Pointing Us Toward the Truth (Pastor Ingrid’s Sermon from 01.29.17)

The gospel according to Matthew, the fifth chapter:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.

When a cousin of mine learned to point at objects, it was in an odd way. [I am fully aware that’s not my best opening line to a sermon, so stick with me here.] For instance, if he wanted to point at the historically inaccurate image of Jesus up here [pointing to the church’s stained glass window], he’d put his finger straight up to the ceiling and move it away from his body, he’d turn his head slightly away from the object, and he’d crack his eyes back toward the image. In his mind, his eyes, the tip of his finger, and the object he wanted to point to were all in alignment. It made perfect sense to him. But, sadly, the rest of us had no idea what he was pointing at, we had no idea where to look.

There are a lot of fingers being pointed in the the U.S. and around the world right now. And I’m afraid that many of us feel like we don’t know where to look. I don’t know about you, but the national headlines throw me in a new direction every few seconds. Here are a few headlines just from the past few days: “Iowa Pipeline Leaks Nearly 140,000 Gallons of Diesel,” “Trump Advances Controversial Oil Pipeline with Executive Action,” and, just yesterday, “Refugees Detained at U.S. Airports.” All of these headlines pull at me as a citizen. Even more important for the purposes of this conversation, however, is the fact that these headlines pull at me as a person of faith.

If you were away from the news yesterday, it’s important that you hear the details of what’s being enacted: An executive order closed the nation’s borders to refuges on Friday night. Refugees who were airborne on flights to the U.S. when the order were signed were stopped and detained when their planes landed. The President’s order also blocks the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars entry into the United States, at least for several months, from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Let it not be lost on us that on the very same day that the world commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, and mourned the fact that millions of Jews died because they couldn’t find refuge in the U.S. or elsewhere, our elected administration said that Christian and refugees of minority religions will now be privileged over Muslims coming from Muslim majority nations. Let it not be lost on us, one writer said yesterday, that “while we sit in church and sing of our devotion to Jesus and his way of justice, as our children—who are regularly told that they matter—worship and play and laugh and eat snacks nearby, there are millions of people who are fleeing their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disasters.”[i] Over half of them are children.

There is so much unfolding in the public square that comes into direct conflict with the faith convictions that we confess week after week that I, for one, struggle to know where to begin with my response. Add our personal vulnerabilities into the mix—those pieces of our personal lives that we are juggling alongside national and international news—and we can find ourselves totally overwhelmed. There are lots of fingers being pointed, but we’re not sure where to look.

When Jesus went up the hillside in today’s story, he went with people he knew and those he was only just coming to know. I suspect that some of his family members were there. His disciples were there, too; their feet were still sopping wet from stepping out of their fishing boats to accompany him on the journey. Some of the people who he had healed in the past few weeks were there. He had given their lives back to them, which means they would follow him anywhere. And then there were the curious onlookers—those people, in every time and place, who show up just to see what all the hubbub is about.

As the unexperienced pastor—that is, Jesus—scanned the crowd he saw a group of people who were beaten down by the Empire’s systems of oppression. These weren’t cabinet members; these were fishermen who couldn’t even afford to own the nets they used. These weren’t the ones making the rules; these were the people abiding by the rules that were not often created with their wellbeing in mind. I think it’s safe to say that everyone on that hillside had been touched by the Empire’s chains, but in different ways.

Jesus looked at the group as he preached his first sermon. I don’t think he had prepared his remarks in advance. No, I think he simply moved from person to person and thought about what they needed to hear most clearly. I actually think that each beatitude could have a name attached to it because he was speaking to the specific vulnerabilities in people’s lives. To Joe, whose partner of 30 years had just died, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” To the activists who stood on the docks every Friday to demand rights for fishermen, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” To Sarah, the little girl sitting at his feet, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Yes, I like to think that Jesus’ first sermon is written by the people to whom he preaches. That is to say, he looked at the crowd and thought to himself, what do these people need to hear? Not what do I want to tell them in order to assure they’ll believe that I’m the messiah, but what word of freedom do they need to be given right now, on this Palestinian hillside?

Jesus is pointing at what matters and, in so doing, he’s redirecting the gaze of the crowd. He’s pointing them away from gawking at the ruling elite. He’s turning his back on the Empire’s power, and, instead, focusing his attention on those who are threatened by it. He’s pointing the crowd’s gaze where it ought to be—to the sick, to the vulnerable, to the self-giving, to the hurt, to the people who are under siege. He’s reminding us of what Audre Lourde says, “We are not free while any[one] is unfree, even when [their] shackles are very different from our own.”

