The world calls us many names. But Christ gives you a new name – my beloved child.
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 17, 2016 – Isaiah 62:1-5, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
A New Name – Pastor Evan Davis
There’s a great little meme going around on facebook about perception – the way we see ourselves and the way others see us. It’s not always the same thing. One of them is about pastors, which of course I’ve noticed. It says: Master of Divinity…What my friends think I do: a picture of a bunch of Catholic nuns. What society thinks I do: intensely reading the Bible in a room with stained glass windows. What the church thinks I do: a pastor praying over someone with hands lifted in the air. What I think I do: Jedi Knight! What I actually do: a person screaming there’s no time, there’s never any time!!!1
Who are we as the church? It probably depends who you ask. Our friends who don’t go to church might imagine us as group of people who think we’re really holy, who think we’re better than they are, people who can quote scripture chapter and verse. Society thinks we’re the people who judge you for what you do wrong or for who you are – the people with a moral lesson for everyone except ourselves – in a word, hypocrites. Who do we think we are? Maybe we think we’re the faithful remnant, those who still care enough to show up to worship God and serve our neighbors in Jesus’ name. Maybe we think we’re all alone as witnesses to Jesus. Maybe for us this is simply family. Maybe we’re the Church because together in this place we hear hope and meaning and receive direction for our lives (I hope so!).
But who does God think we are? There’s the only question that matters. Because whoever God thinks we are – that’s who we actually are.
Our names tell us who we are. Our parents name us with love. Maybe you’re named after your grandmother or grandfather, maybe your Mom and Dad, maybe an aunt or uncle. But that name means something. It’s an expression of the love your parents had for you before you were born, when you were only a thought.
But society also tries to give you a name. The world tries to label us. White. Black. Rich. Poor. Single. Divorced. Old. Young. Skinny. Fat. Redneck. Liberal. Conservative. Have you been trapped by these names forced on you? In Isaiah, the prophet is speaking to God’s people Israel whose hopes have been shattered. Jerusalem, the holy city on Mount Zion, has been destroyed. The people and the city are both imagined as female by the prophet. She is in ruins. She is called Forsaken, because it seems she has been. Where is her God now? Her land is called Desolate. What grows there? Where is the harvest? Where are her children running and playing in the fields and on the hillsides?
Do you know anyone the world has called Forsaken? I think of the couple who have lost a baby. I think of young adults who have lost their mother. I think of widows whose husbands have gone before them. All these people I know. I think of people who have been raped. Of refugees yearning for safety and freedom. Of hard-working people without enough hours or a decent salary. Of people made Desolate by addiction, disease, envy, loneliness, broken relationships.
It is to these Forsaken, Desolate people that the prophet shouts “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her…for the LORD delights in you.”
God gives you a new name. Do you remember? You are named in the most holy name. ______, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is God’s act of naming and claiming you as his own, and God’s delight is in you.
No matter what has happened to you. No matter what is broken, what has gone wrong, God delights in you. Whatever the world calls you, whatever you call yourself, God calls you…mine. My Delight. My Beloved Son, My Beloved Daughter.
But not just you. All of us have been given a new name. Just like St. Paul, I do not want you to be uninformed. The Holy Spirit is what has given you the faith to trust that in Jesus on the cross, stretching out his arms to all, we see the real face of God. This same Spirit gives all of us gifts.
The word Paul uses for “gift” is charisma, in the plural charismata. Charisma. It comes from charis, which means “grace.” So these are “grace-gifts.”2 They aren’t abilities innate to our humanity or something we have learned or earned on our own.
Here’s my second Star Wars reference in this sermon. When Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi, he says, “a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.” Without the Force, Luke can’t make things levitate or manipulate people’s minds or sense the presence of evil. He’s just a guy. Charismata, spiritual gifts, flow from the Holy Spirit. Just as your value comes from Jesus, God the Son, because God delights in you, your abilities and therefore, your calling, your vocation, come from God the Holy Spirit.
So what are your gifts? The call is in the gifts. A crazy-but-true thing about the gospel is that everyone in this room is gifted and called. Every person here, and every person we meet, is from and of God. Even the people who drive us crazy. Even the people we think are wrong about everything.
So we have to listen to each other. We have to respect each other and make space for each other because we’re all a piece of the puzzle and it won’t fit together if we lose a piece. We are, collectively as the church, bound together into one Body – we’ll hear more from Paul about this next week. Together we are the voice of God renaming his apparently forsaken children, telling them God never forsakes any of us. We respect and look for the breath of God, the Holy Spirit in every person. We share our faith that Jesus is the face of God and that we are called to be his presence in the world.
I will be inviting myself into your schedule in the coming weeks to listen to you, to help you name your gifts, to hear your perspectives, to help you live out your calling as a baptized child of God, a follower of Jesus in this world. You are each a piece of the puzzle, a member of the Body, and we need you to be who God calls you to be, so that all of us together can be his voice in this corner of his world. Amen.
1Not sure this link will work, but you can find the meme posted here: https://www.facebook.com/184277211606988/photos/a.639314956103209.1073741826.184277211606988/715962765105094/?type=3&theater (accessed January 15, 2016).
2Richard Carlson, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2737 (accessed January 15, 2016).