Sunday, January 22, 2012

Before the party, silence.

Icon of the Holy Silence

A sermon preached for the Ordination to the Priesthood of Seth Walley, St. Peter's Church, Oxford, MS, January 22, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 43, Philippians 4:4-9, and John 6:35-38.

I think we’re almost ready. We’re almost ready for a party of biblical proportion. The flowers are done. The music is practiced. There’s a bishop, family and friends. We’ve gotten cleaned up and dressed. We are ready for a party.

The scriptures do their part to “pump up the volume.” Isaiah brings in the seraphim whooshing and whirring about, wings fluttering and flying. They’ve got their own soundtrack, too, singing “Holy, holy, holy.” Their music rocks the house, and then comes the smoke-- holy smoke that makes for holy sending forth.

Saint Paul lends his voice (as if there were ever a party he didn’t crash or comment on). And Paul’s word is a simple one: Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. And again, Rejoice! Know God’s peace. Know God’s truth. Know God’s excellence. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.

And as if all of that weren’t enough—what, with the music and the wings and the smoke, there’s food. The Gospel brings food a-plenty. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus. Whoever, wherever, however you come to me, you’ll find enough. You’ll eat and drink and be full. And you’ll be filled with so MUCH good stuff that you just can’t help but share and feed others.

Yes, we’re almost ready for a party. We’re ready for Seth to be ontologically changed. We’re ready to reaffirm our faith and assent to our own sending. We’re ready to rejoice-- but before we go on, before we go too far, we need to make sure we’ve extended one important invitation. We need to make sure we invite the Holy Spirit.

Of course, in some ways, that invitation is a standing one. The Spirit is already here, has been here, and will be here forever after. It’s not something we do or bring, but there is a special sense in which we still invite—not so much to summon the Spirit as to notice the Spirit’s presence: here, around us, within us.

In just a bit, we will sing old, old words, “Come, Holy Spirit.” “Come, Holy Ghost.” “Inspire. Anoint. Impart. Enable. Protect. Comfort. Fire up! Teach. Give peace.” All these things are prayers, but they’re also descriptions of what the Holy Spirit does, and will always do.

And then, after we sing this hymn, before our spoken prayers continue, there comes a moment-- a crucial, beautiful, powerful, frightening moment. In that moment we stop.

We do what Christians have done since at least the early Third Century. We keep silence and we pray for the Holy Spirit. Hippolytus, the Bishop of Rome, described it in the year 215: “Everyone will keep silent,” he wrote, “praying in their hearts for the descent of the Spirit.” [The Apostolic Tradition, c. 215].

And so we keep silence. We stop, and wait, and be still. It is a still point.

It’s the kind of still point T.S. Eliot reflects upon in Burnt Norton. [T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton,” II.] He writes,
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
It’s not a party until there’s dancing. But with God there’s always dancing. “Perichoresis” is the fancy Greek term for God’s inwelling, interpenetration, God’s movement in-and-around, God’s holy dance that sweeps us off our feet and into the eternal dance of God’s love. But the dance begins at the still point. The love of God begins and rekindles at a still point.

In the silent moment of this service, we recognize that even though we have just about everything we need here today—we need more. We need more than the Church. We need more than the Scriptures. We need more than ourselves. We need more than we can produce. We need more than we can attain. We need the Holy Spirit.

I love that our Ordinal preserves this holy moment of silence. I love it for Seth’s sake, because there are going to be days for him when he will need that to remember that moment, that pause, again and again. No matter how many books, how many conversations, or how many prayers, he will come those places where all that he brings (and it’s a lot) is just not enough. And so, he’ll need to stop. And pray. And listen. And invite the Holy Spirit.

I love this moment of silence for our sake, too. Because in our work there are, and will continue to be times when we don’t know what to do, or we’ve done all we can do, but we’re stuck. In our daily lives, there are those places where we get stuck: Our child is moving and growing in directions we are not prepared for. Older family are aging and becoming people we don’t recognize and yet we love them, and we’re responsible for them, and we don’t know what to do. Or the job ends. Or, the money runs out. Or, the love disappears. On and on, our list might go—the list of things bring us to the still point in our families, our relationships, our own hopes and dreams and plans, were we have done all we can. But we’re stuck, and we’re brought to our knees, and we need help.