I’ve said it here before that I think the Beatitudes are spoken for those society doesn’t much care for—people with broken pieces. We hear Jesus articulate eight specific blessings in Matthew’s gospel, but I’m confident that this was meant to be a “starter list.” Jesus must have known the collection of beatitudes would grow as his people continued to learn and to love. Today, I think we can boldly add to the list begun so long ago:

Blessed are the refugees. Blessed are the immigrants. Blessed are those who are the Muslim and threatened with a registry, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the uninsured. Blessed are those who fear they will lose their insurance. Blessed are those with preexisting conditions, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the activists who pepper social media with their passion and show up with their bodies. Blessed are those who cry, “Black Lives Matter.” Blessed are the indigenous peoples clinging to their sacred lands. Blessed are the species living under the weight of climate change, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who live below the poverty line. Blessed are those who work too many jobs. Blessed are those who cannot find work. Blessed are the laborers who feel left behind by the technological revolution, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the differently-abled. Blessed are those who are trans. Blessed are those who are LGBTQ. Blessed are women, for [by golly, one of these days] you will receive mercy.[ii]

It’s a flipping of the dominant narrative that sounds foolish to most. But it’s Jesus’ way—and by extension, ours. “If you’re not sure where to look today,” Jesus points clearly and says, “look at each other. It’s there that my blessing will be found.”

AMEN.


[i] Pavlovitz, John. Paraphrased.

[ii] Some of these beatitudes come from Pastor Emily Scott at St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in New York, who encouraged others to use her adaptation of Matthew 5. Some of them come from Pastor Ashley Harness, with whom I stood and blessed the crowd of 100,000 at the Women’s March MN. Some of the words contained in these blessings are from Matthew’s Jesus. And some of them are mine.

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God Is Here. Jay’s sermon on the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the reign of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

 

            During a hospital visit with a church member not long ago, the conversation turned to Holy Trinity and how grateful we both were for this congregation. This fellow parishioner said of this church, “God is there. I go to church and I just know that God is there.” I couldn’t agree more. Yes, God was in that hospital room. God accompanies us at home and work and school and wherever we go. But it is here at church in a very particular way that God wants to be found. God is here in our contemplation and discussion of the scriptures and our discernment about the Spirit’s call in our lives. God is here at the font and the table to bless, forgive, and renew. God is here in our words of peace and encouragement for one another. God is here in our joining our voices together in prayer and song.

            I am so grateful for the ways that I have experienced God’s loving and faithful presence here with you over the past nine years. As most of you know by now, I will be ending my time as pastor here in a few weeks. While I had imagined I would be here with you longer, my call as parent and spouse is leading me in a new direction. I a m proud of Kristen as she now follows her medical vocation in taking on more responsibilities and leadership. I am excited for her, and I am excited to spend more time with my daughters. Yet, as another church member reminded me this week, two opposing things can be true at the same time. So while I am excited about what’s next for me, I am also quite sad about leaving this amazing congregation. You all are truly remarkable. Your care and concern, your faithfulness, your passion to serve God and neighbor, your willingness to follow Christ even into uncomfortable places is so admirable and inspiring. You sure have inspired me as your pastor. So while I have a mix of feelings about my leaving, there has never been any question for me that God will continue to be at work among you. God is here. This ministry is vibrant and strong, and it will remain so in the years to come. I, for one, will keep praying for you in your ongoing mission because your life as a community and your witness to the Gospel are needed now as much as ever. So let me say thank you. Thank you for loving me, one another, and this world which God loves so much.

            There is still time in the coming weeks to say goodbye; my last Sunday will be February 12. So there will be more to say later. But for now, the Gospel invites us today not to think about endings but about beginnings. Matthew 4 describes not just any beginning but the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus. This is a crucial turning point in the Gospel.

            I get the sense from the reading today that Jesus wasn’t exactly ready for this new beginning, or at least the timing came as a surprise. John had been arrested. John, the one who had baptized Jesus, was no longer able to carry out his prophetic work at the Jordan River, as he was now the victim of an oppressive government. So it was time for Jesus to take over. “From that time on,” Matthew says, “Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the reign of heaven has come near.’” Of course, he didn’t just continue John’s work. John prepared the way and pointed to Jesus, but what Jesus did was also something very new. It was time for his unique proclamation. It was time for his unique witness. Matthew draws from Isaiah to describe the significance: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Matthew is wise enough to know that there have been dark times in the past, when it was hard to see the way forward, when it was hard to believe that God was present. There have been deathly times, when there was good reason for fear and sorrow. But in those times there was still a light that could not be put out. Matthew knows that well from his spiritual and theological nurturing. And he saw that light present in a new and unique way with Jesus.

