Creekside Church
Sermon of January 17, 2016

"I Will Change Your Name"
Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-8

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I want to begin this morning with some reflection on names. Our own names, specifically. How many of you know the meaning of your name? In our culture, names are not generally words which we use in other contexts -- that is, they don’t have meaning apart from being a name, or we’ve so familiar with them as names that their other meanings don’t even occur to us. I don’t think of the beach when I talk to Sandy Gordon. If I’m watching the Miss America Pageant, I might remember that a tiara is a crown, but otherwise Tiara is person. Increasingly in our culture, names are made-up words or unconventional spellings put together because they sound pretty or look interesting. Ask any teacher about this trend toward non-traditional names. There’s a lot of comedic potential here, but that’s not where I’m headed this morning.

I mentioned several weeks ago, that the name Christopher comes from the Greek meaning Christ-bearer. There are several men at Creekside whose name means Honoring God. Can you guess what their name is? Timothy. A man and a woman whose names mean Beloved: David and Mary. Several women whose name means My God is abundance. (Elizabeth) And a couple men whose name is Germanic for Famous Spear (I’m not making this up) Roger; and finally a woman whose name comes from the Saxon word for Guide: Lodema. Positive connotations all of them -- I guess that includes Famous spear. As we talked about last week, we all have a need to know we are loved and valued. Whether it’s literally our name or not, we all need someone to call us Beloved.

The Hebrews had a more direct relationship with names, and a more specific sense that your name is your character, or your destiny. This is partly why there are biblical names which seem prophetic, or just plain wacky. Do you remember the twins Jacob and Esau? Esau meant “hairy one,” and Jacob meant “heel-grabber.” I’ve told my son that it’s a good thing I wasn’t studying Hebrew when I was pregnant with him, or his name would have been whatever the Hebrew word is for “heart-burn maker.” There are a number of stories in the Old Testament, and at least two in the New Testament, where God changes someone’s name and gives them a new name which better reflects who God has called them to be: Avram becomes Abraham, the father of a multitude. Jacob the conniving heel-grabber wrestles with God and is re-named Israel, God-Wrester, or God Prevails. Naomi, mother-in-law of Ruth, changes her own name to Mara, or Bitterness after the death of her husband and sons. Do you remember any name changes in the New Testament? Jesus tells the disciple Simon that he will be called Peter the Rock on which the church will be built. The Pharisee Saul becomes the apostle Paul.

Names represent the power that God has to transform our identity and change our destiny. Our text from Isaiah 62 was written to a people who were defeated, dispirited, and exiled. The city of Jerusalem, the civic and spiritual center of their county had been pillaged and the Temple destroyed, their leaders were taken to Babylon, and everybody else left behind to starve. These are extraordinary words of hope and comfort and joy: You will be a crown of beauty and a royal diadem in the hand of the Lord. You will no longer be called Forsaken and Desolate, but God will call you My Delight. God will rejoice over you. The message is: what you have been called is not who you have to be.

Many of us have names that are not the ones our parents gave us. Maybe they’re names that other people called us, but which we have chosen to internalize for ourselves. Names like Stupid, Worthless, Drunk, Frightened. The message of Isaiah 62 is what you have been called is not who you have to be. That transformation doesn’t happen because I wake up one morning and say, “From now on I want everyone to call me ‘Your Majesty.” Authentic change begins inwardly and works outward. It is the transformation which comes when we hear and believe that we are God’s beloved. As we live into that identity we begin to act from the security and conviction that we have value and purpose, and that God will never give up on us. With God’s help we can reject those negative and hurtful names that other people put on us and that we chose to accept. Those names aren’t who we are in the eyes of God. We belong to God, we are God’s beloved. I love you and you are mine.

I had to do a little wrestling to bring this text from Isaiah together with John’s account of the wedding at Cana. There’s wedding imagery in both texts: metaphorically in Isaiah, and literally in John, but I believe there’s a deeper point of connection than that. Last week we talked about the baptism of Jesus, and that God’s words “You are my Son, the Beloved; in you I am well-pleased” and the presence of the Holy Spirit are a sign of Jesus’ identity and purpose. The words are nearly identical in each gospel account of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But John’s gospel doesn’t include an account of Jesus’ baptism. Instead, John builds a pattern of seven signs, or miracles, which show Jesus’ identity and purpose as the Son of God. The wedding at Cana is the first of these signs. Like Jesus’ baptism in the synoptic gospels, this happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, we get a little sense from this passage that kicking off his ministry at this wedding was not exactly Jesus’ idea. It’s his mother Mary who comes to him and says, “They have no wine.” And Jesus replies, “What does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” But Mary knows who Jesus is, and that he has been called to a special purpose by God. It’s right there in his name, the name the angel told her before his birth, Jesus: Yahweh is salvation. The wedding at Cana is the first sign that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one. It’s the beginning of the revelation of his glory. This is my Son -- God’s Son and Mary’s son--the Beloved. In him I am well-pleased. This is the pivotal of Jesus’ life when he begins to live into the name and the purpose which he was given before his birth.

I think it’s worth remembering that this is congregation which changed its name within the past fourteen or fifteen years. Our name change was motivated by practical, rather than theological, considerations; we had been at a location at Wolf and Benham in downtown Elkhart where we had been called the Elkhart City Church of the Brethren, and we were moving to an unincorporated part of the county in Dunlap. The Lapkart Church of the Brethren was proposed and immediately discarded. I remember thinking at the time what a gift it is to choose your own name; it means you get some say in your own identity and how you choose to present that to other people. It isn’t something that we as individuals or many that congregations get to do very often. I thought the team from the church who worked on this and proposed the name Creekside did a great job. Creekside is a geographical reference to the Yellow Creek, which runs mostly unseen along the back of our property. It is also a more subtle reference to baptism and all of the theological and historical layers of meaning that baptism has for the Church of the Brethren. Let me highlight a few: the Church of the Brethren came into existence in 1708 because 5 men and 3 women chose to break the law by being baptized as adults. They chose to risk this civil disobedience because they felt compelled as disciples of Jesus Christ to follow Jesus’ example as faithfully as they could. They called themselves Brethren because they were brothers and sisters, bound by a purpose which was even greater than family relationships. Identity and purpose because we chose to be baptized, just as Jesus was baptized.

This isn’t just our history, it’s who we committed to be when we chose the name Creekside. Whether or not we were baptized as adults, it’s who we claim to be when we call ourselves Christians. Our culture may not have as strong a connection between a person’s name and their character or destiny as the Hebrews did, but identifying ourselves by Christ’s name is something that should never be taken lightly, or taken for granted. Jesus was God’s beloved Son and God was pleased with him: that was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It was a ministry which took him to death, death on a cross, so God’s power could be revealed in resurrection and eternal life. Jesus Christ: the One anointed to bring God’s salvation. It’s all in that name, the name we are called to bear and to share with the world.

I have one more name to share with you this morning. It’s not nearly as important as Jesus’ name (sorry), but it is one we get to consider. It comes from the Irish for “little king.” As Roger Griffith comes forward on behalf of the Board, I’d like to invite Ryan Prahl to stand. Ryan has agreed to serve on the Church Board and we have the opportunity to affirm that this morning. I’ll let Roger take over, and we’ll share the results after we sing our closing hymn.

 

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