Sunday, January 01, 2017
The Holy Name
The Holy Name
Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Name, what we used to call the Feast Day of the Circumcision. It is the day when Mary and Joseph brought their new born baby to the Temple and there he was marked in his flesh as God's own child forever in the tradition of Judaism then and now. He was given the holy name "Jesus" as instructed by the angel. For us and for all down through the ages, his Name is holy.
Years ago while working in community organizing circles in Hyde Park and Roslindale, I happened to meet a Greek fellow who had come from the old country. We introduced ourselves to one another, and I discovered that he had once served as a shepherd when he was younger and lived in Greece. A shepherd in the city of Boston! It was the first and last time I have met a real life shepherd in any city I've worked. It occurred to me that this would be a wonderful opportunity to do some good theological research.
So I asked him; “What does it take to be a good shepherd?”.
He replied almost instantly in a thick Greek accent; “Three things; First you gotta know each da sheeps’ names. Den you gotta have dogs. You can’t do de job witout you got dogs. Den, sometimes when dey steps outa line you gotta whacken de sheeps upside de head, wit de shepherd’s crook.”
What I had hoped for by way of good theology was in fact good practical advice for a parish priest. You have to know each of your parishioners by name. But to know a name will not be enough, you will have to come to know the person behind the name, the essence of who they are, and you must care deeply for them. Secondly, you cannot do the job alone, and so while dogs won’t help you much, you will need to recruit, vestry, altar guild, ushers, musicians, youth, men and women’s groups and all leaders for all sorts of ministries to make a congregation vital and viable. And thirdly, there will come times when folks will step out of line, their behaviors will become irrational and you will simply have to whack some sense into them with a well placed word or two. I have found the good Greek shepherd’s advice helpful over the years.
This is how it all begins. First and foremost with a name. When you were born you were given a name. In fact, we often pick out the names of our children even before they are born. We bring them to the church for the formal “Christening” a nice old English word that means to be “Christ named”. We are, in fact, Baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In our Baptism, we are buried with Jesus in a death like his so that we may rise again with Jesus in a resurrection like his. That means to us that as Jesus’ Name is Holy so is yours. Not only is your name holy but so are you. All that you are, all that you have been and all that you ever will be; you are Holy.
The Lord instructed Moses in today’s first lesson to have Aaron bless the Israelites in God's Name. The Biblical scholars call this the “Aaronic Blessing” because it is the one Aaron and all the priests shall pronounce to God’s people down through the ages:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
It is in God's holy name that you are blessed therefore you become holy and you are to treat one another as holy. You are not to ridicule others, or bully them around nor are you to oppress them. The people of God are holy. You are to be a light to the Nations so that they may see the good you do and become holy along with you.
The holiness code is built into the Law of Moses, because the Law of Moses is the Law of God. “Be holy as God is Holy, says the Lord God” ~Leviticus 20:26. This is why God has chosen us to be his people. So that all nations shall be blessed by the Holy Name.
In the beginning we were created out of the dust of the earth to be holy for God. When God formed us out of the dust he breathed into us the very breath of life. We became living beings. We became something holy and beautiful for God~Genesis 2:7.
And when Moses came to the Burning Bush, God spoke to him and said; “Moses take the shoes from off you feet for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground”. Then in this sacred and holy encounter God spoke and said that he had seen the misery of his people. And then Moses trembled before God as he said “God down and tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.” This is the essence of who God is; God has seen the misery of his people. ~Exodus 3.
When I read this passage I think of the misery of our poor, our young, our sick, and those cast out and rejected by the many. Whether in our inner cities or rural areas it is the same problem. For our youth if they are without work many will turn to violence, gangs and drugs and the vicious cycle continues. Yes, God says not just to Moses thousands of years ago but to us now; “I have seen the misery of my people”. God spoke to Lincoln and said "Let my people go." God spoke to Gandhi and said, "Set my people free." God spoke to Martin Luther King and said, "Bring my people Civil Rights".
“Go down Moses and tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.” What now? Perhaps give my children jobs. The essence of the Holy Name of God; “I have seen the misery of my people”
Did Mary not sing as much in her sacred song of the Holy Name?
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
The Wise Men gave Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the Christ Child, because God had seen the misery of that poor Child and all poor children. If the rich and powerful do not do so willingly, God will require their wealth and take it from them in another way.
Moses asks God; “What is your Name so that I can tell the people who it is that is saying all this?. How can I persuade them that it is You who speaks to me?
God then spoke to Moses and said tell them that “I AM WHO I AM” has spoken to you. If you study the Hebrew and try to understand what happened in that encounter with God, you will discover that God is something more than a copula verb “To Be”. God is Being itself. God is who God is, who God was, and God is whoever God will be forever. God is our Creator and so much more. God brings to pass what God requires of all humankind. And when God spoke to Moses and said that he had seen the misery of his people, God meant business. God was going to plunge himself into human history in such a way as to bring us up out of Egypt as slaves and into the Promised Land of God’s freedom.
This is God’s Name; “I have seen the misery of my people and I want you to go down to Pharaoh and say; ‘Let my people go!”
God’s Holy Name is much more dynamic than anything we can imagine. God’s holiness will find itself in the midst of human history to bring us Peace with Justice. If the rich and powerful believe that they have amassed their wealth and power because of what they themselves have done, I have news for them. God will speak and God’s will be done. They are in for a rude awakening.
You and I must not bow down and worship Golden Idols that King Nebuchadnezzar has erected for us to worship. You will not fall down and worship any king no matter how rich and powerful, no matter how much he or she may bully you around. You know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refused to bow down and worship the golden idol. And they were thrown into the fiery furnace. But God delivered them and they sang the song of God unharmed in the fiery furnace.
Folks we are in for it. King Nebuchadnezzar or whatever his name is now, will test us in the fiery ordeal which we must now endure. We shall not cower in fear to Pharoah, the Emperor, the King, the Dictator or any other human being. No indeed. We shall sing the songs of God and we shall not only endure, we shall prevail.
This is because the Name of God is “I have seen the misery of my people”. And God will send Moses, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or all the above. And we shall say to old what’s his name; “Let my people go!”
Sometimes we may wonder, who are we that God should take a moment’s thought for us? The Psalmist asked that question more than 2500 years ago. Look up to heaven and take a good look at the stars at night and listen to these magnificent words from today’s Psalm.
1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
Our worship and our service to the Holy Name of Jesus is far more than reading old stories from a Bible in church and making our communion Sunday by Sunday.
If God told Moses to go head to head with Pharaoh who do you think we should be going head to head with to stop the misery of God’s people?
The poverty, the sickness, the homelessness, the war, the refugee crisis, the persecution of the outcast and the marginalized, the lepers, the prostitutes and the rejects. God has seen the misery of his people. And Jesus loves them all.
Jesus loves us all.
Who do you think God requires us to go to?
Moses went to Pharaoh.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem and he turned over the tables of the money changers.
Now who do you think God wants us to go face to face with?
Do you think God is pleased that the rich just get richer and the poor get poorer?
Do you think it pleases God that you and I pay our taxes, but that the rich, the super rich and the multi national corporations pay nothing at all. Where is the justice in that?
The Holy Name of Jesus means more than two syllables. As your name means so much more than a few letters in the alphabet so too Jesus is so much more to us. Jesus comes alive to us in the Sacred and Holy Name of who he is for us all. You know who he is; and you know what he said:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Holy Name means “I have seen the misery of my people”. Therefore organize yourselves church. Then we shall go down together and tell old pharaoh; “Let my people go”.
In the Name of God the most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.