Faith United Methodist Church
January 22, 2017
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: John 1:29-42, Isaiah 49:1-7
Prayer of Illumination:
Guide us, O God, by your word and your spirit, that in your light we may see light. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Lord and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sermon: Known By Any Other Name?
There are several different names being tossed about in our Scripture lessons today. In the Gospel we hear several different identifiers for Jesus – Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah. We also witness Jesus changing the name of Simon to Cephas, which means rock and is translated Peter. In Isaiah’s prophecy we are reminded that God calls us before we are born, knows our name while we are still in our mother’s womb.
Names held a different significance for people of the ancient world than they do for us today. How many times in the Bible do we learn that an individual is named for a particular circumstance or role in their life? Isaac, which means laughter, was named so because his mother Sarah laughed at the idea that she, at 90 years old, would have a son. The prophet Hosea named his children Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi (which mean bloodshed, no compassion and not my people) because the people Israel had forsaken God. Jesus renamed Simon Peter because Peter would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church. And God gave Saul the name Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus to signify his transformation from persecutor to follower. Names can have significant power.
And our names are powerful, too. As scared or lonely child, remember the feeling of hearing your mother call your name. In weddings we claim the name of our beloved saying, “I take you, Gary, to be my wedded spouse.” At funerals we recall the name of the deceased, affirming that God knows their name. Over Thanksgiving I visited my grandmothers grave. She’s been gone nearly 12 years, but it was still powerful to see her name engraved in that stone: Harriet Eleanor Niles.
And our identities are wrapped up in our names ~ past and present. Our worship series is exploring the question “Who Are You?”, but even the simple question of our name can sometimes get confusing. When we fill out government forms, or even the background check forms we fill out here at church as volunteers in our children or visitation programs, we need to provide all the names we have every gone by. Madien names. Former names. Aliases. And more and more these days men are changing their names as well as women. I have several clergy friends who, at their marriage, took a hyphenated name using both of their last names. Names are not necessarily static, but ever evolving. And this does not even take into account our nicknames. Every year I find at least one Christmas present under the tree for “Kris-Mouse.”
So maybe it is not surprising that in our short passage from the Gospel of John we hear so many names for Jesus. This was still very early in Jesus ministry and people were trying to figure out who he was. He had just been baptized by John and was only beginning to move out into his more public role. He was the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He was John the Baptizer’s cousin. But he was also something else…. Something more. Lamb of God? Son of God? Rabbi? Messiah?
In response to these fledgling disciples’ questions Jesus invited them, “Come and See.” Come and see what? Come and see how I live and what I love and what makes me cry and what I am willing to die for. As Mark Ralls puts it, “…words of invitation are more crucial to the life of redemption than even proclamations of faith. This is how the church begins.”
Come and see. It seems to me that too often we settle for the surface introductions. Names. Occupations. Hometowns. We may ask, “Who are you?” but do we really want to know. We go for the easy answers instead of the ones that might challenge us to step outside our comfort zones. The truth is, it is one thing to know about someone and quite another to know someone, right? We may have many acquaintances ~ or Facebook friends ~ but what is it to really know someone? What is it to know what brings joy or causes pain? What is it to know the passion of someone else’s life?
Last fall several of us journeyed through the book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. We followed Christian from the City of Destruction through the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City. One interesting aspect of this book (written in the 1600s) is that the characters do not get traditional names, but descriptive names. For example, Christian met friends along the way named Faithful and Hopeful, but encountered trouble when he crossed paths with Money-Love and Ignorance. Life would be a lot easier of we could tell the good guys from the bad guys based on name.
Christian life is not like that, though. (Although I would say that our own Faith does show great faith and Joyce does carry a spirit of joy.) We can’t determine the character of another based solely on their name. And others cannot tell our character by knowing our names. We have to practice discernment when meeting others and we have to live our beliefs so who-we-are can be known to the world.
Each of you received a sticky nametag when you arrived this morning. These are the type of nametags we often find when going to a meeting or conference or gathering with people we don’t necessarily know. Now, here at church, we have our plastic nametags that I see some of you are wearing. Those nametags are very useful in helping us ~ new-timers and old-timers alike ~ to get to know each other’s names.
So you may think this sticky nametag is unnecessary. But I am going to ask you to do something a little different with it. On this nametag I want you to write a descriptor you would like to be known for as a follower of Jesus. Your nametag could say, “Hello My Name is: Servant,” “Hello My Name is: Grateful,” “Hello My Name is: Generous,” “Hello My Name is: Peace Maker,” or any number of other things. Wear this nametag into the Gathering Space after worship and meet each other in a whole new way.
Pastor and preacher, Lillian Daniels put it this way, “‘Come and see’ Jesus says, as if to suggest that we know one another not by titles or names but ultimately by how we live.
Let us pray: Lord, you invite us to ‘come and see,’ to get to know you, yet we sometimes hesitate afraid of where you will lead, afraid of who we will become, afraid that what we see might change our lives. We are afraid that by following you we will lose our identity, but the truth is we will find it. We remember, as Isaiah told us, you know us before we are even born. Give us courage to know and be known, that we may find our true identity in our relationship with you. Let it be so. Amen.