God’s Names for Us
Based on Isaiah 62:1-5, 1Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11
Since we didn’t meet last week due to weather, I have been given kind of a hybrid sermon to deliver for this week. I will be blending some themes together because there are things that God wants you to know from last week as well. Ready? Here we go: The William Shakespeare play, “Romeo and Juliet”, is well known and well loved – deservedly so. In Act II, Juliet has a line that states, “…What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet….” In life we go by many names, some the world gives and some we give ourselves – yet we are still each more than any name or label that becomes attached to us.
How many names are there for you? Most of us by the time we reach Middle school have not only our given names, but our nicknames. My beloved maternal grandfather was given the first name Melvin, which he disliked from his earliest of days. He had a great love of potatoes, however, and before long one of his Uncles had renamed him, “Bud the Spud”. In his life, only those closest to him knew his given name; everyone just called him Bud or Dr. Bud (as he was the dentist in their small town). He was also called son, brother, uncle, grandpa, cousin, and some names I can’t recall or never heard – some known only to him.
Some among us carry names or labels that are limiting or negative – some of those names we give to ourselves for choices we are ashamed of or that we regret, some the world gives because we are not in the chosen or powerful group. We often engage in negative self-talk – naming ourselves “stupid”, “worthless”, “weak”, “unlovable”, “broken”, “ugly”, “lazy”, etc. Those names stick to us and if we are not careful, they come to define us. Many that I have met, especially those who live with mental health issues, gay or transgendered life choices, those who are differently abled, those with more skin color than me, have to wrestle with negative, limiting and divisive societal labels for much if not all of their lives. If they define themselves only by the way others’ name them, then they are limited in their perception of the totality of who they are created to be – or who they can become by living into God’s names for them.
You see, God has names for all of us as well. Our scripture texts for last week and today, in this season of Epiphany, call us to recall our God-given names. Names given to us out of the fountain of God’s overflowing love; names that describe our great worth in God’s eyes. Let us thank our God who showers us with love like a fountain and names us in life-giving ways. I invite you to join me in prayer…
God wants us to realize through our ongoing and hopefully ever deepening relationship with God, that we are loved and have great worth. That we are all equally but differently gifted – and that we all have a part to play in the work of the Body of Christ. This week’s Gospel reading has Jesus performing his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. Mary, mother of Jesus, and her son (along with others) are attending a wedding. The wine has run out and she turns to Jesus to do something about it. (Aside: My mother was a lot like Mary in this story, in that she believed the first and greatest sin was to run out of something when hosting a party). My mother would have sent me down to the local liquor store to purchase more wine – Mary knew that Jesus could fix the situation and avoid embarrassment for the groom and his family. After a brief exchange with Jesus, Mary instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Water becomes the finest wine and the party goes on with only a few any wiser about Jesus’ true name and the life-changing fountain of love that is within him.
The first letter to the believers in Corinth has Paul instructing them in the varied nature and giftedness of all of them (and of us). They all were known by different names (as are we), yet the same God and same Holy Spirit are active within them. Our journey in our spiritual life is to live into our giftedness and into our God names so that we can fully manifest to the world the power of God’s love. No matter who we are, and how the world knows us, we are first known and called by name by an unconditional love of God – a love which overflows and blesses each of us every day. The very same blessings in the same amount for everyone – no matter what we look like or how we are abled.
God is telling the remnant of Israel that she will be vindicated and her Assyrian oppressor will be thrown off. At that time, God will rename Israel. She will no longer be known by the world as “Forsaken” (Azubah) and her land as “Desolate” (Shemamah), but she will be called “Hephzibah” (my delight is in her) and her land, “Married” (Beulah). God tells them that God will rejoice over them like a bridegroom celebrates a new bride. Her names that indicated her apostasy and slavery will be known no longer and she will live fully into the new names which come from the overflowing fountain of God’s grace.
Human names are said to have great power. Names tie us to our history when family names are passed down from generation to generation. Some cultures have elaborate naming ceremonies, and in our Christian past, “Christening” ceremonies (where one was given their Christian name) were seen as a vital part of the faith tradition. Children were named after biblical heroes and heroines, patriarchs, priests and prophets, kings and Disciples in the hopes that they might become like those who originally carried that name. We who have named children, and we who have been named by our parents, have the best of intentions when choosing a name (think about how long it took to decide on a specific name) we know that a given name may not be carried forth into life (like my grandfather Melvin or our friend Gabriella who now knows himself as Luke Gabriel). Some names carry so much familial baggage that the bearer can never hope to live into or out of that weight of expectation. You see, the reality is that the power of human naming can at once be both freeing and imprisoning.
God’s names for us are different, however. From the first, God calls all of creation “good” and Adam and Adamah, “very good”. God calls Abram and eventually changes his name to Abraham and his wife’s name to Sarah to denote their fruitfulness and parentage of multitudes. Last week God called Jesus, “beloved” and told all who gathered that with Him God was “well pleased”. Our scripture from Isaiah today shows God’s renaming of Israel to more positive and expansive names from those which denoted her slavery and sin. The names of God indicated forgiveness and redemption.
God’s names for us are never limiting or negative – they are always positive and gracious. Because God loves each of us as individuals and grants us gifts out of that great ever flowing fountain of love – named the Holy Spirit. God told the prophet Jeremiah that God knows the plans that God has for us – and those plans are profound and unlimited. God has named us all very good children and tells the prophet Isaiah that we “…shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God….” When the world calls us, or we call ourselves, names that are negative, limiting and hurtful, God always renames us in a powerful and restorative way.
Juliet knew this in her conversation with Romeo…no matter what we call someone or something, the essence of that thing doesn’t change. Whether we call the flower a “rose” or another name, the fragrance, color, shape and beauty of the flower would be the same. This is how God sees and names us as well. No matter what we or the world calls us, God names all peoples of all colors – out of God’s ever flowing love, for what we truly are…beloved, delightful children who are greatly gifted, redeemed and blessed. It is time for us to let go of our worldly names and live fully into God’s names, which are given equally to all God’s children. Amen and amen!