Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sermon, July 9, "In the Name of God"

Sermon Texts:
Psalm 48
Mark 6: 1-13
“IN the name of God”
Growing up, I was always transfixed by the idea of using the Lord’s name in vain. I thought it simply meant cussing. And as a preacher’s son, I suppose I took breaking this commandment on as a sort of pastime that perhaps gave me some identity outside the closely defined parameters of what a minister’s son “should be.” I not so fondly remember my designated desk in the principal’s office at Happy Hollow Elementary school in Fayetteville and how in the 5th grade I landed there for a whole afternoon for getting into a “cussing contest” with a boy named Teddy.
The objective of the game was to come up with new and inventive ways to cuss each other out. Each of us took a turn each round, and then the two of us and whoever was listening in in the cafeteria line would vote on who’s curse was best. Yes, if the commandment to “not take the Lord’s name in vain” is a prohibition against cussing, then perhaps a lifetime of ordained ministry in the name of God will be enough retribution for 4th and 5th grade at Happy Hollow Elementary, but perhaps not!
I do believe that what we say can bring a smile or a frown to the face of God, and Jesus himself said that it “is what comes out of our mouth, not what goes into to it, that defiles us,” but when it comes to this command of “not taking the Lord’s name in vain,” we can be sure that a little more is implied than having soap-free breath.
This commandment arises from the ancient notion that a name holds power—and whoever utters that name is the possessor of that power, as it says on the back of your bulletin today. Though it sounds strange to us today, appearing “in the name of” someone else gave that person the authority and power wielded by that name. This is why Moses wants to know God’s name before he goes to visit the Pharoah,
I mentioned last week that the name of this God that we worship was traditionally unspoken in Judaism. Through the years, even the scriptures substituted “Adonai” or “Lord” for the sacred “Tetragrammaton” YHWH. YHWH was a mysterious name—The scribes of the Bible would often write in the vowel sounds of the word Adonai, a marker that the one speaking should substitute “Adonai”—meaning Lord, instead of saying the word. This led to the mistaken “Jehovah” during the Middle ages, when Europeans who didn’t understand the marker simply filled in the vowel sounds to the YHWH. Jews would often times refer to God simply as “Ha Shem,” or “The Name,” and by the time the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, YHWH was absent from the text, being replaced by “Kyrie” or “Lord.”
Linguistically, the name is unpronounced and in a sense unpronounceable. Tradition regards the name as coming from three different verb forms sharing the same root YWH, the words HYH haya היה: "He was"; HWH howê הוה: "He is"; and YHYH yihiyê יהיה: "He will be". This is supposed to show that God is timeless, as some have translated the name as "The Eternal One". Other interpretations include the name as meaning "I am the One Who Is." This can be seen in the traditional Jewish account of the "burning bush" commanding Moses to tell the sons of Israel that "I AM אהיה has sent you." (Exodus 3:13-14) Some suggest: "I AM the One I AM" אהיה אשר אהיה, or "I AM whatever I need to become". This may also fit the interpretation as "He Causes to Become." Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be "He Brings Into Existence Whatever Exists" or "He who causes to exist".
Perhaps our inability to know even God’s name should tell us something about the arrogance of thinking we can speak for God, especially in the form of judgement. Withholding judgment is a commandment by Christ. This is a responsibility that thank God we’re not burdened with. Not judging doesn’t only mean biting our tongue when our brains or hearts tell us to reject someone, it means to purify our hearts to the extent that we don’t feel judgement. It means living a “wide open hearted” lifestyle.
One man who did live this “wide open hearted” lifestyle was Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, in Nazareth, he wasn’t even accepted. I have just been speaking about how the name of God is so holy, so powerful, that it cannot even be uttered. Yet, in this Gospel story the one who we believe is the incarnation of that same unfathomable, ultimately powerful God is not even believed by those who have spent the most time with him. They thought they knew this man quite well—Isn’t this Jesus, the son of the carpenter and Mary? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here?
The Psalmist declares the Name and Praise of God to the ends of the Earth, yet the Christ himself is not even praised in his hometown, not even among his own family. Paul’s letter to the Philipians declares, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess,” but this same Jesus is run out on a rail from Nazareth, by those he grew up with.