The life Christ shows us that there is one more thing we can do. We can stop. We can ask for help. We can pray, “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.” We can pray, “Come ON, Holy Spirit.” We can pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” We can pray simply, “Come.” Or more realistically, we might just pray “Jesus,” as half-curse, and half-prayer. Or maybe we just let the silence pray. But our words don’t matter. It’s the silence that counts.

And God hears. And God moves. And God will show up in surprising and startling and humbling and helping ways. But show up, God does. And then the party (or the occasion, or the task, or the LIFE) really begins.

Seth, don’t forget to stop and ask for help—from God, from Our Lady, from your colleagues, friends, parishioners, and family. And from the Holy Spirit, who works through them all.

And may we, all of us, remember the gift of silence that offers rest, that invites the Holy Spirit, and that prepares us for eternal life with Christ and Creator.  Before the party, during the party, and after the party: let there be silence.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When God comes, do we notice?

A sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 15, 2012.  The lectionary readings are 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) , Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 , 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 , and John 1:43-51 .

Whenever someone is coming to All Souls to meet with me, I try to figure out how they’re arriving.  I want to know their approach to the building so that I can be ready.  If the person needs to roll something inside, then we meet them at the main doors.  If they are coming to the undercroft, then the kitchen door is probably best.  If they’re meeting the choir director or heading for the nursery, then there’s another door.  If the boiler room, yet another door.  And if the person is aiming for me or the offices, then the Woodley Place door, the one with a doorbell on it, is the best one. 

As long as I know how someone is coming, I can be ready for them.  I can recognize them.  I can receive them.

If God were coming to All Souls for a special visit, it would be the same.

I would probably inquire which entrance would be most convenient.  I would want to be ready.  I would want to be prepared, and I would especially want to recognize – to see, hear, and apprehend God—upon God’s arrival.  But, as Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess Violet puts it, quoting the old hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” (Season Two, Episode 1, quoting William Cowper’s hymn.)

God moves in a mysterious way.  God approaches in a mysterious way. God appears in mysterious ways, and today’s scriptures show us several.

In our first reading, the boy Samuel is sleeping in the hallway of the temple. He’s an apprentice there, so he must have been familiar with the sounds of the place at night.  And so when he hears a voice, he assumes it’s the voice of Eli, the old priest whose service he is in.  Samuel is probably 11 or 12 years old and, as an apprentice at the temple knows about God, even if scripture says “he did not yet know the Lord.”  He must have known all the great stories of the faith, something of the prophets and priests and characters.  But he did not yet know God well enough to recognize God’s voice when he heard it.  Or, even at a young age, Samuel might not have seen or heard God coming.  Samuel might have expected God to come from a different direction, with a different voice, in some different guise.  He would have had certain impressions and ideas about who God might be, and how God might work—he doesn’t seem to have been ready for God to rouse people out of bed in the middle of the night. Samuel’s expectations, at first, don’t allow him to hear God.  But old Eli helps Samuel to realize God in the vision.  He helps Samuel realize God in the nighttime, in a vision, in prayer, and in the silence.   

Before we look at our second reading, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I think we need first to admit that Paul, himself, had problems recognizing God.  Before his vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul persecuted Christians.  He did his best to wipe them out.  Even after his conversion, even within his preaching and writing, Paul struggles with inner and outer demons that do their best to obscure his vision, to cloud his understanding and limit his perception of all God would do.  Paul understands God through reason and rhetoric.  And like a lot of us, his own thinking sometimes gets him into trouble.  But Paul is wired that way.  He has to think things out and talk them out.  Paul embodies those words of Walt Whitman:  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.”  (Song of Myself)  Paul is large.  Paul contains multitudes. 

