23rd May, 2004

Seventh Sunday of Easter

“In God’s Name”
The Rev. Dr. Gwynne M. Guibord

It has been many years now since that Fall day when the leaves crackled and swirled underfoot. As I went to step out of my car suddenly and quiet unexpectedly the softest, most adorable, tiny kitten appeared and began to weave her sweet, furry self around my ankle. Purring loudly she looked up imploring me to pet her. Instantly I knew – I was in danger of my life being taken over by a seemingly innocent, little five pounds purr-ball.

NO WAY!

Didn’t need a cat. Didn’t want a cat. Was not about to let this little seductress weave herself into my heart and home.

We already had two dogs.

There was no room at the inn.

Now the trick was not to name her. I said to Lo, the soft touch in our family: “Don’t feed her. Don’t pet her. Don’t let her in and WHATEVER YOU DO – DON’T NAME HER!”

Then the kitten sneezed.

Lo worried that this little creature was getting sick and Informed me that sick kittens don’t last very long. “Okay,” I relented. “You can make a shelter for her here outside on the front steps until she’s better – but, Lo, I mean it: DON’T NAME HER!”

You can guess the end of the tale. Within a few weeks we had named her and there she was sitting inside on the couch between the two of us beside the fire.

Once we named her, she became a part of our family. We became responsible for her, for her protection and her well-being. We bought a collar for her that had a tag with her name on it and our phone number. Lo placed it around the kitten’s neck with the words: “This is to let everyone know you are under our protection. To mess with you means: they have to deal with us.”

That was it: Molly was now one of us, one with us. The naming was an acknowledgment that our lives were from that moment forward woven together forever. We were taking on the care for this little one: her food and shelter, her safety and health and her future. We had become responsible for not only her life but for the quality of her life… after all – we had named her.

These things go both ways. Each day she would go out on her adventures returning whenever called. Throughout the day she would lie down quietly beside me or curl up on a lap purring. She enveloped us with love and generosity – often bringing exciting gifts in the form of nutritious and “live” rodents, bugs and birds.

She enriched our lives and we hers as we lived together within the bond and body of family.

But we worried: what if we died before she did? What would happen to her if and when we were no longer there to care for her? Would she be abandoned by our deaths and left alone to starve? Would the neighboring animals grow bold and attack? What if she became ill? Who would love her and look after her? When we were gone the power of our name would become empty and the memory would grow cold. How could we protect her then?..

We made the decision to find a way to carry our names forward for the sake of our love for her. We wrote out a will- naming a wonderful loving friend as her guardian and leaving specific instructions and funds to care for her for as long as she lived. Even when we were gone she would be loved and cared for… because – after all – we had named her.

It is difficult to explain to those who have never been tamed by one of God’s four-footed little ones how utterly wonderful such love is.
How much more wonderful and unimaginable is God’s love for each of us!

All of today’s readings come together around one extraordinary theme. The theme of what it means to inherit the legacy of God’s Name through the living bleeding eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ whom He sent us.

It is daunting to even begin to preach on such a theme. Words fail when we stop to really look at the awesome privilege and the profound responsibility that we claim, we who call our selves “Christians”, we who take up the name of God through Jesus Christ.

We need to feel that awe. We need to have it take our breath away because the line between blasphemy and blessing is a razor’s edge, a breath.

Look again at that vast library of sacred texts that form the Bible and you will find over and over again reference to God’s Holy Name – a name so powerful that it could never be spoken and was written – as Father Ian pointed out a few weeks ago – all in capital letters as LORD. What is in a name? Everything.

Look at The Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy of our worship this morning. Again and again we are reminded to uphold the sanctity of God’s Holy Name.

The power and sanctity of naming is almost impossible for those who speak only English to comprehend. English is an object language meaning that it labels objects and makes them disconnected things. Hebrew and other ancient tongues are process languages and as such carry a remarkably different consciousness imbedded within them. In English, for example, the word “chair” identifies an object and that’s all. In Hebrew the words that we know of as “chair” imply a process of sitting, an interaction between the speaker and the thing spoken of.

We who call ourselves “Christians” have sought and taken on the name of “Christ”. Through our baptism we have been given the privilege and the power, the remarkable legacy and the sober responsibility of interacting with and in Christ’s name. The process is dynamic. It is alive. With it comes the profound obligation to be ever cognizant of God’s presence potent within what we do in that name.

A crazed driver cuts you off in traffic. He swears and snarls out the window as he races to beat you to the light. As you catch up to him you see it – there in plain sight on the back of his bumper: the small ancient symbol of a fish…

I shake my head with righteousness – but then I wonder: “How often do I do that? How often do I forget not only the meaning but the cost of that name?”

