Thursday, January 07, 2016

What's in a Name?

What's In a Name?

A New Year has begun for us here at St John's and with it I trust there are many hopes for what lies ahead. You are blessed to have called a your new rector. He will bring with him a lovely family, outstanding scholarship, a down to earth pleasant personality, and also experience and connection to the national church, the worldwide Anglican Communion and beyond. Besides his connection to youth movements within the National Church through the ministry of his wife has wonderful potential for the young people of this parish and gives this congregation much to hope for.

The New Year is celebrated on the Church Calendar as the Feast Day of the Holy Name. For the observant Jew the naming of a child was among the most profound of spiritual moments in life. For Jesus this naming occurred on the seventh day of his life on New Year's Day. Thus we call the day The Feast of the Holy Name. The name Jesus or in the Hebrew, Joshua literally means God is our Salvation. The name means "savior". And the word Christ means "The Annointed One". Jesus Christ is thus the savior, the Annointed of God. 

In Philippians we are told that he was given the Name that is above all names, "so that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father."

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the Holy Name in these magnificent words as sung by the Angels and as set to the unforgettable chorus of Handel's Messiah; 
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

In today's Gospel we are told that he will be called a "Nazorean". In both my Pilgrimages to the Holy Land, I was fortunate enough to climb down the flights of archeological history to what is reputed to have been the boyhood home of "Jesus of Nazareth".
The business of the Name is not always easy for some of us. I visited a nursing home of a parishioner in West Virginia one time. Her name was "Ginny" and what a character she was. In her riper years her memory began to slip away and it was the ability to Name people that she began to loose. Upon arrival at the nursing home one day she was sitting next to an elderly gentleman. As she expressed delight when I came into the room to see her, she greeted me with these words;
"Oh hello Fr Paul, I am so glad to see you. I want to introduce you to my new boyfriend."
There was a moment's pause when she looked at him and said;
"What is your name anyway?"
Almost immediately, he replied,
"Geez, I don't know, what's yours?"
She said; "Hold on, I'll think of it in a minute!"
We all laughed heartily. 
Alas such is the human condition.

We are told in today's Gospel of Jesus' flight into Egypt. The Name of Jesus is much more to us and to the world than five letters and two syllables. Jesus, the King of Kings, and Lord or Lords represented a threat to Herod, whether real or imagined. No the Holy Name is much more than five letter and two syllables. Jesus is a Way of Life to us.

As a student of the study of Congregational Development during most of my professional life, I began to notice that Episcopalians and Anglicans call one another names. The name calling can be divisive but the more I studied the dynamic and the more I experienced the encounter with the Christ in one another as a parish priest, I began to notice that underneath the labels we use to describe one another there is a profound unity.

Here for example are some of the labels we use to describe one another.
  1. Social Activist
  2. Traditionalist
  3. Evangelical
  4. Intellectual
  5. Anglo-Catholic
  6. Charismatic
We tend to further subdivide one another into other categories like Liberal, Conservative, Moderate and so on. Truth be told, I came to discover that more than one of these labels applied to me. And in fact, as I grew into the fullness of Christ, I also discovered that behind these labels there is a reality that can bring us closer to Jesus as we grow into him.

Take the Social Activist for instance. Behind the label there is a the search for Justice and Peace and what could be more biblical or Christ centered than that? Jesus began his ministry with the words "I have come to bring Good News to the Poor. At the conclusion of his ministry, he uses these words not just to judge us but the nations of the earth; "Insofar as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me." Yes, we are much more than Social Activists. We are those who seek Justice for the sake of Peace and we do so in concert with the Living and Risen Christ.

What of the Traditionalist? Is Jesus not there too as he says "Not one jot, not one tittle of the Law will pass until all is fulfilled"? And what is the fulfillment of the Law, but the very words of Jesus as he himself quotes the Holy Writings? "Hear O Israel, you shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' And "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets". Or very simply; "Love one another!" You cannot get more traditional than that.

