Monday, October 4, 2010

Whats in a name?

Today, I wanted to share the message I gave at church yesterday.  It was an attempt to connect three things happening this past weekend.  One was World Communion Sunday, the other was 'peacemaking Sunday' - which is a special offering in the PC(USA) for local/national and global peacemaking ministries.  And the third was a child presentation at our church.
The child presentation is a Cameroonian tradition that is pretty awesome.  The tradition involves having to bring a child to be presented to the elders, the church and to God in the worship service before the child and the mother can go anywhere.  Traditionally, the mother would stay at home with the child for 3 months - with the family and community caring for her and the rest of the family - that has gone by the wayside, but elements of the tradition, especially the presentation to God and the church, remain.  
Saturday night there was a celebration of the birth - and Cameroonian celebrations, with all the food and fellowship that come with it, are not to be missed.  [Seriously, it has been one of the great joys of this calling to be allowed to participate in these traditions from another culture and to be invited to be a part of them].  
So that is the setting for this message.  
The text for the message is 2Timothy 1:1-14, which can be found here:
So here is the message:

There is a lot going on today with Worldwide communion, Peacemaking Sunday & of course the celebration that comes with a child presentation and it occurred to me that it is all about  and connected to a name.  The names or labels we call each other and whether those names and labels mark the other person as an ‘us’ or a ‘them’.
Let me share a story to try and explain what I mean, many of you are probably familiar with the phrase: Blood is thicker than water.  I was given a clear lesson as to what the phrase means one Thanksgiving as a child.
For this particular Thanksgiving our neighbors from down the street – including my best friend Brian and his little brother Tim – were joining us.  [And what you need to know about this scenario is that Tim is 4 years younger than us and was a fairly constant taker of abuse for his older brother.]
So after dinner, as we were heading downstairs to play, I did what I had seen and heard Brian do at least 100 times – I started making fun of Tim.  [Now, obviously I shouldn’t have been making fun of him – but I was young and that isn’t the point!]
The point is that Brian immediately took exception to my treatment of Tim and vigorously defended him.
I am an only child, and I learned very quickly that day that blood is thicker than water and that no matter how close Brian and I were as friends and no matter how badly Brian treated his brother – it wasn’t okay in Brian’s eyes for me to mistreat his brother.
I was just a friend – a best friend – but Tim was his family.  As good friends as we were, Brian and Tim were on the inside and I was on the out.  In a critical way Brian saw he and his brother as an ‘us’ that I was not a part of.
The importance of the relationship between those you are connected too, that my childhood best friend new and understood, is not unique but universal.  And the naming of – and what we name those we are connected to is not inconsequential, but central to understanding who ‘we’ are, who ‘they’ are and how all of us are connected.
In the reading from 2Timothy this morning, we see that the apostle Paul understood that there is a connection between our family – and our name – and our faith.  Paul also understands that there is no inherent conflict between the personal and communal aspects of faith. No human being is born an orphan. We are all born into a family.
Lamin Sanneh, Christian scholar and Yale professor originally from Gambia, shares a saying from his tribe to explain this concept:person is a person because of other persons.  We are born into relationship, we grow and live in relationship and we die in relationship. Thinking of ourselves ‘individually’ without connection to others distorts the truth about us.
Sanneh, goes on to say that it is in our relationships that we find meaning and through our relationships – or more accurately through who we are related to – that we discover ‘who we are’ and what our name really is.
Faith connects us with others, grants us a name and an identity by which we can respond to God’s call, and assures us that others know that name. The giving of a name is in some ways the giving of life -  the abundant life of relatedness.
And so in our passage, Paul affirms Timothy’s faith by a threefold naming -- the names of his grandmother and mother and his own name. Wherever the faith has spread it has promoted and been promoted by this sense of names. As long as our names exist the church has hope of continuing community.
I believe we need to be reminded of the Christian perspective on names. Naming is a form of theological reasoning, a kind of discourse in divine relatedness.  Scripture abounds with examples of naming as invocation, supplication, vocation and answerability.   Naming lies at the center of healing and wholeness. With it we remember, recollect, respond, act and celebrate.
Without it we invoke the chaos of the ‘unnamed void’ seen in the opening verses of Genesis, a chaos that speaks to our modern disenchantment & detachment:
 Where diseases are named and individuals  are often unnamed suffering in hospitals and clinics;
Where The human toll of natural disaster, war and poverty is told by numbers – not names or stories.
Where the namelessness in workplaces drives people to despair.
But recall a name, and you impart life; make it a family name, and you bring eternity to earth. A name is a burning bush that illuminates human centeredness.
Timothy, child of Eunice, child of Lois, is not his own. Like Israel, he is united in his parents, scattered in the tribe and gathered under the covenant. His name is fed by the blood of Jesus Christ, nurtured by human milk and inscribed in the soul. When it is called he answers as no one else can.
Each of us has been given a name that is uniquely ours – that only we can answer to – but a name that is connected to our parents, our faith – and each other.
On days like this – when we celebrate the blessing of a child being presented to God – it is good and important to remember and think about the unique God given name that each of us has. 
A name shaped by our connectedness to the Holy Spirit of God and to each other.
But there are other things going on today – a focus on peacemaking and the celebration of worldwide communion.  These things are about names too – not our individual names but the names that we all share.
The entire point of worldwide communion Sunday is to recognize and represent that Christians around the world – in different countries, from different denominations, with varied theological backgrounds and different styles of governance – that all of us are united in and by the saving blood of Jesus Christ. 
Worldwide communion Sunday is about Jesus Christ, the name above all names.  The name under which all of us stand and are united to each other and with God.  A name bigger than any difference we may have.
Overcoming differences is what peacemaking is all about.  And I believe the key to real peace within ourselves and with each other is in yet another name. 
Another name that all of us share – and I really mean all of us:  not just ‘us’ gathered here this morning or all of ‘us’ celebrating communion this day but literally all of us – every human being.
Every one of us shares the name ‘child of God’ – name we are able to claim by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
That title – ‘child of God’ is part of our name whether we claim it or not because in Christ Jesus, by his blood, God has claimed all of us.
And blood is thicker than water. 
And the blood of Jesus Christ is think enough to cover and connect each and every one of us.
Because of the blood of Jesus we are all part of the family of God – and that means that when we look around in our communities there is no ‘them’ there is only an ‘us’
Jesus Christ has claimed all of ‘us’ as children of God
That means we need to treat those around us – all of those around us – as our brothers & sisters, because that is who and what they are.
This understanding changes everything:
God has made us part of his family with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that adoption
We are called – by the very nature of who and what we - are to care for our sisters and brothers and to help them discover their identity and their unique and true name in Jesus Christ.
It is easy and even natural to look at the world around us and separate who we see into ‘us’ and ‘them’ – and to take no responsibility for the ‘them’ around you.
Jesus doesn’t allow us to do that.
Blood is thicker than water and the blood of Jesus Christ has been shed to cover each and every one of ‘us’ – God’s children. 
It is because of the blood of Jesus Christ that we have been adopted into the family of God and welcomed into the ‘us’.  And it is because of the blood of Jesus Christ that we are called to invite and welcome all those around us –even and especially those we might like to name as ‘other’ or ‘them’ – into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and into the family of God.
We have the great blessing of knowing our true names and identities in Jesus Christ and it is our responsibility to reach out to those around us and share the blessing of being called by your true name – child of God – and welcomed in to the ‘us’ of the family of God.

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