If you’re looking for something to hang the sermon off of this week, a really effective golden thread that weaves its way throughout Genesis (17: 1-7, 15-16) and Mark’s Gospel (8:31-38) is the importance of names and naming things.
You might think it’s low-hanging fruit, but dig deeper there…I think you’ll find some profound insight here. So many sermons will focus on Jesus calling Peter “the Satan,” and the scolding lessons that will come from thinking that Jesus had come to take the easy way out of the Divine work, but I’m just gonna throw it out there that the church doesn’t need another sermon like that.
It really doesn’t.
Either the hearer will feel shame because they, like Peter (like all of us?) miss the mark, or they will feel their ego swell because they don’t believe that about themselves and really we don’t need any more tearing down or puffing up in the church. That deflation-inflation rhythm has led to a mass exodus over the years, and rightly so.
What we need is an invitation to go deeper not pull a moral from it all.
Like, what if this whole Peter episode was less about Peter missing the mark, and more an invitation for Peter to reflect more deeply on his name? Jesus had just one short episode earlier called him “The Foundation,” and it might be worth noting that a) that’s something to live into and b) even foundations aren’t infallible.
And notice Jesus doesn’t name Peter “Satan,” but in saying that out loud perhaps he’s asking Peter if he’s forgotten who he (Peter) is. “Remember, Simon, what I’ve named you…”
Remember who you are.
And for the assembly that name is given in baptism. It’s not “Brian” or “Shelita,” it’s “Beloved.”
It’s, “Child of God.”
Because, here’s the truth BELOVED, this world is gonna call you all sorts of names.
It’s gonna call you lazy.
It’s gonna call you wealthy.
It’s gonna call you a son-of-a-bitch.
It’s gonna call you a slut.
It’s gonna call you a fag.
It’s gonna call you a role-model.
It’s gonna call you a star athlete.
It’s gonna call you intelligent.
It’s gonna call you single, partner, parent, aunt, loner, Democrat, Republican, patriot, Communist, lover, fighter.
It’s gonna call you stupid.
And it’s important to remember, Beloved, so that you don’t do that deflate-inflate rhythm on a daily basis, that all of those names can be stumbling blocks when twisted in the wrong way, and though they try to stick on you like Velcro, the waters of the font have washed it all away in favor of:
Abram gets a new name. Sarai gets a new name. Simon gets a new name (and he’s asked to remember it!).
And so do you.
I say all this, too, because names become important for us in other ways, too. Because when a Beloved is given a true and rightful name, or they choose one for themselves, that, too, deserves honor and respect.
Like, no pretending you can’t pronounce a name that’s from another culture. That kind of privilege degradation has been pulled by white people for a long time. It’s a way of saying, in not so many words, “You’re not one of us, and I don’t have to bother learning your name.”
They are Beloved, just like you, so don’t try to pretend they’re not.
And like, when our Trans siblings identify that their birth name does not fit their gender and have found a name that suits them well, we honor it, by God.
They are Beloved, just like me, so no getting around that fact just because it’s confusing for our simplistic understanding of gender or not “we’re not comfortable” with it. Want uncomfortable? Try living as a gender you don’t identify with…
Names mean something. Names are important. And on this road to Calvary that we call Lent we’re offered a chance to reflect on what we call one another and what we’re called by God.
And I just think it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up, Beloved.
Tim–Great essay. The examples you gave expand our awareness. Also, I think of how it took my parents many months to agree on my name, and that it was called out at my baptism when I was four weeks old.
Thanks, Deb. Lovely reflection here!
Thank you for this gift, Tim. It was so timely and provoking. Recently a young couple associated with my congregation had their first child. In utero, the child was called Sprout. Sprout’s father is African, and in his culture the parents spend the first seven days after birth very intentionally bonding with each new child. Out of this purposeful bonding comes the child’s name, which is not revealed to anyone else until a Naming Ceremony on the eighth day. These new parents followed this cultural tradition. The naming ceremony, including blessings from family members, was done on Zoom. Your prodding towards the thoughtfulness and meaning of names brought it to mind.
Love this. Thank you, Pastor. And blessings to Sprout!