Meditation on Isaiah 43 (Selected verses)
Witness to the Resurrection/Celebration of Life
In Memory of Barbara Montesion
June 28, 2016
August 16, 1927 – April 18, 2016
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
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.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’…
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last; Besides me, there is no god.
Do not fear. Or be afraid.
It was one day last April. I had just sliced and wrapped bread and poured juice for my home communion kit, when Barbara’s caregiver and friend, Deborah, called the church office asking for the pastor. I listened as she shared about her friend’s recent cancer diagnosis and grim prognosis, delivered by a healthcare professional in a matter-of-fact voice. I heard of Barbara’s pain, anxiety and fear, and my heart went out to her. Being new here last fall, I hadn’t met Barbara, yet, or heard her story. Because of her health, some years had passed since she had been able to come to church. She had been active in the congregation for a number of years; her portrait with her husband, Frank, appears in two of our church directories. She had friends here and happy memories. “Barbara Williams Bishop” joined the church on Dec. 15, 1991. She married Frank Montesion here on Feb. 15, 1994.
Deborah asked if I could come to Barb’s home in Rockledge that day. Would I come and pray? I came that afternoon, with an elder, Marilyn Smoot. It was a mysterious thing, I remember thinking at the time, a rare thing, really, to have, at the last minute, some space opening up in my visitation schedule. It had never happened before. It was part of a divine plan for Marilyn and me to meet with Barb, members of her family and her friend, and share moments of sweetness, amidst the pain. Barb welcomed us and took my hand. We communed with Christ and one another at Barb’s bedside, a little tray with juice and challah bread balanced on her nightstand. We ate and drank spiritual food, experiencing a glimmer of the great banquet–when God’s people come from east and west and north and south to sit at table in the Kingdom of God. The bread and cup stirred a glimpse of the new creation–when we will all be made new. No more suffering. No more pain. No more tears. No more fear.
Barb, with Deb’s help, shared some of her story– that she was from Mount Vernon, NY. How she attended college in New Jersey and earned a degree in math. She planned to be a teacher, but became an accountant. She smiled as we talked about her ballroom dancing and her beautiful gowns. Her daughter, Pat, told me later that her mom took ballroom dance lessons for the first time when she was 53 just to “keep busy” after her first husband, John Bishop, died. It didn’t take long before she became involved in competitive ballroom dancing. In more recent years, she taught water aerobics and enjoyed walking.
At Barb’s bedside, Deborah mentioned that Barb loved to travel. I assumed she went on some cruises, took a few trips. I underestimated her spirit of adventure! She and John traveled around the country extensively, beginning with a cross-country rail trip in 1968. They boarded a train in Chicago and went to Albuquerque, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Victoria British Columbia, Banff and Minneapolis. They traveled to the American West several times and went to Nova Scotia. And, yes, they took some cruises. After her first husband died, Barbara traveled with her daughter, Pat, to Bermuda, Alaska, Germany, Switzerland, British Isles, Greece, Mexico, and Tahiti. With her second husband, Frank, she went to Northern Ireland, Scandinavia, Hawaii, the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean. She didn’t give up traveling until the 1980s, when it became too hard for her to get around. She missed it.
As we talked, Barb hugged a large, brown stuffed bear that we brought her, its maroon velvet necktie perfectly matching her maroon bedclothes. The stuffed bear is one of our church’s “blessed bears,” its tag declaring that it was blessed by prayer and scripture as it sat on a pew during worship. It was a reminder for Barb of 1 Cor. 13:7– that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We always think of that scripture as talking about human love–or at least what our love should do and be– but the love Paul speaks of is God’s love available to us through the Spirit to all who seek the greatest gift. We wanted to make sure that Barb knew that God would always be with her, helping her to “bear” all things.
She told us that she often thought about the church and wanted to come back and see us. She said she was looking forward to meeting the new pastor. Marilyn and I laughed–and she joined in– after we told her that she had already met the pastor. Guess I wasn’t what she expected! :o)
Barb was hungry for God’s Word. She had regularly attended Bible studies, when she was feeling better, and was a member of a Christian women’s association. When we were together that day in April, I don’t remember the scripture I read, but something stirred me afterward to ask Barb if she believed. I sensed she needed reassurance of God’s forgiveness and the promise of everlasting life with Him.
“Oh, yes,” she said, nodding her head. “Oh, yes!”
