Nameless in His Name. Sermon by Keith. 6th Sunday after Pentecost. 7.8.12

Texts 2 Cor 12:2-10 and Mark 6:1-13

Congregational activity to open:  Have conversation with using their name.  Have conversation with another using, Son or daughter of…; and profession.  Ask about the difference.  Why important to use name?

What’s in a name? Dale Carnegie, in his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” in talking about names says, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  We want to be called by our names.  It is sweet because we crave and yearn to be known, and hearing someone call our name is just the beginning of being known, the beginning of satisfying that craving.  And we don’t like it when someone doesn’t call us by our name.

          Alas, I’ve had something of a problem with my name, at least in how people hear it.  I’m going to say my name, and think about what you hear.  Keith.  Since my middle school years, many times when I have introduced myself, especially on the phone, people have heard “Steve.”  Don’t ask me why.  In college, I worked in a hospital kitchen.  When the phone would ring, I’d grab it and say, “Dietary, this is Keith.”  “Hey, Steve, we need a low sodium dinner for Mr. Black in room 102.”  Steve?  We don’t have a Steve here.  I did use this wrong name to my advantage though.  Just out of college, I became Steve, Steve Arnold to be exact, in my job as a telephone bill collector.  Every time someone would call me by the name Steve, this little voice in my head would go, “Ha!  You think you know my name, but you really don’t know who I am!”

And that was the issue Jesus had when he came back into his hometown.  They knew him, but didn’t know him at the same time.   News of all the incredible miracles had reachedNazarethahead of him.  From just a few towns over, the story had spread about the healings he had performed.  They had heard that Jesus raised a little girl from the dead!  Even from across the sea, the story of healing and exorcism of the man from Gerasene would have reached them.  We might imagine that now people would be excited about this miracle worker coming home. We would assume that here Jesus would be received with joy and affirmation by those who knew him well. And initially he was. The people of Nazareth, those who had known Jesus as a boy and young man were surprised–astonished–by his wisdom and power. But quickly their surprise turned to offense. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here with us?  We know who he is.  He is a nobody.”  They say everything to describe Jesus, except use his name.

Ironically, there was a group that used Jesus’ name because they knew exactly who he was.  In the previous chapter in Mark, when Jesus crosses to the other side of theSea of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples have an encounter a man with an unclean spirit.   The instant this unclean spirit saw Jesus, it threw itself at his feet, crying out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God!  Do not torment me!”  Jesus even requires this unclean spirit to tell its name, and we find out there are many spirits possessing this man, as its name was Legion.  Legion recognizes Jesus’ name and authority. 

But this hometown crowd tries to put Jesus back into the box by which they have always known him.  It was safer that way.  Carpenter, not a healer.  Brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, not the Messiah.  Son of Mary, not Son of the Most High.  Why? What happened? He was one of them–at least he had recently been one of them. But there may lay the problem: that one who had so recently been just one of them should suddenly now be so far above them. Yesterday, it seemed, they had looked down upon him as a boy and a lowly carpenter. But today his words and the stories that surrounded him would force them to look at him differently, and they refuse to do it.  It would be as if Heather, who grew up in this church, disappeared for a few months.  Then we get reports.  Heather is off inPortland, healing the sick, giving sight to blind.  Even the lame walk at her command!  One Sunday, she is sitting back in her seat.  “Isn’t that Dale and Ginny’s daughter?”  What would we think of her?  How would we react?  In refusing to name Jesus, his community refuses to give him the authority that God has given him.  Jesus was sent by God to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, to heal and bring reconciliation between neighbors and God.  Because of their refusal to accept even the possibility that the miraculous has happened in and through him, Jesus can only do a few miracles inNazareth.  His hometown community was not open to the power of God at work in and through him.  A carpenter should build shelves and chairs, not rebuild lives, heal the sick, or make clean what was unclean.  They don’t believe that he is capable of being an instrument of and for God, and they place him in the box he belongs.

Next, Jesus and the disciples leaveNazareth, and he continues the work that he was called to do.  He doesn’t withdraw and lick his wounds, but continues teaching and healing.  Our first reaction, at least my first reaction, is to separate the story of the rejection of Jesus in his hometown and the sending of the twelve, to look at each individually and see what’s happening.  But I think Mark put these two stories together for a reason.  Up until this point the disciples have been observers. Now it is time for them to get actively involved. Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power over unclean spirits and the authority to heal.  He called them by their names and then sent on a daunting mission. Came you picture it?  Jesus and the disciples pouring over a map of the countryside: “James and John, I want you to go over toBethsaida.  Peter, you and Andrew takeBethlehem.”  His disciples had just witnessed a painful rejection, the rejection of their teacher by the people who knew him best.  But the mission he sends them out on speaks directly to that rejection they just witnessed.  Jesus is  sending them with his power and authority by his name to go live and be with people in a way that didn’t happen to him inNazareth.  They are to put their dependence on him, his power, and his authority and go, go be with others, open themselves up to them, learn their names, hear their stories, become part of their lives. 

He’s telling them, “Don’t put your faith in the things that you can carry, don’t worry about where that next meal will come from.  Leave the bag with the money at home and rely on the provisions of God.  Take nothing but the clothes on your back.  There is no bag of tools or tricks.  Just go as yourself, trusting in God to give you everything that you need.  Some people will open their doors to you.  While there, give of yourself, because that is all that you have to offer. Accept who they are and their hospitality.  Learn their names and their stories, and share your story.  Heal in my name.  Tell them about how God has touched your life.  In sharing your story, you will share a part of my story, and have an experience of theKingdomofHeaven. Some will turn you away.  And if they do, do not be discouraged, continue on.  You still carry the authority I have given you in my name.  Just wipe the dust off your feet so no one can claim you took anything from them, not even the dirt of the road that runs in front of their house.”

Friends, the good news of these texts, I believe, doesn’t jump right out at us.  The good news is God knows our names.  God knows us so intimately that He knows us better than we even know ourselves.  God doesn’t box us up based upon our race, age, income, etc, etc.  The only box he puts us in is “Beloved Child.”  We may and probably will be rejected by the world, but we are never rejected by God. 

God knows our names and calls us to know and love others in the same way that He loves us.  It begins by realizing that we have been given the power and authority to go out, out into our neighborhoods, our community, out into the world to ask people their names.  It begins as simple as that.  No gimmicks or evangelism manuals.  We don’t ask anything of them or think that we can offer some really good advice or a program.  We just “Be” so that they can just “Be” as well.  They, too, are beloved children of God, in the same box we are.   It is our calling to help them recognize that, hear their stories, share our stories, and help each other realize when and how God has been active and moving in our midst. 

So friends, I’d invite you this week when you are getting gas, that latte through the drive up window, or a happy meal for your kid at the checkout counter, to introduce yourself and ask the clerk or attendant what their name is.  Say their name, ask them how their day is going, and thank them for whatever it is they have provided for you.  You may think that you are just there getting gas or a burger, but you might be the first one who has said their name all day, who treated them like a person and not an object that is just filling your wishes.  As Dale Carnegie said, its sweetness to hear one’s name.  And that sweetness may just be a small taste of theKingdomofGod.  Amen.

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