Judge Judy

 A sermon for Epiphany 4: Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

 You all know the Judge Judy show where Judge Judy acts as both Judge and Jury to settle disputes. Well, this morning we have a dispute. It is in the 8th century (BCE), and it seems Israel has forgotten everything that God has ever done for them. So, God, as plaintiff, calls them to court. Only God, not Judy is also the Judge, and the prosecutor (Harrelson). As Judge, God calls on the mountains and hills to be the jury; after all, they have been around for a really long time and have seen everything that all the nations of the earth, including Israel, have ever done (Simundson).

The trial begins with God’s testimony a short history of what God has done:

  • freeing them from slavery in Egypt
  • inspiring Balaam to reverse Balak’s curse into a blessing
  • enabling them to move from Shittim across the Jordan to Gilgal and into the promised land (Harrelson; Simundson).

God wants to know what has been done that caused them for forget all that has been done.

Israel is speechless; I would be; wouldn’t you be? So, as do so many folks with extravagant liturgical traditions Israel turns to their traditions. They discuss their options. What would please God the most? Now, remember they aren’t from our deep Anglican background. Their liturgical traditions are centered around the sacrificial rites of the Temple. So, the options they discuss are:

  • what about a burnt offering of a year-old calf?
    • that is a prescribed sacrifice (Lev 9:3)
  • maybe a thousand rams would be better?
  • although it seems excessive,
    this is the only mention of a thousand anything as a sacrifice
  • or better yet, ten thousand rivers of oil!
    • we really have reached the heights of absurdity at this point
  • but maybe ~ just maybe the life of my first born will atone for the sin of my soul ~
    • and this is a drastic change; a sacrifice that God has rejected over and over and over and over again (Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20) (Harrelson; Simundson).

The entire conversation reveals just how shallow Israel’s understanding of God has become. As Doug Bratt notes God doesn’t want anything from Israel, God wants Israel (Bratt). Israel is so far off base the prophet Micha step in and says:

God has told you
      do justice,
      love mercy,
     and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

 

Now, all that is left is for us is to figure out
what is justice?
what does mercy look like? and
how do we walk humbly?

When I read the suggestion that ‘walk’ is actually the key word in all this, and then suggest that we walk with God as our constant companion, I saw how reversing the order brings a kind of clarity (Simundson). Walking in intimate relationship with God enables us to love mercy or kindness, and that encourages mutual interdependent relationships across all social boundaries; and that enable us to do justice working through churches, communities and whole societies reflecting the image of God (Bratt).

Walking with God is just a little bit more complex than a journey through the valley of shadows and darkness (Psalm 23). Paul is oh so right; the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). Think for a minute, back through this last week, back through this last month, have you heard anything that holds up: the poor, those in mourning, the meek, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are merciful, or kind or pure of heart, or who make peace, or who are persecuted because they stand up against the elite and powerful, or who those name evil as evil, even when evil parades around in glory, laud and honorific trappings.

Jesus has been traveling all around Galilee. He has seen how the people react to him. He knows people are coming from all around, as far away even as Jerusalem. He realizes the crowd’s growing expectations. There are those who see Jesus becoming a “bold and brash political leader.” There are others who believe he will draw powerful, assertive allies to his side. Nearly everyone expects “swift liberation from Roman” and the end of centuries of oppression by foreign peoples (Hoezee).

Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain, which is a place of theophany, a place of the presence of God, and basically, gives them, and us, a definition of discipleship, that we hear in the beatitudes. All the surrounding nations and for the last several centuries with a distorted emphasis on the exactness of the Law, the Jewish religious leaders focus on attitudes and declarations of doctrine. God desires righteous behaviors, and remember that for Matthew ‘righteous is all about relationship, or always journeying, with God. Jesus’ 9 little sayings turn the world upside down and hint at a future reversal of imperialistic values, that, in fact, is already in process in Jesus ministry way back then and right now (Harrelson).

I have a dream. I dream of Judge Judy perched high on the bench. I dream of WormWood challenging that St. Stephen’s is devoid of the presence of God at anywhere and at any time. I dream that without reference to doctrine or liturgy that by story after story after story of one journey after another where we’ve faithfully held God’s hand as we traversed the darkness sharing kindness and doing justice for all right here right now.

 

References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 4 A Micah 6:1-8 . 29 1 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “Becoming Peacemakers, Epiphany 4(A).” 29 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Ellingsen, Mark. Epiphany 4 | Ordinary Time 4, Cycle A. 29 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Fourth Sunday after the. 29 1 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4A l Matthew 5:1-12 . 29 1 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12. 29 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

—. Righteous Living. 29 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Pankey, Steve. Draughting Theology. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

—. The Basics 102. 29 1 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Simundson, Daniel J. New Interpreter’s Bible The Book of Micah. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015`. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

 

 

 

There he is!

