rules, and I broke most of them. And I often got punished. When I was younger, it was spankings. As I grew older, it morphed into being grounded, or forbidden to watch TV, or not allowed to use the car. But every once in awhile, there was grace. Every so often, my parents just let it go, and their forgiveness humbled me, and made me want to do better and please them with my life. That’s how grace works.
This morning, we read these words from the Prophet Isaiah. “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
But the preaching didn’t start that way for Isaiah. Sixty years earlier, when God called him to be a prophet, God told Isaiah that the people wouldn’t listen. “The people will not listen to your words” God said. “Rather, they will close their eyes and ears to your words; they will rebel, they will disobey, they will stubbornly turn away from me.” And God was right. For 39 chapters in the bible, that’s exactly how the people responded to Isaiah’s preaching. He called the people “corrupt, and wicked and sinful” and he told them that God’s harsh judgment would come to them. 39 chapters of this, and they didn’t listen!
And then, in chapter 40, the message changes. In chapter 40, these are the words God gives to Isaiah: “Comfort my people, yes, comfort them. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and tell her that her sad days are gone. Her sins are pardoned, and I have punished her in full for all her sins.” In our text today, Isaiah tells us that we are precious to God; that he knows us, that he calls us by name, that we belong to him. What’s happened here? Did God go soft? Did God change his mind? No, God just changed his message. Yes, the people were corrupt; they were sinful and self-centered and disobedient, no question! But they were precious to God, and God found a way to love them into the Kingdom…through Jesus. It is in this book of Isaiah that we begin to see God’s plan of a Savior. Remember the words from Christmas eve?
“The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light – Light will shine on those who live in the land of the shadow of death…For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”
It’s not about punishment anymore, it’s about forgiveness. It’s not about being good enough, it’s about grace. Oh, there are still laws and rules and expectations from God, and when we disobey them we make a mess of our lives just like Franklin Graham did. Conversely, when we keep the rules and live by the law, we tend to become very proud of ourselves. We look down at others who have messed up, and this little ditty plays in our head (“neener, neener, neener!”) I do that, don’t you? Feel better than them? But sooner or later, we fall too, and then we sing that tune to ourselves. How could we have been so stupid? How could we be so worthless! God must hate us for these sins that we have committed. People who are present today are thinking those thoughts, I guarantee it. They are feeling ashamed and worthless and humiliated. What they do not feel is “precious.”
But God comes to them again today, and again tomorrow, and again next week with these words: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
That’s God, speaking to us. That’s the message that God has for sinners. That’s the good news God has for those who seem to confess the same sin day after day after day. He calls us “precious.” He says we don’t need to be afraid of him anymore. Because of grace. Because of grace.
A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “I don’t know what I would do without SermonWriter. I have a full‑time church and go to school too. SermonWriter pulls together all the resources so that I don’t have to start from scratch every week. It saves me almost ten hours a week––ten hours a week that I don’t have. It makes it possible for me to go into the pulpit well prepared. I can’t thank you enough.”
Sounds soft, doesn’t it? Sounds so easy that maybe if grace catches on, nobody will follow the rules anymore. People will freely break laws and commit sins because grace is so cheap. So some of us revert back to the old way; the way of being good enough or religious enough for God to accept us. We don’t want charity; we want to earn the title of “precious.” And God says to us “Whatever! Either way, you’re still precious to me and I love you.” People, we matter to God. When we sin, we matter. When we are obedient, we matter. When we wander away, we matter. When we return home, embarrassed and ashamed, we matter. Not because we’re religious, but because we’re precious to him and he loves us. That’s the message I want you to take with you today.
Then, I want to say just two words about tonight, and our Town Hall Meeting. The first is, I hope you’ll come. You may be thinking that you don’t like controversy, or that you already know how you feel about the subject of homosexuality, or that it’s just not that important to you. Still, I hope you’ll come. I know the Packer game starts at 3 o’clock, but nobody cares. So, you come.
The second thing I would ask is that you be tender. A friend reminded me of an old, old Sunday School song with words are applicable for tonight:
Old folks, young folks, everybody come
Come to church and have a lot of fun
Leave your chewing gum and your shootin’ arms at the door
And we’ll tell you bible stories like you’ve never heard before.
I hope you’ll leave your “shootin'” arms at the door. Bring your thoughts and opinions; bring your disagreements and your concerns and your fears into the Community Life Center with you, but leave your shootin’ arms at the door. The people across the table from you tonight are precious, as you are precious. And I think it is possible to talk and to listen and to disagree, and still walk out of this place as friends. I hope you’ll prove me right. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2001, Steven Molin. Used by permission.