Wednesday, November 13, 2013
The power of a name. . .
A name is the key to open the doors of relationships. We need to know each other's names to really know one another. It is a staple of so many events that we come with nametags to identity us. The sales people on the phone address us casually with our names presuming that familiarity will help sell us something.
God is also known by name. He knows us by name and we know Him by name. It is not the cute little nicknames that we often give to one another but the name He has disclosed to us, the name by which He chooses to be known if He is to be known at all. This name is not merely a set of consonants and vowels but the living and powerful name that delivers to us the fruits of Christ's saving work; the name that bestows grace on us.
Notice how God reveals Himself in the readings for today. He is the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, He is the God of history with history among His people. This is no God who comes and goes. This God has planted Himself in history. So the history of the Law and the prophets discloses God to us.
He is also the God of family. We wear the family names of forebearers – both in the first names lovingly handed down from generation to generation and in the last names that tie us to our family trees. The Lord is the God of family, for family yes, but, more importantly, of family. This is God who made us as His own, who delighted in the promise of our creation, and who loved us still when we rebelled and sought our own way. This God called forth a people with a view to a specific moment in history when His Son would wear our human flesh to fulfill the promise of love, seeking the lost and saving the sinner captive to death.
When Moses insisted that no on in their right mind would follow him as God desired, God gave the mysterious name which was not to be spoken out loud before. I am, says God, Who I am. This is the hidden name of God, the name of His power which brings both dread and fear to a sinful people. None of the children of Israel dared speak this name out loud. Our Bibles still substitute Adonai for this name of dread, noted in English by the small capitals that follow the L of Lord. God gives us this name lest we forget His sword cuts to harm as well as heal, to condemn as well as forgive. Israel saw the terrible power of this name as the dead corpses of the Egyptians washed up on the shore of the Red Sea parted and then closed.
No one was prepared for the name of God that would wear our flesh and blood, that would provide access to the sinner and welcome to the lost and life to the dead. Israel was shocked by this name and it is still shocking to us. Theirs was a God who rewarded good and condemned evil. When God took on flesh and blood He became the Savior of the sinner instead of the reward for the already righteous. “You shall call His name Jesus” said the angel to Mary and Joseph whose intention of a honeymoon became a trip to Bethlehem where the Savior of the world was born. What does this mean? Who could know? Mary pondered. Joseph trusted. God was coming in flesh and blood, right there in the womb of the Virgin.
The name of God has become His promise. We forget that Jesus was not picked as a name because it was an old and revered name (Jeshua or Joshua more properly translated). No, God chose this name because of what it meant. He will save His people. The flesh and blood Son of God who wears that name has the power to do what the name promises – save a people mired in sin, marked for death, and living in sorrow. The Christmas name of God was promised in Eden as the one who would crush the serpent's head and deliver a captive people to final freedom.
Lest we think we are done, Jesus comes to bestow another name, the final name of revelation. This name is not merely the name by which we know God but the name by which we are known as God’s. God marks us with this name in baptism. We wear it this name because here is access to the grace in which we stand, the forgiveness of our sins, the renewal of a hopeless people, and the restoration of our lost lives. So when the risen Jesus gathers His disciples He sends them forth with this name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to baptize, teach, and give His presence to every sinner, every person living to die, and every lost one to be found.
The Lord is known by His name. It is the God of our Fathers who has come to us, passing down to their children the witness of the past and the record of what God has done to save His people. This is the God who acts in history to build His family the Church. This is the God who keeps His promise and turns the frightful fear into the awesome and holy fear of faith. This is the God who has made Himself naked before us, giving us His name that bestows upon us the fullness of His promise – both that which we know now by faith and that which will not be known fully until we dwell with Him in heaven. We began today in that name, the assembly of those in whom the Lord has delighted to show His mercy. We are here because of the promise of that name – where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst.
He is no God of many names, many faces, or many revelations but one revelation that discloses in steps of history who He is, what He has done, and who we are by His gracious favor. When He commands us not to take the name of the Lord in vain, the Lord warns us that His name is not trivial but profound, it delivers its promise, it marks the people of time and space for heaven and eternity. To betray that name is to forsake our own baptismal identity and life.
So remember. You wear God’s name by baptism. Wear it in faith. Wear it nobly so that your words and works may befit whose name you wear. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Love as you have been loved. Show mercy, compassion, and kindness as God has visited these upon you. No, not as a new rule to be followed or the demand of the same old Law but as the new people you became when marked with the Triune name of God in your baptism, as those in whom the Holy Spirit has worked not only to belief but to desire that which is of God, that which is good, right, and true. Amen.