She wanted to go home to be with the Lord. But she needed to be assured that she still belonged to Him, that she was a lamb of Christ’s flock. She needed to be reassured that nothing can separate us from God’s love shown in Jesus Christ, as Paul in Romans tells us.
We are always God’s people, and the Lord is always our God.
“You are REDEEMED,” says the Lord through Isaiah. “You are MINE.”
Israel also needed to be reassured of God’s forgiveness and love at the time of the exile. Prophets such as Isaiah were telling the people that the Babylonian destruction of the Temple and the Holy City and their exile was God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. The people had fallen away from the God of Israel. Even the priests had taken foreign wives and had adopted their pagan ways. They were worshiping idols.
The author of Isaiah 43, living between 550 and 515 BCE, tells the people how unlovable they are just before today’s reading. In 42:18-25, Isaiah calls them blind and deaf to God’s presence. Israel deserves God’s wrath and punishment! And then, in chapter 43, Isaiah says, “But now…” What follows “but now” is all good news– a healing balm for God’s people, feeling broken and unloved. The One who created us for His glory knew, from the foundation of the world, that we would be unfaithful. But God loves us anyway. He chose to forgive us, Isaiah says, for “his own sake”! He wants to be with us, to delight in a loving relationship with us. But we are no different than the ancient Israelites. We have idols. We care about ourselves more than the Lord. We spend too much time thinking how we can be happier, how we can change what we don’t like about ourselves, our lives and other people, rather than seeking God’s face, living in gratitude to the One who gave us life and so many blessings–so that we will be a blessing to others and to Him.
Why do we waste so much time being afraid and anxious? Why do we worry that God can’t possibly love and forgive us, even when God’s Word tells us He does? The problem is that we can’t see ourselves as God sees us–through the redemption of Jesus Christ. We only see the darkness of our sins! “We see through a mirror dimly,” Paul tells us, with only the promise that someday we will see our Savior “face to face.” We can only trust in the Spirit that lives in and among us now, guiding and empowering us to do His will each day. We can only seek the Lord in prayer–and keep on seeking Him. We can only cling to the promises of God in His Word.
It was less than a week after our visit with Barb when her friend, Deborah, called me again. Barb had gone home to be with God, her creator who made her for His glory. Her Savior, Redeemer and Lord.
Listen now to the promises of God’s Word! Listen with your heart. See Christ with your hope and faith, believing without a doubt that someday you will, like Barb, see Him face to face.
“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. … Do not fear, for I am with you…I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake and I will not remember your sins. Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; Besides me, there is no god. Do not fear. Or be afraid.”
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for your Word and your promise of forgiveness and everlasting life if we believe in your Son and His work on the cross for our sakes. Forgive us for our doubts, fears and anxieties–and for our sin of idolatry, for loving you less than we love ourselves and seeking happiness and security in the things of this world. Help us to walk in Christ’s loving ways and be more eternally minded, more and more seeking your face, resting in your grace. Make us truly grateful for your gift of life and your faithfulness to us. Grant us your peace in the knowledge that we belong to you. That you are OUR God. May we feel your comforting, healing presence with us always. Stir our hearts to contentment and acceptance of ourselves, other people, Your church, and Your will. Heal us with your joy. In Christ we pray. Amen.
In Memory of
Barbara A. Montesion
August 16, 1927 – April 18, 2016
Barbara Montesion, 88, of Rockledge, FL., passed away Monday, April 18, 2016 at home.
She was born in Mt. Vernon, New York, and came to Brevard County in 1991 from Pluckemin, NJ. She was an Accountant before retiring.
She is survived by her sons; John (Sue) Bishop and David (Debbie) Bishop, daughter; Patricia (Stephen) Carlson, stepchildren; Stephen Montesion, Mark Montesion, Catherine (John) Redmond, Marcia (Gary) Secallus, grandchildren; Liam Lawry, Asa Bishop, Rod Leith, Vanessa Volpone, Miklyn Montesion, Gionni Montesion, Catherine Secallus, Gary Secallus, and John Redmond. She also leaves her great grandchildren; Grace Redmond, Sophie Redmond, Brayden Volpone, and her sister-in-law; Sue Bishop. She was preceded in death by her husbands; John L. Bishop, and Frank P. Montesion.
She was a 1948 graduate of Trenton State Teachers College (Barbara Williams), and a former volunteer for Meals on Wheels in Brevard County, Florida. She was also a member of the Merritt Island Presbyterian Church, and the Women’s Christian Association. She was an avid traveler and ballroom dancer.