This morning’s readings remind us that the Kingdom of God is not of this world and yet we are charged to bring it here in all that we are and all that we do. Unlike most of us, Paul and Silas weren’t racing to get anywhere. They didn’t walk out of prison even when they could have. They understood the intersection of the holy and the mundane. They understood the opportunity of the moment. They had disrupted a local economy by healing a woman. Subsequently they were punished: imprisoned and shamed.

They could have chosen to respond with rage or righteousness. They could have yelled out curses or collapsed into the drama of being victimized. But they didn’t. They understood that if they were to truly be followers of the living Christ, they must do things as Jesus did, which was to engage all others with a radically inclusive love that embraced those who had wronged them and the jailer as well. They blessed. Most of us would have blasphemed.

In a stunning, brilliant, crazy and powerful, loving act they sang and they blessed – they cared for those who had hurt them – and they turned the world upside-down. But there was nothing else they could have done as Christ’s disciples, as those in a living interaction with Christ’s name. Nothing shakes this world as much as the faithful living out their faith.

“Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with our God.” “Loving God with our hearts and minds and souls and loving our neighbors as ourselves” – even when it seems absurd, that’s what we are called to do as those who live in interaction with God’s Name, those who claim the legacy of Jesus Christ.

It starts way back in the Garden when God gives Adam the responsibility of stewardship over all that God has created. “Stewardship” not “dominion”. “Dominion”, “domination” is a mis-translation. And we’ve been confusing the two for centuries.

Adam is given the task of naming all the creatures. To name something, as we have seen, is not to own it or to dominate it, but rather to acknowledge a relationship with it, an interaction and interdependence of mutual respect and appropriate care.

The legacy of God’s Naming continues with Abraham who speaks up on behalf of others, who cares about the well-being of those whom he doesn’t have knowledge of personally but whom he believes are also to be valued and cherished. God chooses him, Abraham, he who cares for the unknown others, the stranger. God names him to father the nations that will hold covenant with God. Christians, Jews and Muslims all start here in the same place: with Abraham, with the same call to love God and to care for one another.

We who are Christians believe that God fulfilled God’s covenant with our ancestors, the Jews, and came yet again to humankind as one of us, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer. We believe that He lived and died for our sins that we might cross from this world into God’s World being known to God through Jesus’ Name. And, that we might use the Power of the Grace of Jesus Christ to help to bring forth God’s Kingdom into this – the world of humankind and the Creation.

For two thousand years we who are Christians as well as others have co-opted God’s name to murder and exploit one another, to justify greed and fear and jealousy, to dominate and denigrate and destroy the Other. It is blasphemy – pure and simple – blasphemy.

Every Iraqi has a name.

Every Israeli has a name.

Every Palestinian man, woman and child has a name.

Every soldier who is frightened or wounded or maimed or murdered has a name.

Every prison guard has a name and every prisoner as well.

Every single one of the 85,000 people in LA County who has no where to sleep tonight has a name.

Each of the 44 million Americans without health insurance has a name.

Every one of our enemies has a name. Every one who has hurt us or slighted us or failed us or oppressed us or wronged us in any way has a name.

Every person who worships God in a different tongue or a different church or synagogue or temple or mosque has a name.

What does it mean to act in God’s Name? What does it mean to be Christian?

Let me end with a story retold in my own words from the land of the internet, with a tale that is true – whether or not it is factual. It may seem to you to be a simple tale and – so it is – but the power of it – if we would use it – would transform the world.

It seems that one day as an elderly woman was making her way through the center of town she spotted a small boy in clothes several sizes too big standing spellbound before a storefront window. As she drew closer she saw the cause of his enchantment: a pair of high top black tennis shoes. Although his feet were dirty and bare, his eyes were bright and he smiled back at her reflection in the glass as she placed her hand gently on his shoulder. With a nod she indicated that they should enter the store. She proceeded and he followed hearing her ask the clerk for a large towel wetted at one end and several pairs of clean white socks. As he sat obediently she knelt down and washed the dirt from his feet and helped him put on the clean socks.

The clerk had him stand on the metal measure and then took out a shoe from one of several boxes that he had placed on the floor. They found the pair that fit and the woman opened her purse and carefully counted out the money to pay for them. She had the clerk wrap up the extra pairs of sox in brown paper and then turned and handed the package to the boy still sitting by her side. He looked at the package and down at the new shoes on his feet. Then he stood and set the package carefully to the side. He looked deep into her eyes for the longest time and finally, with tears starting to fall, he asked in barely a whisper: “Are you Mrs. God?”

The answer is, of course, “Yes.”

In God’s Name

Amen

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