A sermon for Epiphany 2; Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

John has everyone’s attention; the Jewish leaders; and the people’s. He has a group of followers, disciples, people who are committed to his different teachings and expectations. We expect disciples to be dedicated and committed to their teacher or leader. We also expect the teacher or leader to expect their followers to, well, follow.

So, the other day, John is in a town near the Jordan river and has an encounter with Jewish leaders from Jerusalem, who want to know who he is. He says he is not who they think he is. His tell them someone else is coming.

The next day John is walking through town and shouts out “There he is! ‘The Lamb of God.’ The one who will take away the world’s sin!” He shares the story of Jesus’ baptism. It is a testimony to who Jesus is.

A day later John and a couple of his disciples are walking through town. John sees Jesus again and shouts out “There he is again.” The disciples may have made a curious face as John calls this unknown person the Lamb of God, which is a new title. Whatever their faces may have revealed, their action is unexpected. They give up their relationship with John and turn and follow Jesus. It’s almost like someone giving up their loyal following of the Hogs and becoming a fanatic Boll Weevil follower; it is unimaginable.

Jesus notices they are following him, and turns and asks them “What do you want?” They ask him “Where are you staying?” Jesus tells them “Come and see.” They followed Jesus till late in the day. Then Andrew went to find his brother, and tells him about their unusual day; and then claims to have found the Messiah, another new title for Jesus. Simon follows his brother to meet Jesus, who on first sight calls him by name and then renames him, Peter. It is such a simple story. But not really.

To begin with, ‘The Lamb of God’ is a completely new term, it has never heard anywhere before, and is not used anywhere else in the bible (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a reference to multiple ways God is present to Israel:

  • their liberation from slavery in Egypt
  • the sacrifice of Isaac
  • the Temple cultic sacrificial system and
  • the suffering servants from Isaiah (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson; Boring).

John says Jesus will take away the sin – singular – the sin of the world. Jesus’ purpose in not individual, it is universal. It is not about our specific moral misconduct. It is about the consequences of any action that

  •  creates distance in our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  contributes to alienation and darkness or (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson;
  •  the world’s collective brokenness (Boring; Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

So, this is not about me, or you, or even us. This is about everyone, the entire world, all the cosmos.

Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and John’s two disciples is simple. And not so much so. Jesus asks “What are you looking for?” But, because this is a bible story and because Jesus is asking a question, we know Jesus does not think these two strangers have lost their keys or its 1st century like thing. Jesus is inviting them to share from the depths of their hearts

  •  what are they seeking (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  what they are longing for most hope for (Lose) and
  •  what motivates them (West).

The disciples’ answer is another question “Where are you staying?” Now, it is not unusual for a teacher to answer a student’s or follower’s question with a question. It is unusual the other way around. So, we know something is up which is that ‘staying’ is not reference to Jesus’ Inn number. What they want to know is where Jesus abides. (Clavier; Gaventa and Petersen). Later we will hear Jesus say:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15:4.)

and a little later

… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, … (John 15:5)

and just a bit further

and If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

All of which is about our relationship with Jesus, which reflects Jesus’ relationship with God. The disciples want to know about Jesus’ relationship with God (Boring). It also is their way of saying “We want to stay with you.” which really means “We want to follow you (Lose).” “We want to be your disciples.” There are also implications that they are also seeking some stability, some purpose in life (West; Boring).

Jesus’ answer “Come and see.” sounds equally ordinary, but as the question is more than it sounds so is Jesus reply. “Come and see” is an invitation, but an invitation to what (Clavier)? Well, invitations usually have some sort of relationship feature (Lose). Here it is an offer to come to know Jesus through the eyes of faith (Boring).

The structure of the story also teaches us something about Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see.” We know the disciples spend a good deal of the day with Jesus. The next thing that happens is? Well – what does Andrew do? That’s right, He goes and tells his brother, Simon, they have found the messiah. The invitation to come and see Jesus is evangelism (Lose).

And here the story links back to John. John’s witness leads to his disciples becoming Jesus’ disciples (Harrelson). Their story of hearing John’s witness, and moving into Jesus’ presence is not complete until they witness to someone else (Harrelson; Boring). We cannot see it in English, but the form of ‘see’ is a completed past action whose effect continues into the present (Boring). So, just as John’s witness of Jesus’ baptism is not complete until he witnesses to his disciples, and the disciples’ witness is not complete until they witness to someone our witness of their witness, which we experience by reading and hearing scripture, is not complete until we invite someone else to “Come and see.”

