Monday, March 09, 2009

Called by name...

I was at a bit of a loss yesterday as I was preparing my final draft of my sermon. The lectionary for second Lent is one of those "standard" Sundays in which the main image we get is Jesus telling his disciples that the Son of Man, when he gets to Jerusalem, is going to eventually be rejected by the leading authorities of the day, the chief priests and the pharisees (hyper-religious class). At that time, he/Son of Man/Jesus will suffer rejection, violence-even death on the cross. All of these statements are anathema to those who call themselves his followers. His statements proclaim the antithesis of expected "success" and work against the grain of most people's expectations of the messiah. So bizarre are his statements, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him. This prompts Jesus to utter one of the great lines in the Gospel genre, "Get behind me, Satan..."

What new thing can be said about this set of lessons? Am I just provoking my own hubris in an attempt to express a new angle on an old saw?


The thing that caught me up short was the Hebrew scripture, compounded with the selection of New Testament from Paul's letter to the Romans. God has called Abram and Sarai from the land of their birth and from all that is familiar to a heritage that at some point in the future will be revealed. The promise is that this aged couple will become the font of a river of sons and daughters, that nations will look to them for their beginnings. In this Sunday's passage, God tells Abram that he and Sarai will become true, biological parents to these nations. This promise, to a man and women in their 90s, is a bit absurd to say the least. Yet, God is faithful, and Abram-excuse me, Abraham-and Sarah hear this promise. Abraham believes in God's word, and as Paul says, that is reckoned to him as righteousness. Those promises are not just noted for his sake, says Paul, but also for ours. What a gift...God not only knows us, and cares to know us, but God also names us when those promises are made and fulfilled. So, I preached on names. Names come from some place-somewhere in our parents' and ancestors' narrative.They tell a story. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob-Rachel and Leah...all of them receive a name and sometimes more than one name that adds a chapter to their story.

When I got home, I took the dog for a walk, and decided to wear my ipod for a musical interlude. On shuffle, one of the first tunes up was a Casting Crowns song, "Who am I."


Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

That dovetailed, for me, into what I was aiming to preach on: that God in calling us, makes us known-not only to God but also to the world. God, in loving us and naming us, creates us over again and again into being. Not only do we receive the gift of knowing who we are, we are also given glimpses into how we are...how God intends for us. We don't earn it, but it is a free gift of love and life. Same way we get names with stories, when God names us we become participants in the unfolding story of creation itself. Names create identity. They create a space for us in this world and call us to something beyond the mundane.

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Even though we are finite, as the chorus points out. We are just flowers that quickly fade, there is something in our name that will persist. Not so much in a human sense. I have been around long enough to know that no matter what we do in this world, even names eventually fade away. "All is but a puff...." That is what the Teacher offers in Ecclesiastes, right alongside "To everything there is a season."

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

Being a priest, particularly right now being a priest to a congregation in transition between settled rectors, I am very tuned to the power of names. There is the name of the parish, with all the rich weaving of history that give it a story. There are the names of its priests who have served it. There are the names of the people as I get to know them...and the names of people who are present not in person but whose presence is felt-mothers and fathers of the parish who have gone before. Finally, there is the name of one-yet-to-be-named, the new rector. Names are important.

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours

Ultimately, names remind us of who we belong to, our families, and our God.

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