“I will never forget you”
The author Ron Lee Dunn tells the story of two altar boys.
One was born in 1892 in Eastern Europe. The other was born just three years later in a small town in the USA. Though they lived very separate lives in very different parts of the world, these two altar boys had almost identical experiences. Each boy was given the opportunity to assist his parish priest in the service of communion. Ironically, while handling the communion cup, they both accidentally spilled some of the wine on the carpet by the altar. There the similarity in their story ends.
The priest in the Eastern European church, seeing the wine stain, slapped the altar boy across the face and shouted, “Clumsy oaf! Leave the altar.” The little boy grew up to become an atheist. His name was Josip Tito – the communist dictator of Yugoslavia for 37 years.
The priest in the church in the USA upon seeing the stain near the altar, knelt down beside the boy and looked him tenderly in the eyes and said, “It’s alright son. You’ll do better next time. You’ll be a fine priest for God someday.” That little boy grew up to become the much loved Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
I don’t believe we can ever underestimate the power that affirmation and encouragement have in our lives. When we are feeling particularly disheartened and depressed about what is happening in our lives, positive and encouraging words begin to lift us out of the doldrums and lead us to see things a little differently. You may never know the impact of your words but do not underestimate them.
Someone once said,
Flatter me, and I may not believe you.
Criticize me, and I may not like you.
Ignore me, and I may not forgive you.
Encourage me, and I will not forget you.
Christmas seems such a long time ago now but it was just 3 weeks ago that we celebrated the birth at Bethlehem; the beginning of the earthly life of our Saviour.
Today we celebrate another beginning in the life of Jesus – it is the beginning marked by baptism. Jesus now is a grown man and approaches the banks of the River Jordan one hot and dusty day. There he comes face to face with John the Baptist and even though John tries to deter Jesus; Jesus is baptised. Here at the Jordan, Jesus enacts God’s saving deeds for human kind by [literally] standing with sinners. In his baptism he becomes one of us. He takes on himself our sin; and then heads forward to Jerusalem and the cross. There He as the sinless one offers up his own life as the ransom payment in the place of many; in the place of you and me.
As Jesus left the Jordan River we are told ‘heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.” The other gospel writers record this same event but the words Jesus hears is even more personal. The voice from heaven speaks directly to Jesus, saying, “You are my own dear son. I am pleased with you“.
What a way to begin a new stage of one’s life!
What a way to feel before setting out on a new course!
What a thing to hear and reflect on later when the challenges that life would throw at him would be almost too much to bear.
We all long to hear the words, “Well done!” It’s easy to be critical and negative. All of us have felt at some time the pain of a negative and critical comment. Praise the Lord that we have a God who is an affirming God, an encouraging God. Usually we express our appreciation after a person has done something that pleases us but with God, it’s different.Before Jesus had told a single story or had healed a single person, before Jesus remains faithful to his task as Saviour, before he speaks about God’s love and forgiveness, in fact, before he does anything there is affirmation. God speaks those longed for words, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you”.
God affirmed Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and he affirms his relationship with us even before we are able to do anything that we might think would earn God’s favour. In grace he says to us, “You are my dear child and that pleases me”.
Baptism is an act of God which celebrates how special and precious we are in God’s eyes. In our baptism, as in the baptism of Jesus, we celebrate God’s welcoming love, a love that comes prior to anything we may have done and prior to anything we may yet do. When the water of baptism was poured over us, however long ago that might have been, he made a personal promise;
“I promise that I will be with you always.
It doesn’t matter where life’s journey will take you, I will walk beside you.
Even if you aren’t always loyal to me, I will always be loyal to you.
When life takes a turn for the worse, I will be there to comfort and help you.
When you need superhuman strength to overcome trouble, I will be there to give you the strength you need.
When you call to me in prayer, I will always be listening and will use my power to answer your prayer.
When it comes to your dying moment, I will take you to the place I have prepared for you in heaven”.
God has made a promise like this to all those he calls his dear children. In the Old Testament he promised the people who were experiencing very troublesome times, “Even though it is possible for a mother or father to forget their child, I will never forget you. … I have written your name on the palms of my hands”.
“You are my own dear child and my love for you will never stop. Be certain you are loved right here and now. Your name is written on the palm of my hand.”
How’s that for affirmation and encouragement. The almighty and all-powerful God of the universe makes a commitment to one of his creation to affirm us as his dearly loved children even when we don’t feel as though we deserve that kind of favour. He tells us he will hold our hand to comfort and encourage us even when the situation appears to be hopeless.
Today, the day we recall the way Jesus was affirmed and encouraged by the voice from the heavens and the descending dove, is a great day to remember with thanks the way God has assured us that we are his “dearly loved children” and affirms that regardless of what may happen he will not forget us and hold our hand, even carry us if necessary, through dark valleys and troublesome times.
This promise is certain. He says this to each of us, “You are my own dear child”. “I will never forget you. … I have written your name on the palms of my hands”.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy