Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2014 (preached Jan. 19, 2014)
First Reading Isaiah 49:1-7
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Gospel Reading John 1:29-42
Naming is serious business. I honestly don’t know what some people are thinking of when they name their children. Most of the well-known examples are from celebrities, because they get the most press attention when they have a baby.
There are some really outrageous ones. The Oscar award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband named their daughter APPLE. Yep.
Singer Kayne West and his girlfriend named their daughter North. Put first and last name together and you get North West. Uh huh.
These girls are going to have a tough time in school I think.
Nicknames also strongly impact us as we grow up, and even as adults. Some become terms of endearment. My big brother started calling me “Brat” when I was quite young, and still calls me that now even though I’m in my late 40’s.
Names hold memories – good ones, and bad ones too.
The phrase, “stick and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is a flat-out lie. Words can hurt deeply.
Words can permanently scar us, leaving a dark legacy in our hearts. Names like “stupid,” “good for nothing,” “ugly,” or “fat.”
Our readings today are full of names, and naming – and those names are intimately connected to CALLING.
From Isaiah the prophet writes, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me… he said to me, ‘You are my servant…’”
Again in verse 6, he says the Lord calls him a servant, and then says, “I will give you as a light to the nations…”
The Lord then refers to himself as “the Redeemer of Israel and the Holy One of Israel.”
And as an example of what I said earlier about names leaving dark legacies, the Lord refers to “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers…”
Those are certainly names that are difficult to overcome.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells us he was “called to be an apostle…” and that he’s writing to those who are “called to be saints.”
The reading ends with Paul telling the Corinthians that they “called into the fellowship” of Jesus.
Our gospel reading contains one of the most famous naming, or re-naming, stories – when Jesus called Simon son of John as his disciple, and renamed him Peter.
But the reading begins with John the Baptist doing some naming of his own. He calls Jesus “the Son of God” and twice John names Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” a name which has become important for the Church.
Indeed, every time we celebrate communion we remember and sing the ancient “Agnus Dei” – Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”
Names are important. They become part of our identity, for good or ill. And wrapped up in that identity is our calling – the person God intends for us to be.
Think about all the names we have, all the labels that tell the world who we are.
I’ve shared one of my nicknames with you, but I’m also mom, wife, pastor, daughter, friend. All that equals Lisa – the name by which the world knows me.
Reflect for a moment on your own names – the name by which we all might know you, but your other names too, some of which might be similar to mine like mother, and others that are unique just to you.
What are the meanings behind those names, and how do they reflect and help define the person you are?
Now. There is one name which we all share that I haven’t mentioned yet, because I wanted to save the best for last.
I won’t put you on the spot, but think in your head for a moment what that name might be.
It shouldn’t be too hard, considering where we are.
When we were baptized, one of first names we are called is “child of God.” As a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ, each one of us is called “Christian.”
This is the name that truly defines each one of us. For our belief in Jesus the Christ informs everything about us.
If we are parents, our decision making is informed by the values that faith has taught us.
If we are or have been married, our behavior toward our spouse is informed by those same values.
Our faith informs everything – how we treat other people, how we behave in business transactions, even how we feel about ourselves.
Martin Luther said, that when he was plagued by doubt, or felt attacked by the devil, he would say something like this, “I am baptized, I am baptized, and because I am baptized the devil must flee!”
We may not feel outright attacked by the devil as Luther did, but I think all of us have been through times when we felt unappreciated, unloved, taken advantage of, or outright mistreated.
As Christians, we’re not immune from feeling badly about ourselves, from letting the “bad” naming that happens in life get to us.
It is then that we, like Luther, need to remind ourselves of our FIRST name, the calling and identity that comes before all others. Child of God – Christian.
It is this name that tells us that we are supremely loved, precious, exquisite creations of the God who created the universe.
We are so loved that Jesus made himself the Lamb of God on our behalf.
In the Old Testament lambs were sacrificed in the morning and evening for the sins of the people. And in the last of the plagues, the Jews were saved from death by the blood of a lamb.
Jesus became our Lamb of God. Through his sacrifice and blood our sins are forgiven and WE are saved from death.
Our name, Christian, tells us that we have value beyond the greatest jewel, beyond the highest thought, greater than any insult that sin can throw at us.
Own that name, as Christ has owned you.