Summer is in full bloom at our house. Our son Joe is spending time with new friends, Billy and Heinrich. We had no idea who these kids were. They aren’t on a class list, yet he talked about them. Finally I asked, “Who are Billy and Heinrich?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Joe replied.
“Billy is my X-box. Heinrich is the TV. I plan on spending a lot of time with them this summer.”
There is a certain power in naming. It can take two inanimate objects, and personalize them. Names can make a pet more human. It can give dignity to a human being. Names can take a generic term like “Lord” or “God,” and make the relationship more concrete – “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Names are good. We name places. We name communities. “I don’t just go to church, I belong to St. Michael’s.” We use titles. We use nicknames. When we get angry with each other we call one another names that do not bear repeating. Naming is a human value that creates meaning.
Naming can diminish our adversary, so we can combat it more effectively. A person is not “sick” in some mysterious way – they get a diagnosis. (from two Latin words Dia [complete] and gnosis [knowing]); knowing exactly what we are up against takes away the fear of the unknown. That doesn’t mean the struggle is diminished, but as they used to say in the G.I Joe cartoon from my youth, “knowing is half the battle.”
In the Genesis creation stories, God gives the human being a name, “Adam” who in turn gives the woman her name “Eve.” The people name the animals. Throughout the Biblical story names of people and places have deep significance that often does not get translated well into English because we retain their names in Hebrew or Greek. When Mary and Joseph are told by the angel to name the child God they are told to name him Jesus – which literally means “Savior” – “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Isaiah, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). When we come to the font to be baptized, God names us. In former days, a child was not named until the baptism. I remember hearing a story from a professor how mad a family was at a pastor for saying the wrong name at their child’s baptism. They kept it. As far as they were concerned at the font, in the water and the promises of God, that was now the child’s name. (I’m pretty good with names, but I always double check, especially at baptisms!) When someone remembers you and calls you by name, there is a power of that naming that takes the relationship further. It seems to mean that to them you matter, and that they care about you. Do you know what your name means? You should look it up. Geoff means “green meadow.” OK. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean for me or my personality. Yet we understand what it means when our name is called.
When your mother calls you your full name, you know you are in trouble.
When you are called the wrong name, it huts a bit (even when called a sibling or parent’s name).
When your principal or dean calls your name to get your diploma or degree it is a job well done…When it’s your child walking across the stage, the tears of pride start to flow.
In baptism the name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is washed upon us. As Christians we take on the name of Christ as part of our identity, and we are called, “child of God” – whatever age we are. As Lutheran Christians we take upon ourselves the name of Martin Luther and five hundred years of a theological tradition within the whole church. As people connected to St. Michael’s we live into the story that God will ultimately defeat evil, or as it is described in John’s Heavenly Vision, Michael the angel fights the dragon (Revelation 12:7-17). These names, and the stories that go with them, claim us and frame a perspective in which to engage the world.
I have no idea why Joe names his Xbox “Billy” and the TV “Heinrich.” I can’t judge. I’ve named every car I’ve ever owned. When I was his age I had two pens I really liked. I named one “Fred” and the other “George” (and that was before the Weasley twins were named). I used to lose pens on a regular basis (OK, I still do). Naming them meant that I didn’t lose them. I kept them close. I think one of them is among the only pens I’ve ever used that ran out of ink before misplacing it. That tells me something about naming – it helps us hold close that which is important to us. When Jesus names us – it reminds us how close he remains.
-What/Who have you named? Why did you pick that name?
-What names/titles/nicknames do you have? How do they frame who you are?
-What does it mean to call someone a name? Does that name say more about them or you?
-What does the name Jesus (He will save) mean to you?
-What does it mean to be called “child of God?” How does it frame how you see yourself and others?
As I ponder these questions,
I think I’ll go sit with Joe and enjoy Billy and Heinrich.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:25-27)
Reposted at www.livinglutheran.com: