What's In A Name...

A reflection on the readings for Easter 4A: Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10

When I was a young girl my mother was fond of telling me the story of how she named me. The top five names for girls in 1957 were: Mary, Susan, Debra, Karen, and Linda. My mother wanted a different name for me, unique and unusual, at least in her mind. She had a photo of me that was printed in the Salt Lake City newspaper on my first birthday, along with all the other kids celebrating first birthday's. The photographs made her point, three of the girls were named Debra and then there was me, Terri Lynnette: Terri spelled with two “r's” and an “i.” Simple as my name is I have had to spell it for people my entire life. And, in my entire childhood the only other Terry's I knew were boys. Sometimes I wished for a typical girl's name. Now, I know other women with the name Terri, although there are a number of different spellings.

My mother's given name was Joan, but in her 40's, with her children grown, and following a divorce from her second husband, she claimed a new identity through her Irish heritage. As a natural red-head with green eyes, she legally changed her name to Shannon.

Regardless of how intentional we are in selecting names, compared to the ancient world, the modern practice of naming is arbitrary. In the world of Jesus and those who came before him, Abraham and Sarah, names designated something particular about the person. Through God's blessing Abram, Sarai, and Saul under-go a change of name – Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, and Saul becomes Paul – the great St. Paul. The name change for these people in the Bible signifies a change in who they are, their identity has changed. The names of people in the Bible give us insight into who the person is.

In the Bible the name of God is a central theme. Knowing the divine name gives privilege to some, and invoking that divine name, according to Biblical stories, brings gifts of grace. Can you think of some the names of God that you know of from the Bible? In the Hebrew Bible God is named “El” which is also translated as “God.” Also - “El Elyon” - God most high; “El Olam” - everlasting God; “El Shaddai” - Almighty God. God revealed God's name to Moses as “I AM” which over time became known as YHWH – and is sometimes pronounced as Yahweh – although traditionally it is not said out loud. Christians have traditionally used Lord – a male noun describing authority; Adonai – which also means Lord; and Kyrios which for the ancient Greeks distinguished God from the Roman emperor.

The ancient Christian Church soon adopted Lord as the title for Jesus. But there are many other names for Jesus found in the Bible. Can you think of some? Here are a few names for Jesus that we find in the New Testament: Word, Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah, son of Joseph, King of Israel, Son of Man, Emmanuel, bread, vine, a mother hen, and, from our reading in John this morning, the good shepherd.

Many of the passages in scripture, including the Acts of the Apostles, which we hear every year in the season of Easter, remind us that the Christian life and faith proceeds from and , in, the name of Jesus.

In a few weeks, on the feast of Pentecost, we will baptize a new member into our community of faith and into the Christian Church. From now until that day we will pray for this young baby, by his first name Peyton, and his two middle names – Edward and Kirkland. But we won't use his last name, his surname because in baptism we all the same last name – Christian. So in a few minutes, when we pray for Peyton Edward Kirkland remember in the back of your mind that he will soon add another name – Christian. He will join us in the family of faith.

Being named Christian, and claiming our mutual identity as members of the family of Jesus, calls us to a particular identity. It's this forming and claiming of identity that brings us here each Sunday. Here to be reminded, through scripture, and prayer, and hymns, what we are to be about as the family of Christ. In other words, Christian is not only a noun, but it's also a verb. Christian is a call to action, to follow the shepherd, to live abundantly.

What do you think of when you consider what it means to live abundantly? I imagine most of us have had a change of heart about that term over the ten years or so. For most of us living abundantly no longer means having more things, bigger and better stuff. As Christians living abundantly has a particular context that models the life and ministry of Jesus. It means something along the lines of having abundant generosity and compassion for ourselves and for others.

One of my favorite television programs is “The Good Wife.” Tuesday night's episode was particularly gripping as Alicia wrestles with the betrayal of her husband's brief affair with her best friend and co-worker, Calinda. In one scene, Calinda, the tight-lipped, unemotional, private investigator for the firm, distraught over her broken friendship with Alicia, begins to fall apart. All alone in an elevator she dissolves into tears. In another scene, her boss, Will, a partner of the firm, notices that Calinda is not her self. Reaching out with care and compassion he suggests to her that one day she will need to confide in someone. But Calinda, stoic and resolute, responds, “There is one thing I have learned, I NEVER have to confide in anyone.”

As human beings we are born with a complex range of emotions and feeling. We need each other in order to become fully who we are intended to be. Our Christian identity is formative in that regard. Our call to live in community is intended to be supportive, each of us for the other. Day in and day out living our life of faith, worshiping together, praying together, breaking bread together – either in the Eucharist or over a meal – spending time learning about our faith and one another, being present for each other through our struggles and our joys – are all part of our Christian identity. Living a life of faith transforms us. Embraced in the love of Christ, in the security of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we learn that we are not alone. Living the life of faith teaches us the depth of God's love for us, we come to know that love as an inherent component of our identity. And in being loved, and named as God's beloved, we are called to do like wise, to go and love others as Christ loves us.

- Portions of this reflection were informed by: Gail Ramshaw, “Treasures Old and New” Images in the Lectionary, from the chapter, “Name of God”


Sharon said…
The beautiful picture at the top seems to go with every blog post you write, including this one!

I am so excited for your congregation to hear this sermon. It really lets them know what you value and what you see as basic to our faith and to human life. It is upbeat and challenging.

Thank you for sharing this!
Songbird said…
I was thinking the same thing about the header, which I adore.
And I second Sharon's other comments, too. This is a great message that continues to let the congregation get to know your story, while honoring the texts for this week.
Anonymous said…
Amen to Sharon and SB's comments - great way to tie all of the newness of you in the ancient of the Word
Gaye said…
Your opening about names makes me smile for I was born in 1958 and Gaye-Rose was most definitely not on any list! Shortening my name helped but I get called so many things from Gayle or Gail to Gaynor and by one fellow parent Cathy strangely enough, that I sometimes say jokingly "call me what you like just don't call me late for breakfast".

Yet names have importance, as you describe so well. Time to reevaluate my connection with my own.

Food for thought today!

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