And so, Paul is probably the perfect person to preach to the church in Corinth—a worldly, sophisticated congregation.  The Corinthians liked to enjoy life, and didn’t always know where to draw the line, and so they were constantly getting distracted by things that would take the place of God for them.  But Paul encourages them to look no further than their own two feet. Start with your own body, Paul says.   Give thanks for the body—even as it ages, get creaky and worn, stops working correctly and often misbehaves.  He says, Stop looking elsewhere for joy or gratification or affirmation—give thanks for the miracle that is each one of us.  God has raised and blessed and hallowed the Body.  Therefore respect it, give thanks for it, take care of it. Look at your hand in front of your eyes and realize God even in the body.

In our Gospel, it’s Nathanael who almost misses God because he’s expecting God to come from a different direction—to look and sound different from this country boy, Jesus.  But here, right in front of him, is the One.  Christ doesn’t come from Rome, or any of the other great cities.  He hasn’t traveled the world.  He doesn’t come from some far away, exotic, rich and wonderful place.  Instead he’s from Nazareth.  If you go to Nazareth today, it’s not a whole lot different from when Jesus was there, except there’s probably a lot more plastic. We can almost feel and join in Nathanael’s disappointment. 

But Jesus senses this.  Slowly, in that Christly charming way he has, Jesus begins to talk to him. Jesus talks through him, almost.  Jesus lets himself be known by Nathanael.  And Nathanael sees something in Jesus, and wants to follow.  “Rabbi!” is his simple statement of faith and trust.  “You are the Son of the God, the King of Israel.”  To which Jesus simply smiles and says, “you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The scriptures ask us today, “Do we see God when God comes?  Do we notice?

Or are we busy preparing in the wrong place.  Is it like when we’re expecting a delivery at church, and so we’ve unlocked doors, moved things around, turned on lights, and are ready--- only to realize that the person making the delivery is standing patiently on the other side of the building, in a place that is better for them to enter?   Do we ever do this kind of thing spiritually?

God might meet us in church or in a vision or in silent prayer, like it was for Samuel.  Or God might occur to us in our thinking and or in our conversation, like with Paul.  God might even come through a friend who point us in the way, who says “Come and see,” and so we go and see, and we meet the Risen Christ. 

But God also might come in a hospital waiting room, in a fast food restaurant, in a board meeting or an AA meeting, in a family gathering or on a first date.  God enters our world not so much when and where we think we’re most ready.  But rather, God comes where God wills.  “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”

This weekend offers a number of opportunities to remember the work and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He had his own version of “come and see,” as he brought people together to work for Civil Rights.  God came to him in through suffering and heartache, through human frailty and his own human nature, but God eventually came in a dream that could be named and offered to others—the dream that

“ . . . little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” A dream that, with Isaiah, “one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” [“I have a dream,” delivered August 28, 1963]

And so, in concrete, particular, everyday ways, God has come and keeps coming as we live into the dream for civil rights, for human rights, and for all of God’s dreams to be realized.

The Good News of our scriptures today and the Good News of the faith that is in us is that God comes.  God visits.  God surprises.  God startles.  God sweeps us off our feet.  God picks us up and draws us close.  God comes—not always when we’re most prepared, but God comes always when we are most in need. 

Thanks be to God for the power of his visitation, the power to knock down doors and fill our lives with love and with hope.  May we realize God’s presence and share God’s power.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Changed, challenged and compelled

A sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 8, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, and Mark 1:4-11.

Before coming to Washington, I would try to exercise a few times a week at a YMCA.  The old McBurney Y had been almost entirely vertical—8 or 9 small floors stacked on top so that if you wanted one kind of machine, you might need to go to one floor.  If you wanted room to stretch, you’d go to another floor. Much of the workout was simply in navigating the building, up and down, without getting hit by an opening door in a stairwell.

But just before I moved away, a new Y was built.  It sprawled more than it climbed, but there was still a kind of stacking to the space.  But this time, there were openings between levels, so if you were on the indoor track, you could run around the machines and pool.  You’d run over the basketball courts.  I liked the elliptical machine—the easier version of a stair-climber—and I tried to get to the gym early so that I could get a particular elliptical machine, in a particular spot.  From “my” machine, not only could you watch the runners on the track (and feel self-righteous about saving your knees from that abuse), but I could also see the swimming pool.  And on certain days, early in the morning, there in the pool, the babies were learning to swim. 