            The light of hope continued to shine. Jesus proclaimed, “Repent!” Literally, turn around. Change your perspective. If you’ve been living in despair, turn to hope. If you’ve been focused only on your own needs, turn to your neighbor. If you’ve been supporting systems of oppression, turn to justice and the flourishing of life for all. Repent. Because while there are a lot of powerful kingdoms and empires at work in the world, it’s the reign of heaven that has come near and invites your allegiance. Serve God’s reign in the world.

            In his message there was hope and there was light. And that message began to spread. But this is not enough to describe the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s not just the message that’s important for Matthew to recount. It’s also the community. Right away, as Jesus begins his public ministry, it’s clear that the reign of God will be proclaimed and enacted in a community of people, with other followers of the way. Like any good community organizer, Jesus began to gather people one by one. He went down to the lakeshore and called out to Simon and his brother Andrew to follow. Then he went and found James and John, the sons of Zebedee who were mending their fishing nets at the time. Matthew stops there, which is regrettable, because then Jesus went out and called some sisters, too. We know that from later in the Gospel, even if we don’t know all their names. He went and called women and men, some with a bit of wealth, many who were poor, people with all kinds of talents and experiences, and he invited them all to follow.

            Now I’ve always been a little skeptical of Matthew’s telling of this story. How is it that those disciples would just drop what they’re doing, leave everything behind, and follow a wandering rabbi toward an unknown destination? To me it’s been a story of blind faith that I just can’t relate to. But what if we listen to the story a little differently? What if it’s not so much about leaving behind comfort and security as it is about their responding to an invitation they’ve been waiting their whole lives to hear? For the first time, they were told their lives had meaning and significance. They had something to offer that had eternal relevance. How could they not leave their Roman-owned nets behind and follow Jesus?

            And so they did, and the community grew. Hope flourished. And when Jesus gathered them together for his Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Yes, there’s a lot of darkness in the world right now, but look around, you are the light of the world.”

            I believe that this is the message he offers to us, his followers today. There is no question about the reality of darkness and shadows of death. Some of you are carrying heavy burdens of illness or grief. The presidential election and inauguration have not just been divisive but have helped many of us to recognize that the racism and misogyny and fear of others present in our nation is greater than we realized. In this shadowy time, look around, you are the light of the world.

            One thing that we hold in common no matter where we stand on any political or theological spectrum is that we all face a danger—perhaps especially in the coming months—of falling into cynicism, despair, and hate. These things cannot coexist with following Jesus in the call to discipleship. Sure, there are times of doubt along the way, but as disciples we need to ask, “where will I find hope and light for the journey?”

            I’d like to suggest that your hope will be nurtured in gathering together with others. Yesterday morning, I was so inspired to see groups of people waiting at the bus stops to join in a peaceful march in St. Paul. Though I couldn’t be there, the photos of the gathering lifted my spirits. It’s not unlike the way I feel gathering in this place with you week after week.

           As I said at the beginning, God is here as we come together for worship. Now the fact that God is with you does not mean that you will always know what to do. It certainly does not mean that you won’t make mistakes. But still God is with you—in your gifts and passions, your foibles and faults—to give you hope and to remind you that the reign of heaven has come near to you. God’s vision for the world can be trusted. God’s promises for you as a child of God can be trusted. That’s our starting point for following Jesus on the way. Thanks be to God.

Light Enough for Each Step. Jay’s Epiphany Sermon

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

          Next weekend I will spend a few days at camp with Holy Trinity students participating in the annual confirmation retreat. As we’ve been doing for a decade or so, we will travel to Luther Park in Danbury, Wisconsin. There will be, of course, new topics to discuss and new opportunities for getting to know each other as a group, but one tradition that is almost always a part of the retreat is walking together as a group out onto the frozen lake on Sunday night. We listen to the sounds of the ice shifting and the woods around us. And most of all, we take a break from everything else going on in our lives and simply look up at the stars. Every year, I pray for clear skies because it’s such a great experience. It’s a simple activity that requires no planning, and yet it is often described as one of the highlights of the retreat. I find that fascinating. Sometimes I wish that students would point to one of my brilliant lessons or inspiring worship services as their favorite part of the weekend, but I get it. There’s something amazing about gazing up at the stars, especially away from the lights of the city, and especially with people you care about.