A final observation. In the other Gospels, the disciples give up a way of life to follow Jesus. This morning, John’s disciples give up their previous religious commitment as disciples of John to become disciples of Jesus (Boring). Together with the new title of “Lamb of God” this is a reminder for us not to limit God/Jesus/Sprit to our preconceived ideas, and to always be open to new images or metaphors for understanding and experiencing different relationships to the faith community (Boring).

God/Jesus/Spirit does not change; however, the world, the time and space we live in does change (Lewis). This means the nature of our relationships with each other and the universe changes, and so the way others encounter God/Jesus/Spirit will be different, and the way, the language others can receive our witness to our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit changes. Which mean to be open to new expressions of the presence of God is to be faithful to God’s presence right here, right now. It means that you are free to witness, share, your new experience of God/Jesus/Spirit as you dive deep into what in life you are looking for.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Clavier, Anthony. “There Goes a Lamb, Epiphany 2(A).” 15 1 2017. Sermons that Work.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 15 1 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:29-42. 15 1 2017.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Timely Matters. 15 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Epiphany 2 A: A Question, Invitation, and Promise. 15 1 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on John 1:2942. 15 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

See and Hear Differently

A sermon for 1st Sunday of Epiphany 1, Jesus’ Baptism; Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

On Monday, our oldest was born. On Tuesday, our youngest was born. On Wednesday, they were driving. By Thursday they had graduated High School. And Friday both graduated College Today they are married with children! How did that happen?

Last week Jesus was circumcised and named. Today, a week later, the fully-grown Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, where John is baptizing folks, and Jesus says “Me too!” John hesitates, but Jesus persuades him, and it is done. But what is done?

We met John the Baptist at the beginning of chapter 3. He wears funny clothes, cries out “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2.) He baptizes people for repentance of their sins. He challenges Pharisees and Sadducees calling them a “sons of snakes” perhaps a reference to Genesis 3 and the snake in the garden (Boring) and John challenges them, and everyone, to bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).

John is not the first person to baptize. There are directions in Leviticus that tells the Israelites how to clean themselves up before entering the Temple. It is not about a bath; it is about washing away the impurities of:

  • moral failures
  • violations of rules like not touching anything dead
  • some natural occurrences, and
  • some illnesses.

This and other ritual cleanings are part of Jewish life. There were special pools for such cleansings; however, immersions in natural pools or flowing water were also used (Butterworth). John’s baptism does seem to have a different emphasis, he was calling on people to change how they were living, repentance, or change of course, and adopt a life that is a commitment to God, a new direction. (Carter) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). John’s practices are similar to the ascetic community of the Essenes who lived way out in the wilderness in Qumran as a protest to what they believed were the corrupt practices of leaders in Jerusalem and the Temple. Some scholars believe that John belonged to this community (Butterworth).

I am sure you notice that John hesitates to grant Jesus’ request to be baptized. Some people think this is because Jesus is sinless. He is, but that is not a concern when Matthew wrote his Gospel and is not the cause of John’s hesitation (Carter). John hesitates until he realizes that this baptism is Jesus’ commitment to God (Butterworth).

It is interesting to visualize Matthew’s scene carefully. John is Baptizing in the Jordan river. Nothing unusual about this, it happens all the time. There are many people there. Several have already been baptized. It is a day full of usual activity. No one expects anything unusual to happen (Hoezee). There is nothing out of the ordinary for a solitary man to approach John. John’s hesitation is not typical, but it is not dramatic either. There is nothing different about immersing Jesus. And none of the Gospels are very clear about what happens next. At least for the crowd, nothing is different. For us, Matthew’s readers, may before John, and certainly, for Jesus everything is different.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open up, and the Spirit descends. These are signs of revelation and divine gifts that happened in biblical times (Old Testament times for us) but had not happened in a long time, but are expected to come again in the last days (Boring), and the arrival of the Messiah. The dove is frequently associated with the Spirit that hovers the chaotic waters of creation (Genesis 1:2). However, there is no reference to a dove-like form in Genesis. It is interesting to note that for the Romans birds are a sign of divine actions establishing the destinies of imperial officials (Carter). So, the image of the dove may be an indirect challenge to Roman oppression and a commitment to restoring justice (Ellingsen). The arrival of the spirit is a sign that God is equipping Jesus for his ministry, and links Jesus to Old Testament leaders of Judges (Judges 6:34), the Davidic Kings (Isaiah 11:1), and God’s suffering servant (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1) (Carter). Jesus, John, and we hear God’s voice “This is so awesome!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). I wonder if Jesus and John react the way Mary and the Shepherds did when the Angel unexpectedly appeared to them. God “declares Jesus’ identity and destiny” (Butterworth) in a way, it is very similar to last week when Jesus becomes a member of Abraham’s descendants and is given his name, which implies his destiny. The pronouncement “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” combines Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, we heard this morning. You recognize Isaiah 42:1 as one of the suffering servant passages. Psalm 2 is one of the royal psalms; which is a bit curious because it has been 550 or more years since Israel had a King. That they still included these psalms is in their scripture a testament to Israel’s continuing belief that, God is faithful and the Davidic line of kings will be restored (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

