I remember when I first heard those words from the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More. It was almost 25 years ago. I was sitting in worship on a Sunday morning during Lent. I hadn’t been to church for a while. Actually, it was longer than I really want to admit. The music director and one of the soloists from the choir began teaching the congregation a new song, “The First Song of Isaiah.” I will never forget the words. They come from Isaiah 12:2, “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense…and he is my Salvation can mean saved from something (deliverance) or for something (redemption). Paul preached that salvation comes through the death of Christ on the cross which redeemed sinners from death and for a grace-filled life. More.” That song. Those words. They touched me beyond my understanding. I just wept. Literally, sitting in the pew, I just cried and could not stop. Through the voice of one soloist I felt God’s voice express, “I love you. No matter what you do, wherever you are, I am standing right beside you. Hold my hand. Take the leap of faith. I am right here. I love you and you matter to me.”
“You matter to God.”
“You matter to God.”
I heard it over and over again as the soloist sang.
“You matter to God.”
The Holy is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine More Spirit overflowed in the soloist that day. I am sure that he doesn’t even know it. On that day, those words changed my life. I knew I was truly loved and that I belonged. Someone was there to hold my hand. Someone was actually my strength. My salvation. “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense … and he is my salvation.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but the Holy Spirit would take me on an adventure of a lifetime as a wife, mother, pastor and coach. Over the years, there have been countless times when I have needed to hear those words from Isaiah 12:2. On the days when I am afraid, uncertain and worried about the unknown and the things beyond my control, I sing this verse deep in my heart. I remind myself that I am a beloved child of God.
As a seminary student, I was curious about the words in Isaiah 12. I even tried to write an academic paper about it. But my writing was forced and felt clunky and awkward. Nowhere in this chapter does it explicitly say that we are beloved children of God. Scholars often refer to this chapter as a “hymn of thanksgiving,” sharing similar characteristics to the psalms of thanksgiving and Exodus 15, the song of Prophet who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land and received the law at Sinai More and later his sister Moses' and Aaron's sister who danced after the exodus More after they had fled Egypt and passed through the waters of the Red Sea. For some, Isaiah 12 appears to be misplaced and not in the style of the Prophet Isaiah. I struggled with what the scholars were saying about this text. It wasn’t the literal words or the placement of the chapter that I felt deeply etched into my heart on that Sunday morning.
For me, these verses were more than a hymn of thanksgiving randomly placed. Instead, I reflected on the stories of King Ahaz and his son Hezekiah. (The name Judean king noted for his reforms in time of Isaiah More means “Yahweh strengthens” or “Yahweh is my strength” in Hebrew.) For King Judean king in the time of Isaiah who engaged in pagan worship and placated the Assyrians. More, God’s words of promise were not enough and were difficult to trust. For Hezekiah, God was a God of faithfulness and promises—God was salvation. God continued throughout the generations to gather them, to save them and deliver them from adversity—from Egypt, from the wilderness, from their enemies because all Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and... More, all humanity matter to God.
Because you and I and all of us matter to God.
I know all of this deep down in my heart. I know that hearing God’s words of promise—that God is my strength and my might, God is my fortress—is what I should trust in and find hope in. I know the effect it had on me that day in the pew and that it still has on me. I must confess, I still want to trust in my own ability to control the situations that present themselves. Yet, I need these words of hope, of belonging and of being beloved.
In my office, I have a beautiful calligraphy by artist Judy Dodds of Isaiah 12:2. The painting conveys that in times of wilderness or in times of flowing water, we all matter. When I look at it that’s when I remember God’s promise—forever etched on my heart. Words that still make me cry with love and joy—that warm embrace even when the world seems to be caving in. The words of promise from a God that calls each of us by name. A God who names us “beloved”. A God who tells us we matter through the words of a hymn, the voice of a stranger, the images of an artist, and the breath of the Holy Spirit. A God who says that each of us is beautifully and wonderfully made (A psalm is a song of praise. In the Old Testament 150 psalms comprise the psalter, although some of the psalms are laments and thanksgivings. In the New Testament early Christians gathered to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. More 139:14).