Wednesday, February 28, 2007

what a vacation can do

I've been on vaca for a few days now, having a wonderful time. Doing nothing more rigorous than cooking for my friend Teri's African music class or reading a book at Barnes and Noble. This is what vacation is about - resting, enjoying the simple pleasures that you never seem to have time for in your busy life. As great as this time is, I feel like there should be more - more of this in my day to day life. Why is it true, good rest and renewal is so hard to find in the day to day? Why do I feel I have to get away to get some good Sabbath? I try to incorporate Sabbath into my daily life/routine. Can't say I'm entirely successful. Need to work on that, or not work as the case may be! The blog entry below this one was about a successful attempt at Sabbath - and it was so wondrous to me. I need to remember that - remember that checking work and life concerns at the door for a little bit is a good thing, not a selfish thing. Remember that Sabbath is something God calls me to, not time I'm hording from God. Just because I'm not "doing" doesn't mean I'm not being a good servant.

Friday, February 23, 2007

about town

Today is my day off - and for the first time in a while, I'm actually taking it off. I woke up deliciously late, enjoyed some snuggle time with my cats, ate breakfast/lunch and then went for a walk. I walked down Beverley, from my apartment to Newtown Baking and back. Along the way, I stopped in at Design at Nine, my fav shoe store, had a great chat about shoes and more with the owner, and then continued on my way. I stopped by the new Indian Grocery, had a lovely conversation with the woman there. We talked about Bollywood and family, cooking and foods. Apparently, she's going to be making take-away food on Saturdays - yum!

Even though the wind was blowing (and my ears were getting cold), I kept walking, stopping next at Local Color, the garden/art store. I picked up some flowers for one of our youth whose play I'm seeing tonight, mentioned I had a kid in a play to the woman... she looked at me and asked if the "kid" was mine. Ack! I love this darling but no way am I mother. Too young, people, too young! She wrapped up the flowers very prettily for me, though, so all is forgiven. I continued on my way with a bunch of tulips, one of heather, both wrapped in lovely brown paper and tied with a fun, organic curly string. I felt very European as I continued on my way to the bakery.

Didn't get anything at the bakery, just found out that the yummy chocolate croissants are available every morning (yay). On the way back from the bakery to my place, a car stopped, rolled down its windows, and a young man asked me, in a hurried tone, where a place to eat was. I noticed 3 other young people in the car, 2 women and another man. I asked what kind of food they were looking for. Response: "Food." I made my first suggestion of Pampered Palate; they took it and were off (I noticed the license plate was from New York - definite out-of-towners). It struck me as a I continued my walk back home how fortunate I am. I had a wonderful leisurely day (which I'm continuing even now at the infamous Coffee on the Corner). I had nice conversations with people - some I know, some I don't. I got to enjoy the beautiful blue sky, the crisp wind, the at-home feel I had as I walked down Beverley. I wasn't hurried, wasn't rushed, wasn't looking for "food," whatever was the quickest thing. I have time to enjoy, time to be. What a blessing.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Soul

My friend Teri did this and so I followed suit. Somewhat accurate descriptor.

You Are a Newborn Soul

You are tolerant, accepting, and willing to give anyone a chance.
On the flip side, you're easy to read and easily influenced by others.
You have a fresh perspective on life, and you can be very creative.
Noconformist and nontraditional, you've never met anyone who's like you.

Inventive and artistic, you like to be a trendsetter.
You have an upbeat spirit and you like almost everything.
You make friends easily and often have long standing friendships.
Implusive and trusting, you fall in love a little too easily.

Souls you are most compatible with: Bright Star Soul and Dreaming Soul

Ash Wednesday

Last night we had another Taize service to celebrate the start of Lent. The music was wonderful again - I sat up front by the musicians and could hear the congregation singing behind me. It was so powerful to feel the space filled with prayer to God in that way.

After the service, I went over to the labyrinth, took part in the meditation stations, had some wonderful prayer time. There's some so sacred about a time and space like that. There were about 12 other people in the space, all quiet, all reverent. It filled me with such a sense of wonder, awe, peace. I thought of all the people, across this earth, across time, who have come to God in prayer, all the communities, all the families.

