Six years after our initial meeting, the two of us would fret over what to name our first born child…who we were convinced was a boy. Turns out we’re wrong. Lingering in the bliss (or pain) of childbirth, we agreed Fiona Grace would be the perfect name to set the tone of our new family.
Our next child was easier because we decided a few months before she was born that Colleen would be her named. We did the same with our son, but when he we laid eyes on him, he didn’t look like the name we chose. Under pressure to put something down on the birth certificate so we could leave the hospital, Sean was literally named by committee. However, once we were home, I wanted to change his name. I lost that fight. As did his sisters who wanted to call him either Cosmo or Squirrel.
“What God creates, God loves. What God loves, God loves everlastingly.”
What’s in a name anyway? Why do we struggle to find the perfect one for a baby who we no nothing about? George Forman may have been on to something when he named all seven kids after himself.
Names are important. For starters, they make it easier for us to identify with one another. When my mom would say, “Ian” I know she meant me and not one of my siblings. When she yelled, “Ian Woodman Macdonald” I knew I was in trouble.
Some have said that a name can shape or define one’s personality. I can see some truth in that. Just ask any guy named Tony and you’ll understand what they’re talking about. There are those people will spend millions of dollars to turn their name into a brand. And remember when Prince changed his name to be symbol? It wasn’t quite the same as what Nike was able to do with Micheal Jordan. Names identify us. And names can define us.
Whether your name is on a building or the back of a jersey or above your phone number on a business card, no name is as important as the one God has given to each and every one of us.
Read Luke 3:21-22
All four gospels have recorded four different baptismal stories. Luke’s is interesting because it comes on the heels of a long, eloquently described Christmas story. Yet in what might be considered the most important tradition of Christian faith, Luke chooses to gives us just two skimpy verses in describing what will mark the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
It seems Jesus just walks up to the river bank, stands in line and waits his turn with everyone else. Saints and sinners alike intermingling as the heavens open and God not only claims Jesus, but names Jesus – My Son, the Beloved.
“Identity is always God’s first move,” writes Nadia Bolz-Weber. “Before we do anything wrong or before we do anything right, God has claimed us and named us as God’s own.” Son. Daughter. God’s beloved! That’s who we are.
Yet for some reason we tend to identify more with the people standing on the river bank – the broken and beaten down – then we do with the One whose name can heal us and lift us up. It’s easier to see ourselves as being too dirty or unworthy to enter the presence of God, than it is to see Jesus standing next to us and welcoming us to see otherwise.
Can you think of someone or something in your life that is trying to claim or name you? Family? Career? Anxiety? An institution? What about an ideal that makes you think you’re not good enough …much less worthy enough to be loved by God?
“The world tries to tell us who we are, but only God can do that. Everything else is just temptation.” It doesn’t matter if we named Sean, Cosmo or Squirrel or anything else. What matters is that God has claimed him and named him. Just as God has done with you.
“You are my Child, the Beloved.” This holy and sacred name comes straight from the mouth of our creator. And it tells me that we matter to God, and that we’re worthy of divine love...no matter of who we are, or what we’ve done or how the world might try to name us.
God has claimed us. And named us. And at our baptism God has also ordained us; cleansing us and anointing us for a much greater purpose. To share a name with Jesus, is to share in the fullness of his life, death, and resurrection as well.
Just as God called down from heaven to him, so too does God call out to us…inviting us to stand along the river banks of life, in solidarity with the misfits, the marginalized and the outcasts. It’s our turn now to let the whole world know they too are etched in God’s heart. To claim the name Beloved means to stand in the name of Jesus and allow God to define you – not the world or ego, anger, fear, or pain.
As we move into Lent, we will walk with Jesus from the raging waters of the Jordan River to the raw, rugged wilderness. But today, as you leave here, the same temptation Jesus faced in the world will be the same temptations that will confront you. Your first line of defense is to remember who you are, and the rock for which you were hewn. You are God’s beloved child.
To claim the name is to open your heart to God and practice living deeply, loving and acting faithfully, with kindness and charity. This is the way of Jesus, who shows us the way of God. This is the reality of which we are called to live. The reality of our identity, of who we are and what we are made of.
To be “beloved” means to be loved by God just as much as it is to be the love of God in the world. Love is in our name. So may love be the way people come to identify and define who you are. And who God is in you.
Last week I said, “When we see and observe Jesus, then we learn and teach the will of God.” This stayed with me all week. It had me asking myself, “How can I live up to this name in such a way that when people see me… they see only Jesus?”
The Apostle Paul writes, “As God’s beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Tolerate and forgive each other as God has done for you. Above all, clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule your hearts, to which you were called in the one body” (Colossians 3:12-15).
Through baptism we are made one with the Body of Christ. We are washed and welcomed into the universal church. As members of this heavenly body we are anointed and ordained by God to proclaim the good news of God’s redemption and grace given to us by Jesus Christ. And we do this by using words and deeds of love and peace.
To quote from the early church father, St. Iraneaus, “What God creates, God loves. What God loves, God loves everlastingly.” Whether or not you’ve been baptized, there is no limit to God’s love for you. But God wants more of you, all of you. “You are my beloved.” When Jesus heard these words spoken to him, his life and his purpose changed forever. It’s my hope that those words will do the same for you and for others, just as it did for me.
And so my challenge to you this week is to not only embrace the name of Christ, but to identify yourself by living it out the way he taught, and to do so faithfully and fearlessly.
You are God’s beloved. You are God’s love. God’s charity. God’s patience and forgiveness. You are the way of God’s grace and redemption. You are God’s beloved. Claimed. Named. And Ordained. Just as Jesus was, is, and will be forever.
I invite you to be with us as we learn the way of Jesus, and seek to teach the way of Jesus by carrying the ministry of God’s Love forward until heaven and earth become one body, sharing one name. The name of Love.
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix. (Jericho: 2013).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”