This story about baptism tells us more about Jesus than it does about the baptism. We hear Jesus’ identity and ministry, as God’s son, affirmed (Butterworth). We hear how Jesus is the agent of the new creation (Isaiah 42:9) because oppression and injustice are not God’s will (Harrelson). We see, in the sign of a descending dove, that Jesus’ mission is divinely empowered (Sakenfeld). We glean how Jesus’ commitment to God is bearing the fruit John is referring to in his rant against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:8) (Butterworth). And we may just catch a glimpse of the inner life of God as Jesus is named twice in his circumcision and baptism, revealing both his fully human and fully divine nature (Scoopmire).

All that brings us to the “So what?” question. What do we learn about us in all this? I suspect the first thing is that this story reminds us to open our eyes and look at the world differently. John knew Jesus because he saw the world differently than the Romans and their collaborators. God’s tells us to “Look at him!” but also to “Look for him!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And it is important for us to look because there are those who proclaim another way.

In Jesus’ day, Roman Civil Religion threatened the world. Today an emerging American Civil Religion threatens the world. Its proponents disregard foundational doctrines like Trinity. Perhaps because belief in the Trinity requires belief in a fully human and fully divine Jesus that requires divinity and humanity to co-exist. In other words, Jesus has fully free human will within a divine framework (Mitchican). American Civil Religion rejects the Trinity because it cannot see how truly free enterprise can exist within any regulatory system. It teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, to give us the power to claim our prosperity, and to give us our best life right now. American Civil Religion teaches that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first; and that we’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence (Hughes). If that doesn’t evoke the memory of the original temptation to be like God Gen.3:5) then I don’t know what does.

And once we see the world differently, what are we to do? You know the answer: we follow the shepherds, we boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and savior, and we preach and teach and witnesses to Jesus’ presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Is it hard? no, all you do is share your stories. Is it scary? yes, but it gets easier with time. How do we know when to speak? Well, you have already learned to look differently, and now is the time to listen differently, and then we will encounter the unexpected opportunity to share. And oh yes, you can relax because just as God was there when Jesus started his ministry God is here for you when you start or continue yours.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Butterworth, Susan. “The Baptism of Our Lord, Epiphany 1(A).” 8 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 3:1317. 8 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 1 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 1A Matthew 3:13-17 . 8 1 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Hughes, Rosalind. An evangelical warns of “mainstream heresy.” n.d. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/an-evangelical-warns-of-mainstream-heresy/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. You Are All My Beloved. 8 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Scoopmire, Leslie. Speaking to the Soul: Named and claimed. 8 1 2017. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speaking-to-the-soul-named-and-claimed-2/&gt;.

 

 

What’s in a name

A sermon for Holy Name: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-21

 What’s in a name? About what we think, and more. You all know my name is Scott. If you have ever seen my signature, well that doesn’t help because, even its long from it isn’t readable, but if you have seen the typed version you may know my full name is John Scott Trotter. Which might raise the question “Why don’t I go by my first name?” Simply put, it is to avoid confusion, because my dad’s name is John. At least it is until we went back to his family home where he was called “Jack” because he has an uncle named John, who was frequently there, and they wanted to avoid confusion. There are all sorts of traditions related to names. Our family lore claims that we are descended from a soldier named Peter who was William the conqueror’s (of 1066 fame) first assistant. He named his son William, who subsequently named his son Peter and so on, it went from generation to generation. You can tell I am rather far removed from the direct line; of the 14 different letters in my name, one of them is the same as the 9 in my ancestors naming scheme. Oh Well. Most namings are not so complex; our first daughter is named after both her grandmothers; and our second is named after a family friend and a derivative of Angie’s last name. I had a colleague, whose first child is named after the place he was conceived.