A wonderful beginning to Lent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lost Cause

Texts: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26

Maybe it’s the snow still lingering on the ground, maybe it’s that my ministry assistant has been singing a few bars of other songs from this movie – whatever the reason, I have found myself humming Irving Berlin’s song made famous by Bing Crosby in the movie White Christmas. I respect all of you too much to singing it – I’m no Fred Holbrook. So just imagine a roaring fire, Rosemary Clooney sitting next to you, and Bing singing:

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

Such a lovely, sweet song, especially when Bing sings it. His words ring true for many of us – what a wonderful thought; in a sleepless night, when life’s problems are rolling through your mind and will not be silenced, to count your blessings – to think about your children, about how even if you have a little, you still HAVE. This song speaks of a sentiment that I hear all the time – say myself even. I’m blessed – blessed by my friends, my family, my calling, my good fortune to have a job that keeps a roof over my head, food on my plate, and my feet in cute shoes. I can fall asleep counting these blessings, fall asleep assured that I AM blessed, favored, happy.

If I want to fall asleep with those lovely thoughts in my head, I probably should avoid for my bedtime reading selections of Luke, including our passage from today. While we might wish Jesus would say “blessed, favored, happy are those who have curly heads to count in their nursery,” he doesn’t. In fact in a later section of Luke, Jesus speaks of woe to those who are with child or nursing children, because of the pains and distress to come in the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Nor does Jesus affirm the blessings of counting what you do have. He does not say “Blessed are those who enjoy what you have. He says “blessed, favored, are you who are poor.” Blessed are you who are hunger, who weep now, who are hated, excluded, reviled, DEFAMED! Those who have food, have riches, have LAUGHTER, have respect and favor of those around us – you are not blessed; you are burdened with woe.

Christ’s words don’t make much sense – at least not to those of us who speak about our loved ones, our comfortable situation in life, our JOY as blessings, as evidence that we are indeed blessed. When compared to the words of blessing and cursing of Jeremiah, Christ’s words appear more difficult to swallow. For at least this once, Jeremiah can be the prophet who bears the more palatable word.

Jeremiah does speak God’s word of woe, of cursing before he speaks of blessing, but it’s a woe and a cursing many of us can probably nod our heads to. Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals, and make mere flesh their strength. Sure, that sounds good. We can probably get on board with that.

The cursing, the woe, found in Jeremiah and other places in the Old Testament, unlike other contemporary cultures in the Near East, mostly revolve around God’s law. No idols before me, care for each other, love your God with all your heart, mind, spirit. Those who do not follow this law are cursed, know woe. So cursed indeed would be those who found their strength outside of God. Yes, they would be like a shrub in the desert, yes, they would not see relief when it comes because they weren’t focused on God.

And blessed – well blessed are those who trust in the Lord. Blessed are those whose trust IS the Lord. Yes, they shall be like a tree planted by water; they shall not fear or be anxious.

We can trust in the Lord, have our trust be the Lord, and be blessed, shown sign of divine favor. But why are those who are rich given woe, why are those who LAUGH told “woe?” Can’t we trust in the Lord AND be rich AND be fed AND be happy?

Jeremiah’s speech of God’s words continues. “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse. Who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart.”

Last week Fred treated you to a little Greek love; now it’s my turn to share some of the Hebrew joy. When Jeremiah says that the Lord tests the mind and searches the heart, he means that God looks in your inner most parts, the secret parts, the parts no one else knows, sees, could even begin to understand. The word we read as “mind” – KILYA – is literally translated as “kidney.” The Hebrew people considered the kidney to represent this inner most part of a person – why we don’t fully know. But it’s important for us to know it’s not just about our thoughts or our feelings or whatever WE might associate with the heart and mind. The Lord tests, searches, knows everything about us – things even we don’t know.

