A deputy district attorney was teaching an antidrug class to a group of Cub Scouts. When he asked if anyone could list the gateway drugs, one Scout had the answer: “Cigarettes, beer, and marinara.”
You know, the highly addictive pasta sauce.
A little boy showed up for Sunday school one morning without a name tag. Gwen, the Sunday school teacher for the four year olds, managed to get his first name, but couldn’t find out his last name. “Brian, what’s your daddy’s name?” she asked. “Daddy,” he replied. She tried again, “Brian, what’s your mommy’s name?” “Mommy,” he answered. Suddenly she realized exactly how she could get the answer she needed. “Brian, what does your daddy call your mommy?” His face lit up. With a grin and a deep voice, he replied, “Hey, Babe.”
Now that’s a name, and perhaps a title.
I want to talk to you this morning about seeing yourself in God’s sight, seeing yourself as God names you. Sometimes we might get confused about what God sees when he sees us. In Ephesians 2:10, we are told how “…we are God’s handiwork.” The word translated “handiwork” has clear artistic connotations and could easily be translated “work of art” or “masterpiece.” When God thinks of you and me, the Lord’s thinking: “What a masterpiece!”
In the Gospel of John we learn we are God’s friends. But in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians we hear we are even more. We’re part of God’s family: “’I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.” And Jesus and Paul tell us we are to call the Almighty Creator, Abba, or Daddy. God calls us by name, loving names.
But by the time we get going in life, we’ve also heard other less flattering names thrown at us. It’s often tough to keep a hold on who you are. Too many have difficulty believing that what God sees in them is really true. Instead, doubts creep in. And with it comes a loss of faith, strength, and confidence.
I wish we could tune out those who want to bring us down. Something in us unfortunately is so willing to listen to the negative from people who only want to do us harm. It’s like we’re more willing to listen to gossip about ourselves rather than the really real. But that’s not how it’s should be. Tune
out those who can’t help but try to bring you down. Shrug off those who try to make themselves feel better by making you feel worse.
You are God’s beloved, says scripture. You have God’s love given to you freely in Jesus Christ. The Lord has something special and good planned for you and your life. But we can’t receive it if we believe instead those who are trying to keep you from it.
Gordon MacDonald, a pastor and author, tells a story about a woman who probably never doubted she was special. I can imagine what a difference her name made in her life.
“After giving a lecture one day, a Nigerian woman who is a physician at a great teaching hospital in the United States came out of the crowd to say something kind about the lecture I had just given. She introduced herself using an American name. ‘What’s your African name?’ I asked. She immediately gave it to me, several syllables long with a musical sound to it. ‘What does the name mean?’ I wondered. She answered, ‘It means “Child who takes the anger away.”’
When I inquired as to why she would have been given this name, she said, ‘My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much they defied family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. And when the grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that’s the name my mother and father gave me.’”
Can you imagine having a name like that, a name that continually reminds you of your amazing power to bring love and reconcile. I doubt anyone could make her believe she’s any less than what her name means. By the way, did you notice that this woman was the one who came up to the speaker to compliment him. When you bless others, you also bless yourself.
Cover those around you in blessings, compliments, kindnesses, and you will walk under the same. Don’t lose faith. Hold on to confidence in yourself. Keep your strength to fight for God’s vision of who you are.
Christ is known by many names and titles. He was called “Lord,” a salutation to honor a man of distinction; “Messiah,” which referred to him being the long awaited “anointed one” who would deliver Israel. In the book of Revelation, he is the “Alpha and Omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, therefore the beginning and the end; He is “Savior,” and he’s
called “Redeemer,” the one who frees or delivers another from difficulty, danger, or bondage, usually by the payment of a ransom.” Jesus is the Mediator between God and humanity; the Light of the World, and the Bread of Life, the one and true supplier of spiritual nourishment.
This morning Jesus is the Lamb of God, a title or name that speaks of his willingness to sacrifice all for those he loved.
I was in high school when I first came upon a scripture passage, the famous Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53, written some five hundred years before Jesus lived. You see, I had a hard time getting Jesus’ suffering into my head and heart, as something necessary because of what I had done or said, or would do or not do.
