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What's in a Name?

Date:1/13/19

Series: Epiphany

Category: 2019 Sermons

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

On the Trotter side of the family when a couple within the family was going to have a baby, the tradition was to keep the name of the baby a secret until the day the baby was born. Being young and from a family that expressed their opinions on everything, I don’t understand this, but I went along. And during those months, it became clear to me that their were benefits to this approach. First my sister in LA, would ask me, and when I said we were waiting till the baby was born, she would roll her eyes and remind me that she was my sister, so I would let her in on some of the names we were considering. And she would tell me why she didn’t like them. The other person John and I confided in was Uncle Peter, a family friend who we are both very close to. Peter too had very strong opinions, which confused the process, too feminine, too long, too boring, etc. 

By the time John and I got to the hospital ready to deliver Morgan we had it narrowed down to three names. Morgan, Aidan, and Patrick. See even now there are some of you who are thinking to yourself, oh I like that other name better. It took 23 hours for Morgan to finally come into the world so by the time he was born we had it narrowed down to two names. It took another 10 hours to decide.

If you think that’s a long time, Here’s an even better story….I dated a guy in college who came from a family of 5 children. His name was Eden. He had a sister named Rainbow. Rainbow. By the time she gave birth to the 5th child, she decided that he would go nameless until he was old enough to name himself. SO they called him baby and kid and squirt. Finally, around the age of 4, he named himself Kieth. 

All of this is to say, names are important. Yes, one could argue as Shakespeare did that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but names hold meaning and sometimes they hold history, allowing us to be in deeper relationship with our ancestors, claiming one another. 

In this morning's Gospel, following the baptism of Jesus, scripture you didn’t hear, Luke gives us roughly 75 names, to track the lineage of Jesus. 75 names, beginning with Joseph…74 more…most of them I can’t pronounce, but there are some we recognize because they are big names, like Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Nathan, David, Jesse…. when you get to the end you understand the point Luke is making, the last two are son of Adam, son of God. 

Luke wants us to be clear on the lineage here…Jesus belongs to God. But here’s the beauty of the Biblical message, this is our lineage too. Isaiah makes this beautiful clear-

O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; … For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you, 

When God refers to himself in the Hebrew Bible He does so through patriarchal lineage, I am the God of your Ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And God does this to distinguish himself from other gods…and also to emphasize the covenant made with God’s people….beginning with Abraham.

The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional covenant. 

For those who may not know…

There are two basic types of covenants: conditional and unconditional. A conditional covenant is an agreement that carries “if” language, if you do this, then I will do that. If either party fails to meet their responsibilities, the covenant is broken. An unconditional covenant is an agreement between two parties, but only one of the two parties has to do something. Nothing is required of the other party. But once that covenant is made, there are commitments carried out by both parties.  

When you hear at communion this is the cup of the new covenant you begin to feel the weight of the word, covenant, promise….A promise that exceeds our understanding. We have a much easier time understanding transactional covenant. I do this for God, God will give me that. But that’s not how we understand our faith in the Reformed tradition.  We are claimed by God at baptism. That’s why we take such joy in infants being baptized, they’re too innocent to have done anything that requires forgiveness, and they can’t do anything to earn that love. 

God loves us before we’re able to do anything to earn that love. We are not baptized in order to receive forgiveness. The sacrament of baptism affirms that we are forgiven, and loved, unconditionally.

Now, this is usually when I hear people who hold a different theology say to me, then what’s the point of being good if God is going to unconditionally love and forgive you?

We still hold responsibility as one who enters into covenant

Our response to that unconditional love we receive at Baptism is to live faithfully. Our response is faith. That’s our commitment within the covenant. To live out the greater mission of Jesus Christ in the ways we live our lives. That’s why you keep hearing me say, this is not my church, it belongs to Jesus Christ. That’s not my attempt at some false humility, it’s because I don’t know how to do this job, fulfill this call or be part of the church any other way. We are equal partners in this mission and everything we do, every way we serve is for God and Christ. Not for me, not in order to grow the church. When we take that to heart, you can bet others will want in because they witness the joy that comes along with that response.

When we respond in faith, we do the good works, we say the kind words, we put on love and compassion, and carry out the mission of God….We are responding to God’s love by loving God and loving others, our two greatest commandments, not in order to earn God’s love, but because God loved us first. And when you take in that much love, you are compelled to do something with it.

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At Jesus’s baptism, Jesus gets into the water with us. And the heavens open and God says You are my son with whom I am well pleased.  And we as scripture readers and listeners can witness that scene. Imagining what it must have been like to witness that moment then. This deeply personal affirmation of love between God and Jesus. A public witnessing to a deeply personal covenant. To publicly witness one another’s baptism incorporates us into a larger body, the body of Christ.

But today, in light of this beautiful moment scripture, complete with love and spirit, I invite you to take in the remembrance of your baptism, not with your head but with your heart...To take in, as Mary teaches us again and again in scripture to do to treasure and to ponder here, at heart, what your baptism means. This God who has known you in the womb, knows you still, through all the stages of your life, forgives all the ways we mess up our lives and our relationship. Loves us still, again and again, and if you’re not sure of that, look up at the heavens which open for you every morning, with the dawn of each new day. Morning doves which coo for you, as to say good morning, here’s another day to grow into the love you’ve been given. And if sunrises and doves can bring no pleasure because dark clouds have passed overhead, remember that baptism is witnessed in community and that you have others who suffer with you, want to care for you, and that you are not alone.

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As we come to the font this morning, you’ll hear a hymn, written in….you might call it a modern hymn.

 Which reflects the deeply personal nature of God’s love we remember this morning. A God who calls you by name, who claims you as his own, and establishes a covenant with you, that is an unconditional promise to love you, no matter what. ur only response to that love is faith. A faith lived, throughout our lives.

The hymn is titled, I was there to hear your borning cry. (Cole starts) It’s written like a lullaby in tempo and tune, and it’s written as though God is speaking to us, which is the opposite of how most hymns are written,

Listen to these lyrics before you hear Cole and Mikki sing this for you…

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold. 

"When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
to whom you now belong. 

In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I'll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I've begun.

When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

When you come to the font… I invite you to play your hand in the water, to wrap your hands around a rock, to take that rock home with you and place it somewhere where you can see it as a reminder…

A reminder of what it means, today, to be loved, to be claimed, to be called by name- by a God who loves you without condition, claims you as his own without requirements, and asks only that you return His love with love.

Please come-