In the bible, naming is similar to current traditions. It is primarily about distinguishing people, places, and things from each other. At times a name reflects something distinctive about the person’s birth or character. At other times a person’s name is connected to a place. It is not uncommon for a name to be related to a memory. The act of naming can be significant. People can claim authority over another by naming or renaming them. Messengers speak “in the name of” of the person who sent them (Sakenfeld).

This morning we heard the story of, 8 day old, Jesus’ circumcision and naming. It demonstrates Mary’s and Joseph’s piety. First, they follow the Jewish tradition of circumcision which connects Jesus to the covenant between God and Abraham, the patriarch of all Israel, and marks his becoming a part of the community (Baters; Gaventa and Petersen; Culpepper). It also demonstrates their obedience and loyalty to God. They named their child as instructed; the name that was given to Mary by the angel when she is told she will bear the divine child and given to Joseph by an angel, in a dream when he is told to go on and marry Mary even though she is unexpectedly pregnant (Culpepper; Pankey). It is also another way in which Mary and Joseph are part of the salvation scheme because the naming itself is an act of divine fulfillment (Culpepper).

 Jesus’ name is relatively common. It is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous (“yeh-soos”), which is a form of the Hebrew Joshua which comes from Yeshua, meaning “to help” or “to save.” (Pankey; Baters; Sakenfeld). The name is full of significance. Linking the meaning of the name ‘Jesus’ “to save” to the idea of salvation leads to understanding that the name ‘Jesus’ is a sign of salvation, which leads to understanding the name as a verbal sacrament, an outward and perceptual sign of an inward and imperceptible grace (Hoffacker). The meaning of the name implies Jesus is the one who will accomplish the glory of God, by making salvation available to all (Moore). Joshua is the Old Testament hero who leads the wandering Hebrews to freedom in the promised land connecting Jesus to leading all that follow him to freedom in eternity (Hoffacker). That name connection also links Jesus to God’s salvific actions we know through Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Judges, Debra, the prophets, Huldah, and many others (Pankey). Understanding the name of ‘Jesus’ as “God saves,” reminds us

 There is never a point at which God is willing to give up on his hopes of restoring humanity to right relationship (Pankey).

Jesus’ name has significance beyond the person of Jesus. I mentioned that messengers speak “in the name of” the person who sent them. Well, in our baptism and our confirmation we are bound to Jesus. That includes us being a part of continuing Jesus’ ministry to proclaim “that the Kingdom of God has come near.” We hear this idea in the phrase “we minister in Jesus name” (Baters). And that notion is much older than Jesus’ name.

Our Old Testament reading this morning is from Numbers and is the blessing Aaron and all successive priests are to use. It may be very familiar.

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

What is not so familiar is the last verse, So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them. In the larger context of Numbers, we learn that pronouncing a blessing is not as a casual activity. It is so significant that the responsibility to bless is limited to priests. However, verse 27 makes it abundantly clear that “priests do not possess the power to bless independently of God” (Dozeman; Gaventa and Petersen). This understanding is somewhat masked because, in all of our bibles, the three phrases of the blessing begin “The Lord.” In the original Hebrew script ‘Lord’ is ‘Yahweh,’ God’s unspoken name (Dozeman). We have no way of knowing what Israel’s priests actually said when pronouncing this blessing. I do suspect that those who knew the book of Numbers knew that it was God’s blessing the priests were giving voice to. I do believe that those who heard the blessing heard God’s voice bestowing peace upon them. And more than peace, because shalom imputes not only peace, but also, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, friendship, justice, salvation, a long life, and a holiness of life, that brings about physical, emotion, social and spiritual health (Dozeman; Harrelson).

What is in a name? Well, in Jesus’ name the promise of salvation for all. So, whenever we hear it, whenever we speak it, whenever we act in it:

  • may it be a gift that makes all human life possible
  • may it shine broadly with warmth, brightness, and life-giving energy on all creation
  • may it be an active, direct acceptance and consecration of a specific person or community in a gesture of reconciliation (Harrelson)
  • may it bring everyone into God’s loving enteral presence


References

Baters, Barrie. The Name Given by an Angel, Feast of the Holy Name (A) –. 1 1 2017. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Dozeman, Thomas B. The Book of Numbers (NIBC) Leviticus 27:25. Vol. I. Abbington, 2015. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Fretheim, Terence E. Commentary on Numbers 6:22-27. 1 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoffacker, Charles. “The name of Jesus on our lips, Holy Name (A,B,C) – 2014.” 1 1 2014. Sermons that Work. 1 1 2017.

Moore, Joy J. Commentary on Luke 2:15-21. 1 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. Jesus’ other name. 13 12 2015. 1 1 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.