Watching those tiny little kids, who really looked like jerky little tadpoles, always made me laugh.  As painful or scary as it might have been for the child, for the onlooker, it was a joyful thing.  The whole scene was filled with hope and promise, with tenacity and persistence.  It was a great drama, there in the shallow end of the pool.  Whenever I watched them, I was reminded of baptism. 
The water, the tears, the babies, the parents trying to be helpful but coming to terms with the limits to their care and protection—all of that being played out over and around water.  And today, as I think about baptism—the baptism of Jesus and the baptism of us all—I think of some similarities between those swimming classes for babies and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. 

Often on days such as these, the church encourages us to “remember your baptism.”  But what, exactly does that mean?  Especially for those who were baptized when they were infants, what does it mean “to remember”?  I think it’s a little like those swimming classes.  Few, if any, of those children will remember the actual class in which they learned to swim.  But the fact will remain:  they learned to swim.  They can swim.  Come high water, they will know what to do. 

It’s a similar thing with a Christian.  The memory may have faded.  The details may be fuzzy.  But the fact of baptism remains.  We were taught to swim, spiritually, and nothing can change that, come hell or high water. 

There is another similarity.  The babies at the Y did not decide to learn to swim.  Their parents did not encourage them to grow up, read and research whether one might best navigate water with paddle or motor or the physical means of swimming.  Instead, parents made the decision that this would be good for the child.  Later, as the child grew, she might learn other strokes, other styles, and develop her own unique way of swimming.  But she had been given the basics, given a great gift that would serve her well in the future. 

Baptism is not a magic spell cast over a newborn to protect him from an evil eye.  Instead, baptism is a beginning.  It’s a free gift.  It is a sacrament.

The Catechism in the back of our Prayer Books reminds us that a sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”  Going further, the Catechism says: “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.”  Notice who’s doing the action here.  Not the child or person being baptized.  Not the parent or the grandparent, the aunt or the uncle.  But God.  Baptism is God’s initiative, God’s decision, and God’s action.  It’s the sacrament by which GOD adopts us as children and GOD makes us members of Christ’s Body.

At Christmas we celebrated the birth of a baby, the child of God who is God-in-the-flesh, Emmanuel, God-among-us and God with-us.  On Epiphany we proclaimed that this God of life is not only God-for-us, but God-for-all.  And today, we remember how Jesus was baptized by John, not so much because Jesus needed to be made holy through baptism, but because, through baptism, Jesus is able to make us holy.  He makes us holy through water, water that is animated by the Holy Spirit. 

Our first reading from Genesis reminds us that the Spirit of God was there at the very beginning.  Even before the earth was made, there was darkness and chaos, but over all there was a wind from God, the breath of God breathed out over the chaos, and rippled over the face of the waters.  Water and spirit mingled together and out of them came shape and form and purpose and new life.

In the Epistle reading, Paul is preaching about just this connection of water and Spirit.   People say honestly, they didn’t know there was a Holy Spirit.  And so Paul preaches, and tells them about the Spirit, and who knows what else he does.  He baptizes them and lays hands on them, and they begin to get it.  Evidence of the living spirit of Jesus Christ fills their hearts and begins to change their lives.

In our Gospel this energy of water and spirit combines in new form as Jesus is baptized.  It inaugurates his public ministry:  it marks the beginning,  it energizes him, it gets him going, and it pushing him out. Baptism (and the reaffirmation of baptism) does those things for us, as well.

In baptism we are changed.  We are challenged.  And we are compelled. 

Baptism changes us.  From dry to wet, we are moved forward, leaving an old life behind.  This is a symbol that we can return to as long as we live. At his baptism, God says, “You are my child, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  God says the same thing to each one of us at our baptism.  It’s our inauguration, our commissioning, our call to action on behalf of Christ.

