Sunday, 31 August 2014

'In the name of love': sermon for Ordinary 22A

Texts:
Exodus 3:1-15
Matthew 16:21-28
Romans 12:9-21

In our service last week, 
we were thinking about names 
and I want to continue along that theme a little this morning. 
At the beginning of her sermon last week,
[minister] asked us all if we’d ever wanted to be called something else,
and for me, it triggered off two wee lines of thought.
The first?
I remembered waaaaaaay waaaaay back to the first year 
- actually, the first weeks -
of high school. 
Our school headmistress, Mrs Goninon, stood in front of our year group, 
and asked us exactly the same question:
if we had the opportunity to name ourselves, what name would we choose?
And then, without skipping a beat, she looked into mid-distance, 
her eyes misting over as she set the scene in her head, and said with a dramatic sigh...
‘For me...     it would be...
Esmeralda...’
There was a very long pause.
One hundred 12 year olds looked at her,
then at each other,
wondering what on earth she was on about.

She continued, with another sigh....
‘when I think of the name, Esmeralda, I see a vast ocean, 
and in the middle of that ocean, a beautiful yacht 
- with such clean lines...the sails are up, 
and she dances upon the sun-kissed waves...’
Apart from thinking that she’d...well... lost the plot,
I remember thinking: ‘but, I quite like my name.’
... this triggered off the second line of thought:
that actually, maybe I don’t really like my name at all...
because ‘Nikki’ is not the name
that’s on my birth certificate, or my passport...
My birth name is actually...
...no, not Esmeralda
it’s ‘Nicole’.
Now, I have no idea who this ‘Nicole’ person is, 
because even if someone calls me that, I don’t actually realise 
it’s me who's being addressed.

Names are funny things...
they serve a very important basic function:
it’s the first thing you tend to do when meeting someone 
- you introduce yourself...
you give your name.                                               
And for the peoples living in the lands of the Ancient Near East -
the lands that form the geographical background to our bible...
the lands of Moses, of Jesus, of Paul...
names were powerful things -
and the giving of your name to someone else was seen 
as giving away some of your power... 
a part of who you were.

And so, in our Exodus reading, we find something quite extraordinary 
happening in the desert, by Mount Sinai...
it’s not so much the burning bush that’s extraordinary, 
- although, that’s quite something -
it’s the conversation between God and Moses.
Moses has long left Egypt behind. 
He’s married, and helps his father in law by tending the family herd of sheep and goats.
And one day, as he’s doing this, he stumbles upon a strange scene...
and finds himself in a completely unexpected conversation
with someone who knows,
and calls     out     his    name.

Moses, having first been told to take off his shoes, 
is instructed to head back to Egypt
and lead the Israelites to freedom and the Promised Land.
It’s probably not quite the day he’d planned on,
when he’d been having his toast and cuppa at breakfast.

Moses points out to God that
while it’s all very well to march into Egypt
and say to the Israelites
‘the God of your ancestors sent me,’
they might well want a little more information...
And then, Moses does an incredible thing:
he asks for God’s name -
basically, for God to give away a little of who he is, 
in a sense, to give away an aspect of his power.
And in the giving of his name to Moses,
God reveals just how powerful he is:
I AM ...

Okay, that seems a bit ambiguous,
a bit enigmatic...
But what God’s saying, in the giving of his name here is this:
I Am ...  completely me -
here is a sense of the utter integrity of God...
I will be who I will be -
He’s saying: I never change...
this God is ...reliable, faithful
but also,
this God,
this name-giving God is saying:
I Am... sufficient,
enough,
able to supply all    your    needs...
not wants - needs...
needs spoken and unspoken,
needs known and unknown.

The name given, demonstrates that this God -
this passionate God 
who wants to liberate his people - is  enough -
more than enough,
more than a match for Pharaoh,
more than a match for all the gods of Egypt combined.
What a name.
and what a conversation.

Thousands of years later,
we’re privy to another conversation
where names feature:
this time between Jesus and his disciples
- and in particular, Peter -
who is actually called ‘Simon’.
We know the story from last week -
Jesus, the Son of God, asks:
‘who do people say I am’
and Peter’s response - 
'you’re the messiah...'
And then, Jesus does something extraordinary -
Jesus gives him a new name 
- from Simon, which means ‘pebble’,                                                              
to ‘Peter’ the ‘Rock’...steadfast, firm. 
The giving of a new name,
is also the implied giving of new qualities, 
new characteristics, to Peter.
...But how quickly things change.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus begins to talk of his mission and ministry,
and of what that will cost...
suffering and death...
and resurrection.
And suddenly, Peter’s given another name,
when he recoils in shock to what Jesus is saying:
when he rejects the message
being spoken, about the cost of following,
when he shows that he’s not yet understood
the full implications of being a disciple.

In response to Peter’s horrified protests,
Jesus calls him ‘Satan’...
 ‘get behind me, Satan’...
Peter the rock, has reverted to Simon, a pebble...
a stumbling stone...
a possible impediment to the work that Jesus must do.
Powerful, powerful stuff.
And then Jesus spells out in detail
just how costly it is to follow him.

To wear the name ‘Christian’,
is to pick up a cross...
lay aside one way of living,
discover a new way to live...
the way of love
Peter will continue to learn and to follow,
to know, and to grow, into that way of love.

And how might we do this...
live the way of love?
Helpfully, Paul, in his letter to Romans,
gives us some practical pointers...
And begins with the nature of love itself:
‘love must be completely sincere’ -
mirroring the love and integrity of God...
We follow,
we pick up the cross,
out of love -
we try to model God’s love in our homes,
in our communities...
showing respect for one another;
honouring each person as someone
who’s been created in the image of God.

From love, comes hope...
and it’s hope that inspires joy...
that helps us be patient with one another
as we pray, and offer hospitality and help to others;
as we work for the common good and
live at peace with everybody;
as we reject the way of violence
by refusing to exact revenge on our enemies -
and choose the more subversive way of love:
by blessing them,
praying for them,
feeding them,
providing water when they thirst...
and in the process,
perhaps just perhaps,
breaking the cycle of hurt and anger,
the escalation of hostility, by overcoming evil with good.
...All this, as we wait
for the fulfilment of the kingdom...
and in the process, build communities of love - 
little pieces of the kingdom of heaven, here on earth -
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’

Names       are powerful things...
And at the heart of the name that God reveals to Moses
is love:
a passionate, whole-hearted love, that is completely sincere,
utterly integrous.
It’s this love, that moves God to be sufficient - 
sufficient enough to liberate, to comfort, to provide.
It’s this love that God, in Jesus, models...
a love that refuses to retaliate,
but instead, on the Cross, seeks to redeem ...
This is the love that we, who are named Christians,
are to model to the world,
even when at times, it’s hard, hard going.

But remember, always remember:
what gives us the courage and the strength,
and the joy to keep going is that:
we are called to follow
in the name of love,
the One whose name means love -
who calls us ‘beloved’...
whose love is real, sincere,
whose love is more than enough,
and who, in love,
walks the way of love with us,
beside us...
forever and ever,

Amen.

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