Based on Isaiah 43:1-7 & Luke 3:15-22
Our names are very important. They may be chosen because the name itself has a special meaning, or you may be named in honour of a beloved family member, or because a particular name just sounds right and suits the person. When you have a name you are someone, not something; you are not just a number.
Isaiah 43 begins with God saying to the people, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine. It is a beautiful passage of assurance and love, and yet I can no longer read it without knowing that it is one of the passages now used to promote Zionism and a Jewish only state of Israel, and to exclude Palestinians from their own land. What then to do with this passage written some 2600 years ago, which was of great comfort at a time when the descendants of Jacob, also called Israel, were exiled in Babylon?,(which we now call Iraq.)
Several years ago, we had the great privilege in Salmon Arm of hosting the `three interfaith amigos’ – Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman. These three American faith leaders got together after the tragedy we now simply call 9-11, and decided that they needed to build their friendship and work together for interfaith understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In light of that, I wanted to know what Rabbi Ted Falcon would say about this. There is in each religion, texts that have been used to proclaim superiority – a sense of being the Chosen people. Rabbi Ted said, says the central tenant of Judaism is the concept of `Oneness.’ That means, not only oneness of God, but of all creation. So yes, he would affirm that Jews are the `chosen’ people, but this includes the belief that all people are chosen for their unique way. So basically, I can’t be chosen unless you also are chosen by God.
There is nothing that sounds as beautiful as your name being spoken with love. For people of faith, or struggling with faith, how beautiful it is to have a sense of God calling us by name.
“I have called you by your name, you are mine.” These words are not stated in a possessive, controlling way – but in a way that says you are my beloved, to care for, to uphold, to be in covenant with, to bless.
We need to know, as the songs says, that we are `chosen, gifted and asked to shine’. And… we need to know `we are unique – just like everyone else!’
The challenge for me is not so much the sense that God is calling a particular group of people to uphold a particular gift, but can we hear God call our perceived enemy’s name? That’s the challenge. We might not know what the call is – it may be a call to repentance, to excellence, to forgiveness, to healing… that’s between God and the other. My task, the task of each one of us, is to heed the call of Divine Love in our life, and not try to control how others are responding to it.
That Divine Love is there in the gospel in words of blessing and assurance, which come at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus hears God’s voice say, ‘You are my beloved child, I am so pleased with you.’
Note the voice from heaven doesn’t say “I will be pleased with you, if you get this right.” The voice doesn’t say `that wasn’t good enough’. The voice says, “You are my beloved.” With you I am well pleased. The voice Jesus heard in his soul spoke before he even did anything.
One of my favourite sayings is:
When someone loves you the way they say your name is different.
You know your name is safe in their mouth.
When have you known that your name was safe is someone’s mouth? When have you feared that is was not? How do you hold the names of the people you love, and the ones who are hard to love?
Over the years I have been called by many names. Some were sweet and endearing, some were representative of my relationship to others – sister, daughter, wife, mother, aunt, niece, minister, etc. Some were meant to wound, belittle and shame.
Whatever we are called by others, it is important to hear the name that God calls us by – it changes the world, from the inside out. In the summer of 2004, on a spiritual pilgrimage to England and Scotland, I experienced a renaming. It was for me like a second baptism, a new beginning. It came at a time when I so needed a new beginning.
It happened on a walk to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England. You can now drive to the island on a causeway at low tide. But much more delightful, is to take a two mile walk through the sea. It is best to do this at low tide, for at high tide you’d be under eight feet of water. The way is marked with posts about every 200 yards, so you won’t get lost if the fog rolls in. There are also two crows nests you can climb up, in case you start out at the wrong time and get caught in the incoming tide. This is what I wrote after my walk:
“August 10th 2004 Tuesday night – Lindisfarne 10:30 PM
…the walk to Lindisfarne – I stayed at the back of the pack with Lynne and Gerald
The moment my feet touched the sand – something magical happened – I was completely a child – a complete child – I could not stop myself from skipping and splashing in the puddles. I was a complete child as in I was a whole child – a child of God – a holy child.
I have been called…(many hurtful names meant to break my heart & break my spirit) – But these names were given by those too broken & too fearful to hear my true name –
I know my true name – I felt it in the warm sand, the life-bearing water, it was carried on the laughter of friends, the kiss of the mist – my name, my name is Beloved, child of God.”
In July of 2012, at the end of another spiritual pilgrimage Jim and I spent a couple days on Lindisfarne, as I wanted him to experience this amazing place. When we arrived at our B&B, I realized it was the very home where I had written in my journal eight years before.
God calls us no less than Beloved Child. God entrusts us to live the life we were given. There is a poster that says “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God.” God doesn’t want us to become someone else – but to become fully our self, as sons and daughters of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ, receptive to the Holy Spirit – the breath of God within us.
Whatever your given name, you have another – a name by which God calls you…and your name is “Beloved.” So, be loved. Be love. Thanks be to God.