Part of what the Lord knows – even if we might like to deny it – is that the heart is devious. Another important Hebrew note – the word devious, AQOB, comes from the same root as the verb – AQAB- which means to take the heel, supplant – it is what God spoke of when cursing the serpent. The one who inspired humanity’s deviation from God’s law, the one who whispered that we need more than God gives, that we may not even need God, is the one who will forever be striking our heel, so sayth the Lord. And this, says the Lord in Jeremiah is like our heart.

Our hearts are perverse, ANASH. This word we read as perverse means sick, desperately ill, an incurable wound. Our hearts, God knows, lead us astray when they find their center, their meaning, their value, their favor, their blessing in that which is other than God. When our hearts – our inner most parts – lead us to putting our trust, our hope, our faith in mere mortals, mere flesh, mere things of our knowing and understanding.

This incurable wound is the one that whispers to us when we are in desolation, saying, the despair is overwhelming, you’ll never overcome it, you might as well give in, what have you got left? This desperate illness is the one that cripples us when we have lost that which we have called our blessings – our parents, our children, our lover, our friends, our job, our health, our home, our happiness. This sickness is the one that seeps into our veins, our pores, our inner and outer parts and tells us we can only trust in the tangible things – only be blessed, only believe if we can see that we are favored.

This perverse heart is what leads us to trusting in these signs of being blessed, trust in human comforts, human means; it is what inspires us to try and find contentment, happiness, wholeness outside of God and God’s truth. This perverse heart keeps thumping away to the beat of its lost cause.

It is this heart’s lost cause of finding blessing outside of God that makes the world a seemingly nonsensical place if we were to believe in it. For it is often when that which we have clung to as signs of our worth, our favor, is taken away from us – that job, that spouse, that cause, that praise – that we find our inner most parts, our hearts, kidneys, and minds, clear. No mere human values or mere human strength distracting us. When we are down, we lift our eyes and hearts up. And we find ourselves calling out to the one who has not left us, who we can trust in, should have trusted in.

It’s an odd but true fact – that during times of economic depression, church giving is up. When crisis hits communities, people flock to centers of faith. For many of us – though I know not for all – it is only when we are left with nothing that we realize all we need is in the Lord – is the Lord.

This is the reality to which Christ was speaking. We can distract ourselves with our own achievements, our own might, our own happiness, our own power so that we do not truly believe or trust in God. We do not believe we NEED God – we’re doing just fine on our own. And those who have nothing, who are poor, hunger, sorrowful, hated – they have nothing to distract them, nothing their heart can point to and say “this is all you need.” This is why when people come back from developing nations, have seen poverty and need beyond our comprehension, they speak not of despair and doubt but of joy and faith. For those who have no earthly blessings indeed often know the ultimate blessing. Those who find their meaning, their being, their living, laughing, loving in the Lord – these are the ones who are blessed. Truly blessed.

Blessed are they.

But for those of us who cannot count ourselves among the poor, or hunger or sorrowful or reviled, we are not without hope. Though we may be surrounded by that which distracts us, though our incurable wound, our inner parts which are as crafty as the serpent, may have much to say – we too may be those who are blessed for we trust in the Lord, for our trust is the Lord.

Before Jesus speaks words of blessing and woe, he does what he came to do. He heals. Jesus heals – heals the wound of poverty, sorrow, hunger, and hatred. Jesus heals the heart, those inner most parts, thoughts, which would strike us, hurt us. Though our heart may be devious, may be perverse, the Lord and only the Lord can understand it. And the Lord and only the Lord can heal us. For Jesus, there are no incurable wounds.

Blessed are those who poor, hunger, who weep now, who are hated, excluded, made outcast, on because they KNOW that God is their center, Christ their healer. Blessed are those who have nothing, no one, but God. For the reward is great – this kingdom life which comes from God.

And, blessed are those who are healed; blessed are those who KNOW they need to be healed; blessed are those who are rich, who are fed, who are filled with laughter and are loved – are all these things and more AND yet are not distracted by their own strength – wealth, health, and yes, even happiness. Blessed are those who know all comes from God, who know they need God, know that they will never be healed, be whole without God. Blessed are those who put their trust in the Lord, who know and live as though they are the Lord’s. Blessed are those whose trust is the Lord. Blessed are they. Blessed may we be. Amen.