            Our galaxy, scientists estimate, contains as many as 400 billion stars. And that’s just one of about 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. Some people have even speculated that beyond those galaxies there could be other universes that are completely unobservable us no matter what telescopes we might construct, that is, unless some other expanding universe were to somehow bump into our own. Then we might notice it. What a worldview-altering discovery that would be! A few astronomers are scanning the heavens looking for evidence of such a collision. It hasn’t happened, yet, as far as we know.

            The magi we read about on Epiphany are sometimes called kings, but they are better understood as intellectuals, and even the scientists of their day. They too studied the skies, looking for signs of change and disruption. They sought new discoveries about our universe. As such, they were open new possibilities and self-understandings. They were people who wanted to expand their own worldview.

            It’s often much more comfortable to keep one’s world small. If you keep your head down and focus only on your own circumstances, then life is much more manageable and safer, or so it seems. Looking up at the stars can be overwhelming. It changes how we think of ourselves to remember just how big the universe really is. That’s why looking at the night sky is such a profound experience.

            Matthew tells us that those intellectuals from the east discovered something in the sky that inspired them to set out on a journey. They were ready to turn their lives upside-down and make a trip that must have taken months or even years. They headed to Jerusalem—the most important city in the region—and arranged for a visit with King Herod—the most important person—to enlist his help. But Herod, it seems, was not nearly as willing to welcome a larger worldview. This world, where strangers from Persia come to pay homage to a Jewish king came instead as a threat to him. He very much preferred the world where he was in charge of everything, where he called the shots, where things stayed basically the same. He was afraid of losing that control over his little world. We know that about Herod not only from this passage but from other historical sources, too, in which we read that he even murdered three of his own sons, due to the threat they presented to his position of power. There was a popular saying at the time that went, “It is better to be one of Herod’s pigs than his son.” Herod was a powerful person with a great deal of fear, and that presented a dangerous situation. He was frightened, the Gospel says. And not only him but “all of Jerusalem with him.” That is, all who benefited from the system as it was were afraid of having it upset. New kings, new foreign visitors, newness of any kind would not be good for them.

            Ironically, Herod did help those magi, though he thought he was still in control of the situation. “Let me know when you find him,” Herod said. “I want to pay homage, too,” but of course, he had other intentions.

            The magi went, not to a major city like Jerusalem but to the little town of Bethlehem. They found Mary and the child Jesus. They presented their gifts and paid him homage.

            And then the magi were changed again. They must have been because we are told they returned home by another road. Through a warning in a dream and even more, I think, through their encounter with a peasant king in a tiny village, their worldview was altered again. It wasn’t through the rich and powerful in Jerusalem that God was at work but through vulnerability, through peace and generosity. The way that the adult Jesus would live his life would stand in stark contrast to the Herods of the world, and the magi, I believe, were already beginning to understand that. They didn’t need to report back to Herod because his power was fleeting. It would not stand forever. But the power of God which is eternal was revealed for them in a child, born in humble circumstances in the village Bethlehem. The power of God was present among what’s considered ordinary, unremarkable. So they returned home by another road. They followed another path.

            The life of faith calls each of us to alternate paths during the course of our lives. Sometimes our path may be surprising to others, but it’s because we walk by the light of Christ, our Morning Star. In a world of preserving power by force, it looks foolish to turn spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares. In a world of wealth building it is strange to be generous and to treat your neighbor’s needs as your own. In a world of protecting your way of life and what you have, it is strange to welcome a stranger. The light of Christ leads us on another road.

            There are also times when the new roads we travel are not by our choice but are roads given to us. A health crisis, a job loss, a changed relationship, and other circumstances can set us on journeys we never expected in directions we never thought we’d go. But what we know, in faith, is that Christ is present to guide and bless along these roads as well. What we have observed by our Morning Star is that God is found especially in such unexpected places.

            The theme for the retreat next weekend is “Light enough for each step.” We’ll be reminded that while we may not see the final destination, God is present to illumine the path just ahead, with just enough light. It is true for all of us.

            I wish you all Epiphany blessings on whatever road you may find yourself traveling right now. May the light of Christ accompany and guide you for each step of the journey, and may you carry with you a song of praise.

             

           

Blessed with a Name. Jay’s sermon for Name of Jesus Sunday

Luke 2:15-21

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

 

Today, aside from being New Year’s Day, of course, is the day in the church year traditionally observed as the Name of Jesus Sunday. And we heard why in the Gospel reading.  Luke says that Jesus was circumcised and named on his eighth day of life, as would have been the custom for any Jewish boy. Today is eight days after Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, so it makes sense to read this portion of the Gospel today.

