Sunday, January 1, 2017

What’s in a name?

Luke 2:15-21

Today we read the end of the Christmas Eve story, with the shepherds visiting Mary, Joseph, and new-born Jesus. Eight days later, the baby is circumcised, as is customary for Jews then and now. The day of circumcision is also the day the child is officially named. The circumcision marks male babies as belonging to YHWH, to God.
It is interesting to me to learn that in recent years, there is a naming ceremony for Jewish baby girls as well, a day in which girls are recognized as gifts from God.
So, on this day, Jesus is circumcised and named. Jesus is the Anglicized version of the Latin and Greek version of the Jewish name Yeshua or Joshua. Names carry meaning. The name Joshua, or Jesus, means God saves. The angel says to Mary and Joseph that Jesus is coming to save the people. He will save us as a whole community – as Jews and Christians – all who believe. And, he will save us as individuals – each of us who believes and lives in relationship with Jesus.
I love the Gospel of John, which underlines the meaning of eternal life as a relationship with God now, today, every minute of our lives, as well as a life with God after death – whatever that means.
Salvation is for us – giving us life, a relationship, with Jesus – and for all whom we touch throughout our lives and ministry. When we tell someone Jesus loves them, we offer them salvation. When we offer a hungry person some food in Jesus’ name, we offer them salvation, too. When we give clothes or a quilt to a cold person in Jesus’ name, we offer them salvation.

Jesus’ name has power. When we pray “In Jesus’ name” we expect our prayer to be effective because we add Jesus’ name and his power to it. When he walked the earth, Jesus healed, and cast out demons, and raised the dead. We expect him to do the same today. So we pray in his name to add his power to our prayer.
Our names have power as well. When someone calls us by name, it feels better than when they call us, “ma’am” or “sir.” For Mike and me, it is important to know the name of the people who serve us. We like to call the restaurant server by name, especially when we return the next time. The other day we read the name of the person who helped us at Lowes by reading his nametag. “Thanks, Ed, for getting those lamp shades off the top shelf for us.”
Our names have meaning, too. My name, Lynn, is a shortened form of the name Linda, which means “beautiful” in about 15 different languages. There are 1.6 million people in the US with the name Linda, mostly because of a song by Buddy Clark in 1946. Even though I am not movie-star beautiful, I remember that my parents gave me that name because they believed I am beautiful. And I remember God thinks I am beautiful.
Have you ever researched your name? Do you know why your parents gave you that name? Have you lived up to the power and meaning in your name?
We have many different names: Lynn, Steve, Phyllis, Edith, David, Rodger, etc. In some cases, there are two or more people with the same first name here. But we all have one name in common. We all bear the name of Christian – Christ-believer.
This name has meaning and power. The name of Christian means that we carry Jesus within and all around us. Jesus fills our hearts and reaches out to others through everything we do. When we bear the name of Jesus we have his power to heal and feed and clothe the people he cares about.
The name of Christian means we are part of a huge community – 2.2 billion – with a B billion – people in the world – all members of the body of Christ. Wherever we live, we belong to the body of Christ. If we moved to China or Tanzania or Chile, we would still be part of the body of Christ.
We commonly identify ourselves as members of a particular congregation. For eight years, I was the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Citrus Springs. I said, “We do this or that.” Now, I am a retired pastor, a member of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Marion Oaks. I say, “We do this or that.” And I am the pastor of Incarnation Lutheran Church. And I say, “We do this or that.”  Wherever I am, I say, “We do this or that,” because I see myself as belonging to that community of believers.
Next week is the last service for this congregation, The Church of the Incarnation. But it is not the last Sunday for us, for you, to bear the name of Jesus, to be Christians. Because you bear the name of Jesus, he will go with you, wherever you choose to go.
I pray that you will discover that when you are part of a larger congregation, you can participate in ministry to and with those who are hungry, or cold, or ill. You will be able to focus on things other than mere survival as a congregation and be the Christian whom God has called you to be.
When a congregation closes, it is natural to grieve its death. Grief involves the hard work of recognizing a new reality, that someone or something we loved is gone. In the case of closing a congregation, it is like allowing the doctors to remove the life-supporting equipment from someone we love and accepting that it is time for them to die. It is hard work, this kind of decision-making. And we/you have had the courage to make this decision.
Even as you grieve this week and over the next few weeks or months, I pray that you will remember that you bear the powerful name of Jesus. He will not leave you, and I can assure you Jesus grieves with you at the death of Incarnation. But he also will fill you with his healing Spirit and give you renewed hope. You will learn that just as many of you relocated from another place, and found Jesus here, you will find Jesus in another congregation.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we bear your name. Fill us with your Spirit this week and always. Help us to live out our names, our given names so carefully chosen by our parents, and your name, given to us at our baptism. Show us the way to be your hands and feet and heart, bearing your name to all we meet. In your holy name, we pray. Amen