Jeremiah Was A...

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30

Of all the prophets in either Testament, Jeremiah is the one with perhaps the most complicated reputation. Jeremiah’s reputation was so intriguing, so powerful, that some of Jesus’ time thought he was Jeremiah come back to them. There are many things we know, we think we know about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was a child when he was called. The exchange we heard between God and Jeremiah took place when he was young, too young he claimed.
Jeremiah was a child not ready to take on the mantle of God’s word, not ready to tell his people about destroying or overthrowing.
Jeremiah was a child who had the Lord put words in his mouth, words which would later pain him if he did not speak them.
Jeremiah was a child who grew to a man who never become completely at ease with his call as prophet.
Jeremiah was a prophet who called the people to repentance, who warned of the foe from the north, who protested the broken covenant between the people and God.
Jeremiah was a man who carried this burden with few supporters, who became known as an introspective prophet, a weeping prophet, a broken-hearted prophet, a whining prophet, a judgment-bearing, yet small hope-offering prophet.
Jeremiah was a man who knew, who lived, the pain of a prophet’s call. He knew what it was to have to bring words of inevitable punishment, words which made him rather unpopular.
Jeremiah was persecuted, taunted, imprisoned, even put in a pit to die at one point.
Jeremiah was a man who bore a literal yoke for his people in an attempt to get the word of the Lord across to them.
Jeremiah was a man who suffered and he was not one to hold back on God – he let God know his aches and pains.
Jeremiah was self-described “man of strife and contention to the whole land.”
Jeremiah was a man who spoke God’s word and then saw that word fulfilled.
Jeremiah was a man who saw his city invaded, temple destroyed, people exiled.
Jeremiah was a refugee – leaving Jerusalem with other Israelites.
Jeremiah was a man who in all his pain, turned to God both in agony and in hope, in prayer.
But, of all of these, there is one thing Jeremiah is perhaps best known for, at least among this our generation:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mine. I never understood a single word he said but I helped him drink his wine, and he always had a mighty fine wine. Joy to the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me.

Quite a silly song, yes, but one many of us know. One that whenever the topic of Jeremiah comes up, it seems inevitably someone sings to him or herself. Even though the Jeremiah of this song written by Hoyt Axton and made famous by Three Dog Night is really just one part of nonsensical lyrics, it strikes me that their Jeremiah sounds not too far off the mark from our Jeremiah.

In some ways, a bullfrog is exactly what a prophet is. Someone who speaks in a loud voice which carries over great distances, whose sound is so much bigger than he or she is. These prophetic bullfrogs are ones who carry the word of God – that word which is greater than anyone of us, which covers the face of the earth. These prophets aka bullfrogs are also those whose voice is that annoying sound that you can’t block out, but it’s so annoying you don’t listen to closely enough so that you can’t fully understand a single word.

We may like to think we listen to God’s prophets, God’s words, but let’s be honest. How many of us enjoy the sound of a bullfrog’s call? How many of us welcome words which challenge us, make us uncomfortable, even threaten our way of life? Who wants to hear the words of Jeremiah? Words of destruction, words of despair, all of which will come to be because you strayed from God’s truth. Who wants to hear: your practices mean nothing? You are worshiping idols? You have betrayed your God with your hatred, your prejudice, your privilege? Jeremiah’s listeners didn’t, at least not for the most part. Do we?

Few of us, I would think, want to hear the words of prophets – at least not those tough words. The things we’re comfortable with we’ll take, but the stuff that makes us squirm, no way.

Jesus experienced this when he was in his hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue and was given the familiar words of Isaiah to read. He read a passage about social justice, good news to the poor, the year of the Lord’s favor – even said these words had been fulfilled in the people’s hearing. He spoke powerful words – but non-specific words, words from another prophet who often spoke of hope.