It is a day for remembering that Jesus was very much a part of the religion and culture of his parents. He didn’t stand outside of these things. He wasn’t born to create a new religion or but in fact was born into one particular place and time for the healing of all the nations.  And on the eighth day, he was given one particular name, just like any one of us.

Now, when my children received their names, there was very little ceremony or fanfare about it, but it was a weighty moment. I remember standing in the hospital delivery room, minutes after my first daughter’s birth, and a nurse came in with a clipboard and asked, “So, does she have a name?” I think our first response was, “just give us a few minutes.” This is a big responsibility, choosing one name out of the seemingly infinite possibilities to give to a child for the rest of her life, or at least until she’s old enough to pick a better one for herself. How do you choose?

We chose family names. Beatrice and Ruth were names of two of her great-grandmothers. Malena Pearl is named for my grandmother Pearl and also two relatives named Malena, whom we found on distant branches of our family tree. Malena, which comes from Mary Magdalene, also remembers the first apostle of Jesus, the first one to share the good news of Christ’s resurrection.

I’m curious about your name stories. Why did your parents give you your name? If you are a parent, why did you give your child the name you did. Would anyone like to share a story about a name?

 

These stories point to the blessing involved with choosing a name. Naming another person is to bless them.

With this in mind, though, we can turn to the Gospel today and ask how do you choose a name for the Son of God? How can you give a name to the One who blesses us?

There’s a children’s book written by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso I like very much that asks this question. I’d like to share it with you this morning. It’s called In God’s Name.

After God created the world all living things on earth were given a name. The plants and the trees, the animals and the fish, and each person, young and old, had a special name. But no one knew the name for God. So each person searched for God’s name. The farmer whose skin was dark like the rich brown earth from which all things grew called God Source of Life. The girl whose skin was as golden as the sun that turned night into day called God Creator of Light. The man who tended sheep in the valley called God Shepherd. The tired soldier who fought too many wars called God Maker of Peace. The artist who carved figures from the earth’s hard stone called God My Rock.

Sometimes the people who called God by different names were puzzled. They said, “Every living thing has a single name: the marigold, pansy and lily; the oak tree, sequoia and pine. God must have a single name that is greater and more wonderful than all other names.”

Each person thought his name for God was the greatest. Each person thought her name for God was the very best. The farmer who called God Source of Life said, “This is the true name for God.” The girl who called God Creator of Light insisted, “This is the most splendid name for God.” The shepherd, soldier and artist believed they each had the perfect name for God.

But no one listened. Least of all, God.

And so each person kept searching for God’s name.

The woman who cared for the sick called God Healer. The slave who was freed from bondage called God Redeemer. The grandfather whose hair was white with the years called God Ancient One. The grandmother who was bent with age and sorrow called God Comforter. The young woman who nursed her newborn son called God Mother. The young man who held the hand of his baby daughter called God Father. And the child who was lonely called God Friend. All the people called God by different names. They tried to tell one another that their name was the best, the only name for God, and that all other names were wrong.

But no one listened. Least of all, God.

And so each person kept searching for God’s name.

Then one day the person who called God Ancient One and the one who called God Friend, the one who called God Mother and the one who called God Father—all the people who called God by a different name came together. They knelt by a lake that was clear and quiet like a mirror, God’s mirror. Then each person who had a name for God looked at the others who had a different name. They looked into God’s mirror and saw their own faces and the faces of all the others.

And they called out their names for God—Source of Life—Creator of Light—Shepherd—Maker of Peace—My Rock—Healer—Redeemer—Ancient One—Comforter—Mother—Father—Friend—all at the same time. At that moment, the people knew that all the names for God were good, and no name was better than another.

Then all at once their voices came together and they called God One.

Everyone listened. Most of all, God.

 

The name that Mary and Joseph, and the angel before them, gave to the baby at Christmas was Yeshua, or Jesus, which means “one who saves.” This tells us something very important about who he is. Most of all, it tells us who he is for us.

So maybe this day, the name of Jesus Sunday, isn’t as much about naming God as it is God naming us. Maybe it’s like God’s mirror to show us who we really are. The name of Jesus is given to us. We are ones who are saved. We are ones who are recipients of God’s saving grace through Jesus.

Not only that, but we bear the name of Jesus for the world as the body of Christ. God’s saving work is done through us, as we encounter a world in need and neighbors in need of hope or comfort or forgiveness. This name Jesus tells us who we are and what we are to be about, this new year and always.

Today is New Year’s Day. And today we remember that we are children of God who are blessed with the name Jesus.