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
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
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
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.