Posts Tagged ‘Names’

Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

You can also follow along with the text of this sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

What’s in a Name

This sermon is based on Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I preached from the perspective of a baptism that was occurring at worship. That being said, I have to offer my apologies to the family of the boy being baptized. When writing the sermon I had the name Blake in my head rather than the correct name of Bryce, and in several points during the sermon, I called him Blake. After about the 4th time the congregation finally pointed it out to me…but you won’t hear that as this was actually pre-recorded.

Listen to the sermon here;

Here is the text of the sermon. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do this stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our father and our lord and savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Have you ever wondered what your name meant? Think about it for a second. The origin of names tends to be connected to some sort of meaning. In the Native American culture, this was very blatant. We only need to remember the popular 90’s movie Dances With Wolves to realize that. Likewise, the origin of family names is often connected back to an individuals vocation. Baker comes from the town cook. Smith from the town blacksmith and so on.
But in the end, what do our names really mean? I was thinking about that the other day and did a little bit of research. My given name is Scott Allen Dalen. Scott is a descriptor meaning literally from Scotland. Allen means either rock or handsome. And Dalen comes from Dale which is a clearing in the woods. So my name…Scott Allen Dalen means that I am a handsome rock in the midst of a clearing in the Scottish woods…Fascinating…If you’re curious about what your name might mean…a quick google search will tell you volumes.
As I was thinking about my name, I also got to thinking about the various nicknames that I’ve had over the years…and there have been a lot of them.
Growing up, my nickname with my dad’s extended family was Scooter. My mom’s side called me Scottsaroo. I was Scotty to a couple different summer staffs back in my college days. I was Dalen to everyone in high school, and I was Junior to all of my older brother’s friends. These days I commonly hear Dad from my kids. To my Godson Isaac, I’m G-dad. My wife has a couple of nicknames for me…but…you don’t get to hear them. And most recently, here in Underwood, I’ve taken on the name Pastor.
Interestingly enough as I thought about all those different nicknames, I realized the relationship implied by each and every one of them…and I realized that when I hear someone address my by one of those nicknames, instantly my mind connects with that relationship with that individual.
Speaking of names…did you notice anything interesting in today’s story? Jesus tells us another parable today…this time the parable of the rich man and Lazarus…the rich man…and Lazarus. Notice anything odd there?
On one hand, we’ve got Lazarus. We don’t know a ton about the guy. Only that he’s very poor…poor enough that he hopes to get a crack at the garbage thrown out from the rich man’s table.  We know that he’s somehow sick with some unknown affliction that has resulted in terrible sores all over his body…and that’s really about the extent of it.
Then we’ve got the rich guy…He’s obviously important. We hear that he wears purple, which at the time was the color of nobility. He feasts each and every day. He owns property…complete with a fence and a gate where we find Lazarus.
Beyond that, we don’t know much about these two guys…and we really don’t need to know much…but its interested to note that while we hear the name of Lazarus…we don’t learn the name of the rich man…but who knows…maybe the guy’s name isn’t all that important.
What’s important it what happens to the two guys here in Jesus’ story. They both die…apparently death doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor…and following their death they both end up on opposite sides of the afterlife…divided by an un-crossable chasm…the rich man in unending torturous agony…and Lazarus in the realm of the righteous…hanging out with none other than the father of righteousness himself…Abraham.
We don’t hear any more from Lazarus at this point, only that his suffering in life has given way to comfort in the afterlife…but we continue to hear from the rich man. He recognizes his torment and attempts to repent…but we see where that gets him…a whole lot of nowhere…and so in a fit of agony…he seeks relief…Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool these flames…as if water could do such a thing…as if a simple bit of water…could quench the fires of condemnation.