And the people’s response to this – well, they enjoyed this mighty fine verbal wine, just like the good folks at Canaan enjoyed his literal wine. Commented on how well he spoke, amazed at the “gracious” aka palatable words which came from his mouth. They respond “is not this Joseph’s son, how nice it is to see a kid from the neighborhood grow up to be so well spoken, so poised. Wonderful to see the son of Mary turn into such a well-mannered man.”

Jesus, I suppose, could have received these laurels with a smile, taken a bow, and gone about his way knowing he was so loved. But he does not. Instead, he speaks the words he must speak, words of warning, words which his audience will NOT, does NOT receive well, words which take him from nice hometown boy to a dangerous rabble-rouser. He told them that in time of sorrow, of widowhood and leprosy, God sent prophets, prophets who offered solace and healing to outsiders, not Israelites. Jesus told the people who knew themselves as chosen that, at least in sometimes, they were not. They were not the one’s in God’s favor, perhaps not the ones to receive the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus knew a prophet would not be accepted in his hometown, in the place where they had too many excuses, too many reasons not to listen to him. They knew him when he was a child, like Jeremiah was when he was called; they knew his family, his history, they knew he was one of them. What right did he have to say such words? Just because he’d garnered a reputation for being able to do a few tricks, because he had a nice speaking voice.

The people in the synagogue were so filled with rage that this hometown kid would presume to be this voice of God, to take such authority, that they drove him out of town. Not only that, but they wanted to throw Jesus, the man they knew since he was a boy, whose family they knew, throw him off a cliff! Murder him! His own people, his own community.

This is what it can mean to be a prophet. Prophets are those so connected to God, that it is God’s words in their mouths, God’s message on their tongues, God’s reality they see, God’s truth they promote. And as much as we may long for a cuddly and comfortable God, when we have strayed, when we have broken covenant, when we have sinned and show no sign of repentance, God can be anything but warm and cuddly. Walter Rauschenbusch, a man was a key figure in the Social Gospel movement at the turn of the century, said that prophets were people “so alive to God and felt God’s righteousness so overpoweringly that they beat their naked hands against jagged injustice and inhumanity. They were centers of religious unrest, creators of divine dissatisfaction, and the unsparing critics of all who oppressed and corrupted the people.” If prophets are the ones to speak God’s powerful, challenging word, it is no wonder Jeremiah suffered, no wonder Jesus’ hometown wanted him dead. Unrest, dissatisfaction, unsparing critics – nothing about these speaks of making friends.

The last few weeks in Kerygma, along with discussing the Gospel According to Mark, we have been engaging in an interesting discussion about prophets – specifically, do prophets still exist in our day? My response: a resounding yes. But who are these prophets, you might wonder, who are our Jeremiahs, Elijahs, Elishas, Annas, Ezekieals, Miriams, who are those among us who see God’s reality, God’s truth, and speak to it?

If we took a survey of who we thought of as contemporary prophets, I’d expect to hear several MLKJrs, a Gandhi or two, a few other religious and perhaps political figures. But I wonder how many of us would name people we actually know and how many of could think of more than a handful of prophets.

We wonder about where our modern day prophets are, where those who proclaim not a new word but the word anew may be. We wonder why the days of many prophets, days seen in both Testament times, before and after Christ, seem to have passed. Perhaps these days have not passed. The conditions of our world seem ripe enough to bear prophets – plenty of God’s word needing reiteration here and now. Perhaps, instead, the days of our recognition of prophets is what has passed.

In the text of gifts we read two weeks ago from 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of prophecy as one of these gifts. As far back as the Old Testament, Moses expresses a wish that “all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the spirit on them.” Well, God has put the Spirit on each of us. We could say that each of us may have moments of prophecy in us. While some of us may know prophecy as our main calling, each of us may come across moments where the word of the Lord is placed in our mouths, where we are called not to speak only words which will bring us acclaim, but words which will bring us scorn.

But such a call – who wants to be the one scorned, derided, thrown out of town, even harmed? No wonder we stop listening for it. No wonder we don’t like to recognize it in others.