Baptism claims us as one of God’s own, for us to continue “getting wet” with one another, to get involved, and to allow the power of God to have its effect upon us. Saint Paul understands baptism as dying and rising again. He says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6).  As we are continually brought through death to life, through death-dealing circumstances and problems, to new life with its hope and promise, we are changed again and again.  And this change has its beginning in baptism.

We are also challenged in baptism.  The cold of the water, the strangeness of it.  People looking on, the odd priest scooping us out of our parents’ arms—all of it is a challenge.  But just as a stone that’s thrown into water disturbs the water and makes a ripple effect, the effect of our baptism will continue to disturb our lives and the lives of those around us as it ripples through time.  If others get close to us, they’ll get wet, as well.  Our baptism will naturally spill over.

Being baptized challenges us in the way we make decisions, in the way we spend money, in the way we treat other people.

And finally, our baptism compels us to share the gift.  Offer water to others.  Teach another to swim.  We offer baptismal hope when we bring someone to church, when we volunteer in the spirit of Christ, when we extend a hand, or when we share a kind word with someone who needs it.  We do this physically through ministries and mission, but we also do it spiritually, as simply as when we help others hear that there is a source of water, there is a God of love, and there is a God who will never let us sink.

Tilden Edwards is an Episcopal priest who helped found the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation often speaks of “leaning back” into the presence of God. If you ever see Tilden in a room, you can see him doing this physically, as he actually does lean back, or settle in as a part of his prayer, as a part of being open to God, as a part of “remembering his baptism.”  It’s a little like resting in the water, trusting the water to buoy us and hold us. Trusting our baptism that we have learned how to stay afloat and that there is a multitude of saints standing guard around us and ready to extend a hand, should we need it.

On this feast we give thank for the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for his becoming like us that we might become more like him. And we give thanks for our own baptism, especially as the memory of our baptism continues to claim us, to challenge us, and to compel us outwards.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Letting our Light Shine

An article for the All Souls Weekly, January 8, 2012

This week the Church enters the season after the Epiphany.  In the coming days we reflect upon the ways in which Christ has appeared and continues to appear among us.  Isaiah urges, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1).  We’re called to arise, but I think we’re also called to raise up others. We’re called to “let our light shine,” and especially these days, I think we’re called to let our light shine as Episcopalians.
This week the Vatican made public its arrangement by which Episcopalians may become Roman Catholics.  I guess for those who are angry with the Episcopal Church this opportunity must seem as if Pope Benedict is offering a sort of new light.  But for me, it’s a harsh and artificial light.  It’s like a spotlight that is strong, focused, and steady, yet it relegates too much and too many to the shadows.
The light of Christ as perceived and shared by the Episcopal Church is different.  Admittedly, it can seem like a softer light.  It is a light filtered through scripture, reason, and tradition.  And while it may not always be as clear or certain, the Light of Christ through an Episcopal lens is honest. Rather than reveal everything at once, the light we perceive is like the star followed by the magi.  It’s a light that points the way and thereby compels us to rely on God and one another so that we can discern our next steps. 

As Episcopalians, we have a lot of light to let shine and to share.  Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, continues to lead with a smart competence and a holy wisdom.  Our new bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, brings enthusiasm, faith, and passion.  She shows a pastoral sensitivity along with a clear commitment to progressive Christianity.
But more than any single leader, our understanding of the Church welcomes and raises up leaders from the pews, encouraging light from all. May the New Year offer us increasing opportunities to share and shine our light.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

What's your REAL name?

A sermon for Sunday, January 1, 2012, the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The lectionary readings are Numbers 6:22-27 , Galatians 4:4-7 , Psalm 8 , and Luke 2:15-21 .

I’ve never really had a nickname.  For the most part, I’ve always been John.  That’s with an H, and it’s not short for anything—certainly not for some longer form adding “a’s” in unexpected places.  It’s just plain John. 

There was a short time in college when my two good friends were also named John, and that presented a problem whenever we would appear together.  At that point, one became Jack, another “Tersh” as an abbreviation of his last name, and me—I became JB.  Being Jack, Tersh, and JB, we all relinquished our “Johnship.” 

