Sermon for 5th Pentecost -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Names are important. What our family and friends call us, whether it is our given name or some sort of nickname or affectionate name, that is often how others see us and we see ourselves. When I see our Preschool children and they greet me with “Hi Pastor Eric” I can only smile.
Today we honor Scott Grossmann, who is leaving us after ten months as our Vicar. Vicar Scott Grossmann – names are important.
Today, on this day that ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has asked congregations across our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to mark as a day of “Repentence and Mourning,” we remember nine other names: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor, the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pickney, TyWanda Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton and Myra Thompson.
The Revs. Pickney and Simmons were graduates of our Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. On our behalf, Bishop Eaton attended Senator Pickney’s funeral in Charleston on Friday – if you watched this service on television you could see Bishop Eaton sitting right behind the President. I was very proud of her and of our church for her presence there. (And, you can find Bishop Eaton’s statement here - http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/long_season_of_disquiet_letter.pdf).
Jesus knew these nine women and men, just as he knows Vicar Scott and me. We are his daughters and sons. Now and forever.
Jesus knows you also. You are his daughters and sons. Now and forever.
Names are important. Last week we heard how Jesus took his disciples across the Sea of Galilee through a life-threatening storm into a land foreign to Jesus and his disciples, the land of the Gerasenes. While in that land, Jesus healed a man who was insane and sent the man’s insanity, his demons,
into a herd of pigs who then ran off a bank into the sea. The Gerasene people wanted none of this and asked Jesus to leave. So, Jesus got back into the boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee again and now was back in more familiar territory.
And that is the set up for today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus gets off the boat and is greeted by a crowd – they have heard of his reputation as a teacher and healer. Among that crowd is a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue. Jairus begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus sets out to do just
that, but is interrupted as he walks.
Another person in the crowd is a woman. Mark does not record her name. She is described only as a woman who “had been bleeding for twelve years.” In Jesus’ time, that probably meant she had vaginal bleeding and that would have meant that she would have been considered impure and unable to bear children. She was an outcast: No one would have known her name nor would have wanted to be near her.
This woman, all alone, works her way through the crowd to get close to Jesus, hoping just to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe, desperate for even the possibility of healing. She has no one to advocate for her, no family, no community to beseech Jesus on her behalf. She is nothing, she is invisible, to the society of Jesus’ day and, thus, we know her only as “the woman who had bled for twelve years.”
Jesus does not see this woman at first. But he does sense that something has just happened, that some power of healing has just gone out of him. Jesus asks, “Who touched my clothes?” Now, there is a huge crowd, crushing around Jesus as he says this. The disciples know it is impossible to tell who just touched Jesus robe – you can just imagine them saying to Jesus, “come on, you know that is impossible to tell!”
But the woman, this unnamed woman, steps up to Jesus and, in “fear and trembling” the text tells us, confesses that she was the one who touched his robe for healing.
And then, something wonderful happens. In addition to being healed, this unnamed woman gets a name. Jesus calls her “daughter.” Jesus affirms her faith and heals her of her disease.
The names we call each other are important. They have the power to heal. They have the power to destroy.
On this day of repentance and mourning we must remember the names that have the power to destroy: all those names we use to put down people who differ from us in skin color, sexual identify, ethnicity, belief, the names we have hung onto and hurled at others to reduce and objectify them. I could list them but you already know them. Some of these names are so terrible that I have difficulty saying them out loud.
You see we human beings are by nature social, even tribal, creatures. When we gather with those who seem like us, we can easily characterize those who don’t as different, naming them by some attribute that creates convenient definitions and borders for us by stripping others of their individuality, labeling and lumping them together.
However, and this is the important point in all of this talk of names, the pattern of Christ is the opposite: Jesus is continually crossing borders – whether geographic or social – to see people for who they are and to draw them into relationship with him. The woman who interrupts Jesus preaching and teaching, this woman who is searching for healing is now no longer just “woman” or “the one who has been bleeding for twelve years.” She is now “daughter,” one restored to family and community and health and life.
And this is, of course, Jesus’ charge to us all. We are called to see people for who they really are, unique persons, each created in the image of God, and each worthy of our attention, care, love and respect. Christ calls us to leave the comfortable and familiar behind in order to reach out to others as brothers and sisters, all children of God.
Okay, I know that sounds very good, but, clearly, the racial terrorism in Charleston is only the most recent example of how poorly we have all done in this, especially those of us in the majority, power position, white people, and especially in our relationships with African American people. We already know that discrimination based on ethnicity or religion or economic status happens on the streets of cities and towns in this country every single day and we know in our heart of hearts that it is terribly wrong. And, frankly, being told this one more time by your pastor will probably make little difference.
But, here is something that might make a difference: take a moment and think of all the names you have been given or called, demeaned with, ones you have accepted or not accepted, the ones that have been thrown at you in anger or hatred. Think of any of those which might still haunt you. Now, think of all the illnesses or failures or missteps or regrets that somehow have come to define you. Name them to yourselves.
Now, let’s turn that around: think of how Christ looks at you: you are daughter or son, you are a person of great faith. You are faithful, wonderful, beloved of God. And more.
You see, in Christ you have been given a new name. No matter what happens, no matter where we go or what we do or have done to us, God will always see us as unique and beloved, worthy of love, honor and respect.
Each week when we come together here to worship, we come to be reminded of this – to be reminded that we have a new name given in love to us by a God who loves us unconditionally. We come to worship to be named anew.
And then maybe, as we leave this place, having received a new identity in Christ, we can go out from here and resist the urge to use destructive names and actions to define or label or reduce others.
Perhaps we can also try to reach out more in love to all those around us – and especially those whom society has overlooked – and see them as brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, all children of God.
Like the woman who bled, we know or may even be the man who failed, the girl who dropped out of high school, the kid who got hooked on drugs, the family with no home. We may even be those people named with horrible racist or sexist or homophobic names.
These are not the names God has in store for us. God knows us as sons and daughters, blessed children. And God loves us even when others do not. Even when we do not.
So we do repent and mourn today. And we especially name the evil of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for our part in that sin. But, we do not stop there, we name people anew – all beloved children of God – worthy of our love, honor and respect.
Names are important. Your name and mine, all beloved children of God.
Thanks to scholar David Lose for his ideas which I incorporated in this sermon.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
In Christ We Are Given A New Name
Sermon for 5th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
June 27/28, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California