The Evangelical? Jesus calls us to repentence. What could be more central to the Gospel than the call of God for a complete makeover of the human soul? A "metanoia" as it is called in Greek; A rebirth from the old way of sin to a whole new life of forgiveness and rebirth. A death to sin and a rebirth to Eternal Life. What could be more to the heart of our Baptism than this conversion moment in the human soul?

The Intellectual? We are known as the Chruch that requires "Thinking" and "Reason". The prophet Isaiah said "Come let us reason together." Did Jesus not spent hour after hour with his followers teaching in Parables and then explaining these parables in the Apoltolic fellowship? In Anglican Theology Scripture, Tradition and Reason are the Hallmark of a mature faith as we hold our lives within the dynamic of this threefold authority. 

The Anglo Catholic? What of the Anglo Catholic? We are a people who love our rituals? Some more so, some less so. Some of the churches I've served relished the sound of the Sanctus bells, and the smells of incense. In West Virginia for instance, my number two son, Joshua, loved to do what we called "360's" as the incense pot swung over his head round and round and round in solemn procession on the high Holy Days. You may notice, I take care as I celebrate the Eucharist to repeat certain rituals Sunday after Sunday. We are a people of ritual. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays and other celebrations take on great significance to us as a people, and if we don't do something in that certain way, we are much the poorer. We are told that when Jesus fed the 5000 or when he gathered with his disciples for the Last Supper, it was with the same words; he took bread, he gave thanks, and he shared it with his friends. Likewise after supper, he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his friends. It is in this very ritual that Christ becomes present to us at this altar rail and we go forward from here to make a better world. What could be more Christ like than that? It is in the Anglo Catholic nature of our tradition that we seek to dignify and honor our rituals. 

And finally the Charismatic? Those filled with the Holy Spirit? The third Person of the Holy Trinity? Sometimes this encounter can be disruptive in congregations. But to tell you the truth, Social Activists, Traditionalists, Intellectuals, and Anglo Catholics can also insist that their way of seeing Jesus is better than the way others do. As one who finds himself managing congregations, understanding the nature of the enounter with Christ takes center stage when managing conflict. After all, when understood in the fullness of what the Name of Jesus means as a way of life, these Names we call one another, do not represent comparative modes of Godly expeience, they are rather primary modes of that encounter. 

There's not a one of us whose encounter with God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, is better or worse than any other. Each of us is on pilgrimage from the beginnings of our faith until the very end. As Jesus said in yet another Name he uses to describe the reality of who he is for us; "I am the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end". Yes indeed, Jesus the the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The Spirit moment is a powerful moment for the Charismatic. It awakens an experience of that which inspires, guides, and strengthens us in life, and who doesn't need inspiration, guidance, and strength in the lives we lead?

For much of this past week I was running on empty. The demands of Christmas required all that I had to offer and more besides because of the suffering and death that I was required to face in the family along with the usual requirements of being a parish priest. I thought I could sit down on New Year's Day and "crank out" a sermon, if you will. Nothing came. I simply had nothing else to say. My cousin's funeral was the last straw for me. I was spiritualy, emotionally, and physically exhausted.

And then a friend called me on New Year's Day to describe the pain he was suffering in association with passing a kidney stone. Ewww...but something clicked! All of a sudden the Holy Spirit gave me some words, some strength, some inspiration and some guidance and I was off and running again. 

Every day, I take time to pray, to journal, to walk, to take some quiet time just to be with God. And lo and behold, there it is again. The Holy Spirit. 

My dear friends Jesus is so much more than five letters and two syllables. For the Holy Name of Jesus is "shorthand" for the Way, the Truth and the Life. Whether we call ourselves or others Social Activists, Traditionalists, Evangelicals, Intellectuals, Anglo Catholics or Charismatics, or all the above, we are all one people incorporate in the Body of Christ. And we are each and all living the life that brings us to God. 

In the Name of the Holy, Blessed Undivided Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

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