Whether we are the ones who are supposed to listen, or the ones who are supposed to speak – we don’t pay much attention to the call of prophets. We, like Jeremiah make excuses about the prophet (be that prophet us or someone else) – too young, too uneducated, too liberal, too conservative, too much of an agenda. Or we, like those in Nazareth, let the person’s (even if that person is us) humanness keep us from seeing and hearing the prophet before us – that’s just Joseph’s son, we knew him when he was a mischievous young boy, we knew her when she ran around with the wrong crowd, you know he’s divorced, she’s gay; I’ve got a history, a past, baggage…

None of these excuses stopped Jeremiah from his work, nor Jesus. None of them should stop us. We must listen. Listen for both the call of God to us AND the word of God for us. For no matter who may be speaking it, the word of the Lord is THE WORD OF THE LORD. We must listen for the moments we may be called to speak God’s word, to speak to God’s truth amid those who would not listen, to speak, demonstrate, act – whatever it takes to help the people hear. And we also will be called to listen to those who do just that – listen and receive those words which may be hateful to us because they challenge us, force us to examine our lives, our faith. We will be called to listen, receive, and act.

We will be called, you and I, this much is true. Whether we hear that call with open ears, open hearts, whether we respond, has yet to be determined. Amen.

What's In A Name?

Texts: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

I can’t remember exactly when, but sometime between the end of elementary and the first year of middle school, looking up your name in baby books became the it thing. This followed on the heels of collecting trolls, those ugly little toys for some reason everyone wanted, and preceded the phenomenon known as MASH. Everyone wanted to know what their name meant, who had a cooler meaning than others. The group of prepubescent girls I was friends formed a competition of sorts. According to the books, my name means beloved – pretty good if you ask me. Still, my friend who is named Sarah won our odd little competition. Anyone named Sarah knows it comes from the Hebrew meaning princess. When you’re an eleven or twelve year old girl, a princess is pretty much the top of the top.

Had I known what I know now, though, I think I could have won. When I was in college a friend of mine who was taking Greek told me that my name, Amy, though spelled differently surely, means I AM… You know, as in what did God in the burning bush say to Moses when he asked what he should call the divine. Oh, you know I loved that. And while princess is still pretty cool, I think God’s name for Godself beats anything.

Our names have meaning – and it’s not just about the translation. Our names say something about us, about our history, about who we are. Sometimes our names seem to match well with our personality. When I was a kid going through my marathon readings of the Bible, I was always impressed that people’s names seemed to match up with what their personality or their actions. Like wise king Solomon whose name means peace, complete, or sound. Or Noah whose name means both settle down and lead. Both these men’s names match with who they were. Of course, that doesn’t always happen, which is why you find people changing their first names, saying, I don’t feel like a Barbara or a Wilbur.

Even though I’d like to believe my name which means beloved speaks about my personality, I do know it tells the story of my family. If you know my first and middle name, Amy Danielle, you know I was named after my mother’s cousin and my father. You may also learn that I’m Amy Danielle, and not Danielle Amy, because while my father wanted to name me after him, my mother didn’t believe a child should be named after a parent. Knowing that story, and of course my nice hyphenated last name, you can have a pretty could idea about the dynamics of my parents.

Along with our given names, many of us have nicknames that say something about us. Names have meaning and nicknames, our renaming by family and friends, speak to our relationships. I have two main nicknames. One, Ames, is used only by family and dear friends – if someone calls me Ames, you know they’re close to me. My other nickname, now I’m telling you this in trust, is Amy Dan. If you hear someone calling me Amy Dan, you know they are one of my grandparents or great-aunts and uncles. You know they’ve known me since I was born and that their age and relationship to me makes it so I won’t throw things at them when they call me by that nickname.

The nicknames, our renaming, shows that the namer and the namee have a relationship close enough that one wants to and the other allows a name substitute. Unless you’re Rob Schneider in the Copy Guy SNL skit, you probably don’t go around nicknaming everyone you meet. You save nicknames for people you know, people who care about. And LIKE all of Rob Schneider’s victims in the Copy Guy skits, most of us don’t allow ourselves to be nicknamed by someone we don’t know and care about.

