Sermon, Epiphany 8A
Sunday February 27, 2011.
Ocean Forest

Tattoo You
Isaiah 49: 8-16a

I don’t know that I am really into tattoos that much. Sometimes I think they look quite artful on some people and sometimes I think they look ugly. Footy players, cricket players, rugby players , movie stars… all seem to be into tattoos in a big way these days – tattooing a whole arm for all to see.

Living in NZ for a few years was interesting. The Maori culture is big on tattoos, especially those mean looking warrior-type men with tattoos all over their face.

Lots of women are into small tattoos these days too it seems. We have a couple of tattoo parlours in Bunbury here that look quite well frequented.

I thought about getting a tattoo when I was younger. A good mate of mine had a musical treble clef on the back of his shoulder which could only be seen when he wore a singlet. He was a drummer in our band. It looked cool. It was small and you could cover it up most of the time. I got to thinking, “What is the point of having a tattoo if it is so small and always hidden anyway?” He thought it was important to have one though.

That has made me think that tattoos are not only about showing something of yourself to others. They are also about showing something to yourself. They seem to be an expression of a person’s identity not only for others to see but for the person to remember about themselves.

For my drummer friend, maybe the musical clef was him marking himself out among others as a true musician. Now, in band land, drummers are not always given much credibility as actual musicians. Drummers are often not musically trained and are looked down on by other “true musicians” in the band. So, maybe my friend’s tattoo was about standing up for himself or reminding himself that he was a “real musician” (which he was. He taught music and drumming and could read music a lot better than me).

I listened to this beautiful word from Isaiah the prophet this week and initially did not really connect with it. I read all the way through it and then finally got to the last line…

“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”. Isa 49:16a

I have heard this before and thanked God that he remembers me in this way. I have up to now thought that God had written my name on the palm of his hand – like a year 10 girl or boy does when they are “in love” with someone.

But I wonder whether I have got the full picture of this beautiful picture about how God remembers us. Could it be that God has got a lot of tattoos? Could it be that God has not just written my name on the palm of his hands and maybe has got a picture of me on the palms of his hands? He has “inscribed ME” on the palms of his hands. More than my name – but ME.

Whether or not it is our names or a picture of us that is inscribed or tattooed on the palms of God’s hands or not, the outstanding message from God today is that he remembers us and knows us – permanently. The thing about tattoos is their permanency. Once they are there they stay there – unless one goes through surgery to have them removed. What makes tattoos special is their permanency.

Permanently – that is God’s word today. Just like a Roman soldier was tattooed with SPQR, the sign of being a soldier of the Roman Legion, God has permanently tattooed himself with you and me.

He likens his remembering of us to that of a woman breastfeeding her new child – surely a thing of great compassion, tenderness and deep love between mother and child.

When his people accused God with being forgetful of them and so completely doubted and misunderstood the extent of his memory, commitment and compassion for them, God reminds them of his memory and what it means for their relationships with him.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Isa 49:15

It is very easy and common for us to forget that God remembers us and is lovingly disposed towards us. Any number of experiences and events can challenge our trust in God’s knowing and caring for us. It has been a long spring and summer with so many natural disasters and human made tragedies close to home and abroad. People are asking, has God forgotten us? We see those pictures of that beautiful city of Christchurch and that magnificent cathedral now in ruins and find ourselves doubting God’s memory and interest.

Conflict in relationships of any kind, but especially with those close to us, really knock our faith too. As do many other things. Isaiah says that we can feel like some captured soldier hiding in a dark cell hoping that the occupying soldiers leave us alone in our misery and fear, and yet, at the same time wanting all of this doubt and fear to be over – wanting to bust out of this prison.

Today God says, ‘it is OK to come out’. There is no need to fear him anymore.

….Say to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves”. They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; Isa 49:9

Friend, whatever is causing you to doubt God’s memory and deep compassion for you needs to no longer do that. Come out today and feed on the bread that is true, the bread of life, the river of life, the living water that quenches the thirst of your soul. Come to Jesus, the lover of your soul and the giver of sight to the blind, the giver of freedom for any captive, the healer of all disease and fear.

He has broken out of this human prison of doubt and mistrust of God our Heavenly Father and opened up for a way to live well, live fully, and live for others who struggle with trusting his compassion.

Whatever happens, God has got you tattooed in his skin. Your sin and fear were the cuts and the piercings of his body on that cross and they are no longer fatal. Our sin is no longer fatal. He has been resurrected and yet still bears our marks in his glorified body, as Thomas found out as he plunged his own finger into the wounds of the resurrected Jesus.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Isa 49:15
“See now, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”. Isa 49:16a