When Abraham denies this request, calling it impossible to bridge the chasm placed between paradise and torture…then the rich man appeals for his brothers…Send Lazarus to my brothers…if someone returns from the dead then they will repent before its too late…but no…Abraham denies that too…or perhaps we should say that Jesus denies it…Jesus himself…who we all know eventually rises from the dead…makes a point that many of us as believers struggle with…There are those who chose to ignore God…they chose to ignore Moses and the Prophets…aka the scriptures…and they chose to ignore the testimony of one that has risen from the dead…yes my friends, we all know those that refuse to accept the need for a savior…and it is those people that, find themselves on the wrong side of the chasm.
Admittedly, this is a hard teaching. Its hard to accept the thought that there are those that will not be saved. We ask the question why? Why is that? If God truly desires all to be saved then why are there some that don’t believe?  (pause)
I wish I could answer that question…because I’ve got some of those people in my life as well…some of those people that I don’t know which side of the chasm they’ll end up on…so I pray for them…and I try to share the gospel with them…the good news that despite our brokenness…despite our sinfulness…despite our own incapability to ensure our salvation from sin…Jesus chose to enter into our reality…into our brokenness to do that which we are incapable of doing on our own…so that one day we may be with him in paradise just as Lazarus was with Abraham in the story.
Did you notice the subtle difference between the two men? I hinted at it before, but never came out and said it. The rich man is not named…but Lazarus is. We know his name…and obviously…God knows his name… (pause)
There’s one more nickname that I have, and I probably put more stock in it than any other name that I can claim…that name is Child of God.  Because of what Jesus has done, I can cast aside my sinfulness…it doesn’t rule me any more…and I can claim to be a heir with Christ…I am a child of God…named and claimed in the waters of my baptism. (pause)
In a few minutes, Blake Edward Leaders will join in the ranks of those with that name…Beloved Child of God…in a few minutes…God will look down upon Blake…and through the water and word accepted in faith we believe that God will call Blake by name…and will call him by a new name…one which cannot be taken away…and we believe that the Holy Spirit comes in that baptism and will rest upon Blake…and together, his parents…and his sponsor…and we as a congregation will make a promise to raise him in faith…to expose him to the teachings of Jesus Christ…to give him the Word of God…to teach him the creed and the 10 commandments…and we hope…and we pray that in hearing that good news over and over again as he grows and matures that one day the Holy Spirit will work in his life to bring him to a saving faith in Jesus Christ…that is why we gather at the font…not as a ritual…not because it’s the right thing to do…or because tradition says we should…but rather because Christ himself tells us to do it…Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…In a few minutes, we’ll do the baptizing and Blake will gain a new name…and it is my prayer that we all take the promise seriously to raise him as a disciple of Christ. (pause)
And young Blake isn’t the only one…we live in a world filled with people that do not know…or refuse to recognize the saving power of Jesus Christ…and in the Great Commision he sent each and every one of us out to them as well…and so I ask you today…do you really believe this? When we recite the words of the Apostles Creed…the faith in which we baptize do we really believe it?  And in a few minutes when I ask each and every one of you to denounce the powers of sin and the devil, will you really mean it…Do you cling to the identity found in the name Child of God? You were named and claimed by God in the waters of your baptism…and I believe that it is not something that we should take likely but that we should cling to that promise made by God as if our lives depended on it…because you know what…in the eternal sense, you better believe that it does.
And that knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ…that promise that we receive in our baptism…that’s too good to hang out to for ourselves…that’s a message that needs to be shared with the world…that’s a message that comes from one that did rise from the dead…and he did it for each and every person in the world…not just those of us inside these 4 walls but for everyone…for God so loved THE WORLD…that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life and I believe that when we receive that promise in faith…that promise given to us in baptism…when we really receive it, then NOTHING in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (pause)
So what’s in a name? Well, in the case of our salvation…the name Child of God…means everything…Blake receives that name today…and if you have been baptized then I invite you to claim it…it was given to you at your baptism and it is yours today…and if you’ve never been washed in the water and you find yourself wanting to receiving that promise of God…there’s nothing standing in your way. Believe and be baptized and you too are a beloved child of God. Amen.