Nicknaming, renaming, is a long standing tradition. I remember in my sorority the given of your nickname was a huge deal, complete with ceremony and everything. It’s not just Greek societies that make a big deal over a nickname. In ancient Viking societies, the giving of a nickname sometimes created a relationship between the name maker and the recipient of the nickname. There might even be a formal ceremony and an exchange of gifts to go along with the giving of a nickname.

Nicknames, renaming, is important moment which speaks about relationship as far back as the Bible. God renamed Abram Abraham not because God looked at him and said, you know, you look more like an Abraham or because God thought it would be easier for folks to pronounce. God renamed him, gave him a “nickname” if you will, to reflect their relationship, their change in relationship. Abram’s name was changed because he was changed – he was no longer the aimless nomad, he was in covenant relationship with God. And as sign of his new relationship, he has a new name.

God seems to enjoy renaming people as reflection of relationship. Abram became Abraham, Sarai Sarah, Jacob became Israel. God doesn’t just rename individuals, God renames communities, whole peoples. The text from Isaiah speaks of change in relationship. The people of Israel are given a new name, a nickname, to show that things have changed, for the better.

This part of Isaiah was written after the end of the Babylonian exile. Before and during the exile, the land was known as Desolate, the city Forsaken. These names reflected the relationship between God and the people. The people had forsaken their God, turned to other Gods, got lost in empty rituals, let power enchant and corrupt. They were unfaithful to the Lord, they became Desolate and Forsaken.

And now, after years of suffering through the exile, the people have come back to their land and back to right relationship with God. To reflect this new found relationship, the prophet tells us that God shall give them a new name. No longer shall the city be called Azubah, Desolate, and the land Shemamah, Forsaken, rather the city will be Hephzibah and the land Beulah.

Because there is a new relationship, they receive a new name. This new name speaks of promise, speaks of hope, speaks of wonderful intimate relationship with the Lord. What you once were is passed, you have new life, a new life with God. As a bridegroom with his bride, so does God delight in the people. With God the old has passed a way, a new life has begun. The covenant between God and God’s people has been renewed, and a new name has been given to mark the occasion.

Most of us, I would dare say, will not find our names changed or find ourselves nicknamed by God. At least not names like Hephzibah and Beulah. But most of us have had our name changed by God, have been given a new name even as we were given new life.

In baptism, we celebrate the given name of the person. When John and I take a baby from his or her parents’ arms, we ask “what is the given name of this child.” In some of the older Christian societies, a child’s full name was not given until the baptism or christening.

In baptism we celebrate the work of the Spirit already at work in the child or adult’s life. These gifts as Paul, once called Saul, tells us are different for each of us, and yet all from the same source, the one and the same Spirit. In baptism we celebrate that the person is welcomed into this faith community, the Presbyterian community, but moreover the Christian community. We welcome the one being baptized into this community who has named itself after the one in whom it finds it origins and meanings.

But more over, in baptism we celebrate the name God has given us. We celebrate that we have been claimed by the one who delights in us. Even as we celebrate the given name of the person, we speak a new name, a name given by God – “child of the covenant.” No matter how old, how young, the person baptized is just that – a child of the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

This is our name, not just our nickname. That is the name God has given us. A name that both speaks of relationship AND who we are. As a child of the covenant, we know we belong to God. We belong to a God who longs for relationship, who renews relationship with us even when we stray, who seeks us out for our salvation.

As a child of the covenant, we know that we are called to a way of living that is markedly different just as we are marked as different in our baptism. We are called to serve the one to whom we belong with all of our gifts, all of our lives. No matter what we are called to, whether we be called to ministry as ordained ministers, or as elders, or as lay persons, we are called to serve God with all the Spirit as graced us with. As a child of the covenant, we have a purpose.

Whether we are named Amy, or Sarah, or Hephzibah, we in this community of faith are named and claimed by God. No competition required, we all receive this delightful and demanding name.