Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Bear the Name

 Feast of the Holy Name, January 1, 2012, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church

In 1881 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad punched through railroads in this area of Texas.  They bought 350 acres of land and laid out a 70-plot town.  They named it after Frank P. Killeen, the assistant general manager.  That's how this town got its name.

But, what's in a name?  The name "Killeen" is Irish.  It is said to derive from one of three sources.  O'Cillin, which is a surname, and comes from the diminutive of "Cill" or cell, church, grave, nest-egg or treasure box.  The other is “ceall," variously translated as "given to disputes," or "bright-headed.  (Perhaps those concepts are related!)  The final one is "Colin," which means "hound," though this seems the furthest reach.  St. Killian was an Irish evangelist who traveled through central Europe (Bavaria) preaching the Gospel at the end of the 7th century.

Interesting thing it is, that an Irishman would have such a post in such a big and wealthy company.  Throughout the eastern US at that time signs were common that read, "Help Wanted, Irish Need Not Apply."  I would imagine that those who knew him did not hold his Irish descent against him.  I could hear them saying, "Oh, he's different, he's not like the others."  Is it not amazing the importance we put on a name?  It goes without saying that a name is more than just a verbal handle for proper nouns.  Our daughter-in-law will not divulge the moniker to be applied to our future grandson, so his paternal grandmother has gone to calling him "Bubba."  A name is not a name is not a name.

And so, when we look at the name of Jesus we have to assume that God had something special in mind.  The variations are incredible:  The name is a 1st century version of Joshua of the 10th century BC.  Jesus' contemporaries would have pronounced it, "Yahoshua."  We, taking the name as we do through the filter of low German, convert it to "Jesus."  To the Arab we are "Isawim,"  to the Spanish-speaker he is "Jesús," to the Tsachi of western Ecuador, "Jeshú."  In whatever language you speak it, the meaning of the name is the same.  You can see the similarity between "Yahoshua" and Jehovah."  Joshua/Yahoshua/Isa/Jeshu all mean "savior."  The name of Jesus, the Son of God, depicts His function and identity.

In that light Aaron of old (in the Old Testament lesson) was told to bless the people:

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  And then, at the end of the passage for today Moses is to tell Aaron, "So shall they put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them."

This is an interesting statement.  The blessing of God has something to do with bearing His name.  The feast of the Holy Name, then, is a feast of blessing.  God not only names His Son, Jesus, but God gives us His name as a blessing.  On this day not just the son of Mary is named, but we are as well.

What does it mean to bear the name of God?  First, it tells us who we are.  We are those who are called by God's name.  And this is not just a handle by which we distinguish one person from another.  If God is the God of the universe, the ultimate creator of all things and the ground of being itself, then being called by God’s name is to be named in our own truest and deepest selves.  It is an invitation to discover just what that is and what it means.

Sounds like a New Year’s resolution to me:  Discover how to live from that innermost self, that place within you where you know yourself to be seen, loved and named by God.  This is the place that is not afraid because it knows itself to be radically loved.  The key to hearing the truth is silence.  Deep, inner silence found only through time spent in silence.  Resolve to spend time in silence every day.

Second, it tells us how to live.  If we are the beloved of God, then we are here to share that love with the world.  But we need help getting past all the voices that shout other things in our ears and in our hearts.  These things are the voice of fear:
·         Careful, love too much and you will get hurt.
·         Careful, this one will stab you in the back.
·         Careful, misplaced trust can be very painful.
·         Now you’ve been attacked, how will you defend yourself?
·         So-and-so doesn’t like you anyway, best just steer clear of her.

The one who knows in his or her innermost being that they are loved hears other things:
·         Look, here is a need, what can be done to meet it?
·         Look, someone wants our attention, of course I will give it.
·         Look, here is truth, beauty or goodness.  Shall we not be incredibly grateful?
·         So-and-so is being ugly, I wonder how and why they are hurting so?

Sounds like another New Year’s Resolution:  Learn to hear the truth of being loved.  The key to this is compassion, not schmaltzy warm fuzzy feelings about someone beautiful or nice, but that inner commitment to the good of another, that sees them clearly for who they are, and then be there for them in a radical, personal way, for good or ill.

Now, then, at the beginning of this year, 2012, God blessed His Son by naming Him Jesus, the Savior, God blesses you by including you in the family and putting His name on you, and God sends you out into the world to share the same sort of love that we have come to know.

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