But a lot of people do have nicknames.  In fact, there are a couple of people I could name for you ONLY by their nickname.  If I had to come up with the person’s given name, I couldn’t do it.  When I’ve been around people with nicknames, there’s a question often put to those people.  And it’s a question the church asks us today:  What’s your REAL name.  You may go by “such-and-such.”  Your family may know you by something.  And you may even think of yourself by a certain name.  But today what’s your real name? 

In Judaism the real name of God is thought to be so sacred, so beautiful, and so powerful that it’s never said out loud.  Instead, observant Jews often refer to God by saying Adonai, meaning “The Lord,” or simply “HaShem,” meaning, “The Name.”  Is Islam, there is power and help in praying the 99 names of God.  I love one Sunni scholar’s interpretation of the number 99.  He says, “Allah is odd.”   “Allah is odd [being one—an odd number] and loves odd numbers
.”  [Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj Nishapuri, Sahih Muslim].  Names are important.

Today’s feast is called The Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Roman Church today it’s a special day for the Blessed Virgin Mary, but even there is a focus on a name—the name given to the mother of Jesus.  Their official title of the day is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Theotokos, the word meaning “Mother of God” is quite a name. It is a name given by the faithful, adopted by the Church; a name argued about and a name prayed to.  Mary got a new name and on the 8th day, Jesus a name.

Eight days after the birth of Jesus, his parents take him to the temple for the customary circumcision and naming. Jesus is circumcised and dedicated. His mother is blessed. And Jesus is given the name that the angel Gabriel had said he should be given.  He is given the name that is a form of the name Hebrew name Joshua.  Jesus means, “salvation is from God,” or “salvation is from the Lord.”

Talk about a big name:  Salvation. His name means that he saves.  In Christ we receive a new name, and it’s a name that saves.  The life of Jesus saves us from a life lived only to the self. The words of Jesus save us from anything or anyone who would demean us or suggest that we are anything other than a child of God.
The healing of Jesus saves us as we pray for wholeness and try to extend his healing to others. The laughter of Jesus saves us from despair. The welcome of Jesus saves us in from the cold. The death of Jesus saves us from the fear of the grave and from dying without a purpose. The resurrection of Jesus saves us from the power of sin to keep us down, the resurrection saves us sin, it saves us—many times—from ourselves.

Jesus saved not only from, but he also saves us for. He saves us for his father, so that God might delight in us his children. Jesus saves us for the kingdom of God, that way of believing and living with one another here-and-now as well as in the future, that way of lifting up one another, encouraging one another and loving one another. Jesus saves us for life—so that in any situation, in any misfortune, in any crisis or calamity we can look through the death to life and to life everlasting.

On this day we celebrate the name that saves and we also celebrate the fact that we share his name. Today being New Year’s Day, it’s a good day to think about names.What names do we carry with us into this new year?Do they suit us?

Sometimes a name that has been given to us or we have given ourselves limits or restricts.Sometimes it even oppresses.The past couple of years’ discussion of the problem of bullying in schools has reminded us of the power of name-calling.

Sometimes those names stay with us and it takes a lot to change them.  But that’s where God can come in.  Just as, in our first reading, God puts God’s name upon the people of Israel, so God names us.  Like the naming in the Book of Genesis, God calls us “good.”  Like the naming at the baptism of Jesus and at our own baptism, God calls us “blessed” and “beloved.”

Many have read the book “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett or seen the movie.  If so, you’ll remember the several places in which Aibileen Clark, one of the main characters in the story, hugs the little girl Mae Mobley close and says, You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me? . . . .You is kind, you is smart, you is important!”  In that moment, and as long as those moments live in Mae’s heart, God’s names overpower whatever small, mean, or hurtful names might have been used by her mother or by anyone else. 

As we think about a new year and think about those things we might like to do differently, there is the opportunity for us to take on a new name. Perhaps that name describes how you’d like to be in the new year. Perhaps a new name marks a transition or a turning point for you. Perhaps it is simply a growing more deeply into a name you have already being growing into.
And so, what’s your name?  What’s your REAL name? 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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