What Is In A Name?

 Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. What Is In a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Words from William Shakespeare from the famed tragedy Romeo and Juliet as Juliet expresses her lament at her love being of the Montague household.  But what is in a name?  Our name is how we identify ourselves, if we contemplate it, it is everything that makes up who we are narrowed down to a couple of words to define who we are.  Our name uniquely belongs to us and identifies who we are and all of the things that make up who we are, both things seen and unseen, things known and unknown.  Some may have our name, or a similar name, but it is our own specific name that defines who we are, all that is unique and complex about us – our name, while simple it may be encompasses all that things that make us.  It tells a story of who we are, what we have been through. People may not see the whole story behind what is in our name, but it points to us, the being that has been through our own journey. 
We are genuinely ourselves, and it is the collision of our personality with our name that makes who we are unique, there is nothing and no one exactly like us.  But it is our name and what we have been called, that come together to make us who we are.  I can remember growing up, my father would go over several things with me before I went off to school each day, some daily affirmations to do as I started my day. One of the simple affirmations was the proclamation that I belong to the Livingston and McKinney families – as I am out in the world I represent them, but more than that, they are part of me, part of my journey.  Their intelligence, their faith, their fight to break down barriers are part of my story.  It is on their shoulders that I stand, and who they are makes up a part of who I am.  I come from a family of prayer warriors and a family of academics.  I carry all those who came before me with me, in my genetic make up.  I am a Livingston and I am a McKinney, all this is placed within the unique formula to make up me – that is defined within my name.  What is in a name?  But our genetics are not all that define us there are other things that make up our identity, what we do, who we are, where we went to school, what we hold dear.  I am a pastor, one who was called out of the congregation and sent to serve in ministry in the church for the furthering the kingdom of God, I am a woman, I am a black woman, I am a proud Howard Alum, a proud bison who studied in the hallowed halls of academia of the illustrious Howard University.  I am a sister, daughter, a preacher, a millennial, and a friend.  I am Lawrence and Frances’s daughter, I am Ethel, Roscoe, and Creamer’s granddaughter, I am a third generation preacher, I am the hopes and dreams of my forefathers and foremothers. There are so many things that come together that make up who, but it is all summed up in my name – Rachel Berena Livingston.  There are so many things that make up who each and every one of you is, who God created you to be.  Your profession, your ancestry, what you like to do, who you are all that you are comes together to proclaim what is encompassed in your name.  And when I say this I don’t mean the names that others call you, some of which may be hurtful and offensive, I mean the things that actually make up all the parts of you, the things that God has personally placed within you, to make up who you are and stated within your name.
In Bible Study this past week, we discussed how names of people and places give an indication of who and what they are.  Bethlehem means the house of bread and the place that Jacob saw the angels descending from heaven on a ladder was called Bethel or house of God.  What is in a name? Our name tells who we are in the moment.  It tells who God created us to be.  There is none exactly like you, and there never will be because you were intricately woven together as a beautiful creation of God. What is in a name? What comes together to create you a child of God, a teacher, a lover of God, a gardener, an engineer, a hiker, a runner, a crafter, a painter – What is in a name?

 II. When God Calls Your Name 

Last week we mentioned that we need to open up our ears to the ways that God is calling our name, that we should listen even in the midst of the midnight hour, because God is right there calling our name.  But what is within our name, what is within that name that God is calling, what is in us, our gifts and talents, the things within us that God can use to further God’s Kingdom, when God calls on our name?  But we also must think, is there something about us that needs to transform and change as we head on the journey that God is calling us to – because as God imparts God’s grace upon us, we should be growing, we should be transformed, we should be growing in holiness every day, that it shows in our daily habits of social holiness.  When we look at our world there is the poor, the forgotten and forsaken, those that are imprisoned are more likely to be seen as horrible monsters than a human being who has done something wrong, the hungry and homeless are ignored as if they are a blemish on our society, racial injustice is still a thing within our society, hatred and distrust seems to be rampant.  But maybe in the midst of all of this, God is calling our name, our name that identifies all that we are.  God is moving and doing a new thing in this world, God is calling the name of God’s people.  Maybe in the midst of all of this, God sees something within us, something that is within all the things that make up our name of who we are.  What is in our name?

How do all the things that make up who we are prepare us for the journey ahead? In this moment in time, God is calling the people of God to claim and proclaim the reign of the Kingdom of God within the world.  But what must we do when God calls our name?