Even though we have little trouble listening to someone who is up to no good tell us were this or that less than good, son of a gun, it appears that when God tries to teach us a hard truth about ourselves, not to tear us down mind you, but to reveal this certain truth, we often can’t accept it.
I had that trouble back then and still do at times. But it helped me somehow, somewhere inside of me, to read these words, not once but many times.
I am only reading a small section of this prophecy concerning Jesus Christ, Lamb of God: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, my sin, your sin. And it’s only because God does love and treasure us that this would have happened. As scripture says, “It is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works….”
At some point, we shouldn’t simply dismiss what we do wrong as inconsequential, when we head off on our own wrong-headed, hard-hearted, God-defying path, making up the rules, counting rights and wrongs as we wish to see them. No, there are consequences for all those, to us, to others. And we can’t merely try to be perfect and never fail for a moment or fall for an instance, supporting our moral efforts as if we were Atlas holding up our world of obligations and obedience by our own great strength. It can’t be.
Instead, accept the gift of God in Jesus Christ. See again God’s love and mercy and compassion and grace toward you. Take hold of it and surrender your waywardness and foolishness. Receive the joy of living for God, in God, through God.
Alexander the Great conquered most of the then-known world by the age of 33. One of the reasons for that was the iron discipline he insisted on among his troops. That’s why a young soldier was so terrified when he was hauled into Alexander’s tent to answer for charges of cowardice and desertion in battle. The general was seated at a table, and the accused soldier stood before him. Alexander said, “Soldier, you’ve been accused of deserting during a battle—guilty or not?” “Guilty,” he replied almost inaudibly. The general followed up then by asking, “What’s your name, soldier?” The answer came back, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great leaped to his feet, grabbed the soldier by the collar and shouted, “Either you change your life or you change your name!”
I wonder if Jesus doesn’t feel that way about us at times. We’re carrying his name. We call ourselves one of his. And what we do reflects on how people view Christ’s teachings, and how they value his life and death. The way we live and treat others and do business and what we stand for and what we value—all these express whether we really hold Christ’s name near and dear.
The truth is probably the most common reason people give for turning away from becoming a Christian is another Christian. And probably the most common reason people find Christ for themselves is because of another Christian. Before most people start believing in Christ, they believe in a Christian they know.
Perhaps it’s a little too much to see yourself as always on display to others. At times we just want to be ourselves and not worry whether we are living up to someone’s expectation of what a Christian is supposed to do or be. Let me tell you as a pastor, I get that. It can be a lot to carry.
But your name isn’t just your first name or your middle or your last. We are also called by Christ’s name. Just remember, in heaven, they bow down at the name of Jesus. And you, as his follower, carry that name. So carry Christ’s name proudly but live up to the name more fully. Call yourself one of his but truly walk as one of his own. As Jesus said, “They are my brothers and sisters who do God’s will.”
A man named Bunker Roy founded a university in India called Barefoot University. This school brings women, in fact, grandmothers, from rural Africa and undeveloped Afghanistan and India itself for six months at a time. These women, and some men, are brought to an area in the middle of nowhere, a place that hasn’t seen rain for six years, and they stay for half a year to learn to become solar engineers.
Practically all of these students are illiterate when they arrive—and of course they don’t wear shoes. But at the end of their engineer education, they return to their villages to bring solar-sourced electricity to their communities.
One time, Roy says, “We went to Ladakh (near the Himalayas) … and we asked this woman, ‘What was the benefit you had from solar electricity?’ And she thought for a minute and said, ‘It’s the first time I can see my husband’s face in winter.’”
But there’s another story I especially want you to hear. One woman came from Afghanistan. She went back to her village where she went to work bringing solar electricity to the homes of her people. One day, the leaders of her town, all men, came to her as she worked. They spoke to her and said it wasn’t right for a woman to be doing this, and she belonged over with the other women. She stood up, looked at those leaders and said, “Today, I am not a woman. I am an engineer.” That’s how important a name, a title, is.
Jesus’ name liberates and empowers. By it we know God loves us. It is, truly as scripture says, “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Can anybody say Amen?