On Servants' Wings
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Resources and Reflections by Ari Leigh


The Power of a Name


Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Eastertide shared with St. John's Episcopal Church in Northampton, MA on April 16, 2015

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Text: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18


May God grant us the courage, the wisdom and the strength to seek always after the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will.


What's in a name?

Shakespeare would tell us

"that which we call a rose

by another other name would smell as sweet;"


Yet our readings today give us a different story.

In the Acts of the Apostles Peter declares

"There is no other name under heaven given among mortals

by which we must be saved"

The first letter of John directs us to

believe in the name of Jesus Christ

and from that belief to love one another.

From these lessons we are reminded that names have power.

This truth is echoed in many cultures,

through myths and stories,

and is shared by many people.


Names have power because they provide a summary of existence,

A way to reference completeness

And to whisper of being that defies the limits of time.


When we speak the name of Jesus

We are saying far more than a two syllable word.

For it is this name that holds the completion of an eternal mystery


To believe in the name of Jesus is to make the outrageous claim

That God, the being before all being,

Maker of all things great and small

Has come among us,

Not by forcing their glory upon the world

But sanctifying our existence,

by becoming fully human, a defenseless child.

To speak the name of Jesus

Is to name a God who lived a full human life

Who wept and laughed

Danced and fell

All without forgetting who he is and where he is from

To tell the name of Jesus

Is to state that not only could God die in theory

But that GOD has died, in actuality

To sing the name of Jesus

Is to proclaim the how the barriers

between humanity and divinity have fallen.

Jesus is simultaneously human and God

In such a way that the two can never be divided again

To whisper the name of Jesus

Is to step into the sacred mysteries

of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension

and to KNOW that in them

a scarred human body

has ascended to the utmost throne of heaven.

Jesus,

That's a lot of power to be contained in two simple syllables.


Yet for all the power a name given by others can contain,

There is a richness in the names that a person takes upon themselves


Jesus expands on the fullness of his identity by

Describing himself as the good shepherd.

In our gospel today he speaks of the completion he knows will come

And reveals how the fullness of his name

Makes every difference in our lives.


"I know my own, and my own know me"

The eternal Word, spoken in the beginning

Knows us fully and completely.


It is as we accept the invitation to hear his name,

That we are freed to hear our names clearly,

Spoken by the one who sees us not just as we are,

But made fully perfect in love.


Rabbi Yehuda was the greatest rabbi of his age in Europe, the man who in his house in Prague, created the Golem, the animated form of a man, to which he gave life by putting under its tongue a slip of paper bearing the unutterable name of God. One night, Rabbi Yehuda had a dream: he dreamed that he had died and was brought before the throne. And the angel who stands before the thrown said to him, "who are you?" "I am Rabbi Yehuda of Prague, the maker of the Golem," he replied. "Tell me, please*, if my name is written in the book of the names of those who will have a share in the kingdom." "Wait here," said the angel. "I shall read the names of all those who have died today that are written in the book." And the angel read the names, thousands of them, strange names to ears of Rabbi Yehuda; as the angel read, the rabbi saw the spirits of those whose names had been called fly into the glory that sat above the throne.

At last the angel finished reading, and Rabbi Yehuda's name had not been called, and he wept bitterly and cried out against the angel. The angel said, "I have called your name." Rabbi Yehuda said, "I did not hear it." And the angel said, "In the book are written the names of all people* who have ever lived on the earth, for every soul is an inheritor of the kingdom. But many come here who have never heard their true name on the lips of human or angel*. They have lived believing that they know their names; and so when they are called to share in the kingdom, they do not hear their names as their own. They do not recognize that it is for them that the gates of heaven are opened. So they must wait here until they hear their names and know them. Perhaps in their lifetime one person* has once called them by their right name: here they shall stay until they have remembered. Perhaps no one has ever called them by their right name: here they shall stay until they are silent enough to hear the Maker of the Universe themself calling them."

At this, Rabbi Yehuda woke and, rising from his bed with tears, he covered his head and lay prostrate on the ground, and prayed, "Maker* of the Universe! Grant me once before I die to hear my own true name on the lips of my brethren*."


Let us take a moment to ponder what our True Name might sound like

as the Good Shepherd calls us.

With what sense do you come to understand your name?

Is it touch, or taste? Sight or sound?

When you hear your name, what is at its core?

What makes you the person you are,

the person you are becoming?



The Abbas and Ammas of the desert,

Early Christians who left everything behind

to dedicate themselves to seeking God

would say that the root of every human name is Love.


When our modern society tells us that

"To err is human, to love divine"

The heartbeat of our tradition declares

"To love is human, to not love is less than human"


As the 1st letter of John states:

"Let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action."


For love is a verb,

It is a word of action and dedication.

To love in truth we must both be still enough to listen,

And bold enough to act.

And we must act.

For to love, both others and ourselves,

Is the only way that can truly hear our own name

And be freed to hear the harmony

of the names of those around us.


This year I have been blessed with an opportunity to work with students from across the 5 Colleges.

It is through their dedication to honoring the names of all people

That I have come to see how the power of love

answers the love of power.

These students have exemplified an intimate awareness of how

A failure to love, accept and respect others

leads to wide-spread erasure and death for many.

It was they who taught me that sometimes love can be as simple

As knowing when to step on the break, and when to go for the gas.


When you hear your name shouted from billboards, displayed in the media, pictured on TV and in the movies, it's time to break.

When your way of life is highly visible in all the formal means of communication, it's time to stop. In that moment to live into your name,

That is to love, means to create silence

to seek the voices of those you don't see

and the faces of those you haven't heard.

When you are one of the ones whose story is lost to history,

When you turn on the TV and hear nothing but insults and

stereotypes of your people,

When you've reached out to group after group

only to be told you're not "enough", step on the gas.

Floor the accelerator and proclaim the amazing power of creation

That thrives within your skin.

For those who are unheard love means to speak your name,

in a shout, in a painting, in a play, or even in a whisper.


However you find your voice, use it.

For your name is important, YOU are loved.


We love,

In action and in truth,

Because it is love that is at the root of who we are.


As the letter of John continues

"We receive from God whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments"


And to what commandments is John referring?

I believe it is this, that we believe and act in the name of Love.


For it is the power of love

that gathers our prayers, petitions, and desperate pleas

into the will of God.


When we ask for peace,

Love asks: Does the peace we envision have space for those we disagree with to thrive?

When we ask for wealth,

Love asks: Would the wealth we demand come at the expense of another's poverty?

When we ask for health,

Love asks: Did we leave room to celebrate the personhood of those who are ill?

When we ask for power,

Love asks: Did we take care to count its cost?


Jesus,

Mighty name that revealed to your people the mystery of love

Be with us this week and every week.

May your Love continue to challenge us,

comfort us and transform us,

In order that all we ask and do may be brought to completion

in your resurrected glory.

Amen



Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019