 III. God Is Doing A New Thing

This morning’s scripture begins by saying that John the Baptist was arrested.  As we know, John the Baptist was the forerunner who pointed the way toward Jesus.  Which means many who followed Jesus were likely followers of John first, before he pointed them to the ways of Jesus Christ. And all of this is just before the ministry of Jesus began.  So, for many people in Jerusalem, those who were following John the Baptist, the world seemed to be folding in, the one who was showing them the way of the Lord had been arrested because he had the nerve to point out the sin of Herod Antipas, as Herod had broken the Jewish law to marry his wife.  John became a political prisoner, his proclamation against Herod eventually leading to his death by beheading.  But in the minds of the people, something is wrong, something is off, and they are left wondering what is God doing, if anything, because the leader is heading to his death, and surely this means there world is closing in. 

But again, we know, because we are millennia removed that John was only a precursor, the one who would point the way to the life and ministry of Jesus.  So we know that God is about to do a new thing, God is about to move in a mighty way, God is about to bring out redemptive work through the life and death of Jesus Christ.  God is doing a new thing. Our scripture says that Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  This means that God is shifting the atmosphere, God is bring about the Kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus Christ, where the blind will see, the hungry are fed, the imprisoned are visited and set free, the lame are made to walk, the sick are healed and made whole, the neglected of society are valued and given worth, and Beloved Community is created in which the people of God are brought together and claimed underneath the banner of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our iniquities and granted new life.

And as we look at scripture, we see that as God was doing a new thing in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as God was proclaiming the Kingdom of God coming near, he calls his disciples.  Jesus goes to Simon, Andrew, James, and John – fishermen who had taken on the profession of casting nets to reel in the fish of the freshwater sea of Galilee.  What was in their name? What made up who they were?  What might have been the gifts and talents that made up each of their names.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John.  What is in their name?  We know that a big portion of who they are is that they are fishermen.  But whatever was within them, Jesus saw something special because Jesus called them, chose each of them, and said follow me.  God calls each of us by name, offering God’s grace. We are special and God specifically called us by name. Why God loved us and offered grace, we do not know.  But it was because God offered grace to us all that we are able to be partake in redemption, it is because God reached out to us that we as people of God have an active role in proclaiming the reign of the Kingdom of God as we do the work of God in the world.  But will we hear it, when God calls?  And will we have the courage to step out on faith and allow God to transform us that we might come on board as God does new things.  When God calls each of us, we acknowledge that there are things and gifts that God can use, but there are also some things that we must let go of, that we might be transformed.  We want to be changed from fishermen to fishers of people, but we have to leave behind our days of reeling in fish and be transformed that we might learn to be disciples of Jesus Christ.  So as God is doing a new thing, there are some things that we have to leave behind.

 IV. What Are We Willing To Get Rid Of?

But are we willing to shed some of the things within us, to become the new creature that God is trying to make us? Are we willing to leave behind hatred, greed, pride, pessimism, meanness, silence in the face of injustice, violence, and sin that we might help to take part in the transformational change of declaring the reign of the Kingdom of God.  Simon, Andrew James, and John were changed from fishermen, to fishers of men.  And Simon was so transformed that he even changed his name to Peter.  He was walking into a new reality with a new name and a new trajectory.  His name needed to reflect the transformation that he was going through.  They had to let go of a few things in order to be the disciples of Jesus Christ.

In Bible study, we discussed that sometimes in biblical tradition when people were transformed by God, on a new mission, on a new trajectory, their name was changed.  We see that Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul, and even Simon became Peter.  But what is in a name? What are the things that make up us? But God is calling us in this moment as God is doing a new thing in the world so that the hungry can be fed, those without housing might find home security, that those in sorrow might find hope, those in imprisoned might find liberation, those in sin might be transform, and those who are sick might be healed.  But as we take on this new journey as we partake in the new thing that God is doing, what are we willing to leave behind, what are we willing to shed, and are we ready and able to step into the identity, new definition in ourselves, the new identity of disciple of Jesus Christ. Are we able to step in that new name of disciple, the people of God, called to do transformational things in the world?  What is in a name?  What is in the name of a child of God, A person called into the body of Christ, a person who vows to be a disciple of Jesus Christ – it means that Christ claimed us, was beaten, bruised, and bleed for our sins that we might be reconciled back to God.  It means that Christ was resurrected that we might find new life.  It means that we were bought with a price.  But it also means that we are called to act in love and it means that as God is doing a new thing, our ministry should reflect the transformational work that God is doing in the world as we function in peace, as we spread God’s love, and as we work toward God’s justice. What is in a name? May we hold true to what it means to be called a Child of God.  May we shed all of the things that are not like God, and may we live into all the things that are of God, that we might be made perfect in God’s love. Amen.