I think that “ownership” and “expectation” have a lot in common. In the same way that we may fall into the mistake of thinking we “own” God by neglecting the holiness and sanctity of “the Name,” we also have a lot in common with the citizens of Nazareth in thinking we know exactly who Christ is. “What a friend we have in Jesus” is true, but if our relationship with Jesus is as much a one way street as this beloved hymn would lead us toward—in other words, if this hymn, with it’s emphasis on “all our sins and grief to bear,” is all we know Jesus as—a “sin pack-mule” then we might be missing out on a whole lot of Jesus! It really makes my skin crawl to hear people say with utmost reverence that Jesus was “born to die,” It is a one dimensional view of Jesus! Jesus came to Earth to do a lot more than die—and thank God for that!
One of my favorite Icons of the Orthodox church shows Jesus with two very distinct eyes—one is soft and accepting, the other is laser like and judging. Jesus didn’t just live for us—he asked us to live for him! Jesus isn’t just a pillow—he’s a pebble in our shoe! He holds us and he annoys us. He comforts the afflicted and he afflicts the comfortable.
Mark tells the story about Jesus not being recognized in his own hometown, and this is an embarrassing story! In fact, to some Biblical scholars who discount portions of the New Testament, this particular story is one that all agree is a true occurrence. It is ruled in by what is called the “embarrassment factor.” If a particular story might cause the hearer or reader to have doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, then the scholars reason that it probably wouldn’t be included in the Gospel narrative if it weren’t an actual tradition or account that was a real occurrence.
The Psalmist says that God’s name alone, God’s praise by the whole of creation, stretches to the ends of the Earth. Psalmist saw something happening in the world that we don’t immediately see in the world. The Psalmist saw the city of Jerusalem as indestructible, yet we know that Jerusalem was and is very destructable. It has a long history of being destroyed and conquered. Is the Psalmist simply overcome by nationalistic zeal? No—the Psalmist is looking with the eye of faith. To the eye of faith, Jerusalem is not merely a city, it is a symbol. The holocaust survivor, novelist, and poet Elie Wiesel sums it up well in this statement about Jerusalem.
“JERUSALEM: the face visible yet hidden, the sap and blood of all that makes us live or renounce life. The spark flashing in the darkness, the murmur rustling through shouts of happiness and joy. A name, a secret. For the exiled, a prayer. For all others, a promise. Jerusalem: seventeen times destroyed yet never erased. The symbol of survival. Jerusalem: the city which miraculously transforms man into pilgrim; no one can enter it and go away unchanged.”
Perhaps this eye is what the neighbors and family of Jesus lacked in the encounter recorded in the Gospel passage. The Greatness of the savior is hidden away, not bursting out of its shell until the resurrection day. He is Zion in the clothes of a dusty, war beaten city like Jerusalem.
Christ opens the doors to the Kingdom in our midst and exposes the glory in our midst—but that Kingdom doesn’t always overwhelm, it emerges slowly and sometimes unexpectedly. In Nazareth, Jesus couldn’t or simply didn’t work any miracles because of the lack of belief. He walked around Nazareth like a magnet only met by the same pole. People turned away, they scoffed, the rationalized.
And so we should see through the eyes of faith. Through the eyes of faith, Jerusalem is not simply a war torn, parched, dangerous city on a hilltop. It is Zion! It is a heavenly city! It is God’s capitol! Through the eyes of faith, God’s name is not only a meaningless jumble of unpronounceable consonants that conveys no more sound than an inward and outward breath: it is crashing thunder, it is a baby’s laughter, it is a jubilant Alleluia chorus—it is all of creation singing in that chorus—and that is just the first syllable of this glorious, mysterious name of God!
To the eyes of faith, we see that God’s name is not only praised in our corner of the world. It is not only praised by those who think, who believe, who worship, and who pray just like I do: It is praised to the ends of the Earth! It is praised in every language! It is praised in every meaningful and reverent act! Paul noticed this when he debated the other apostles over what was necessary for the salvation of the Gentiles. Some thought that the Gentiles had to adopt the law and customs of Judaism. Paul declared that the Gentiles had the law “written on their hearts.”
And lastly, through the eyes of faith, Jesus is not only the young carpenter who was rejected in his hometown, who was nailed to the cross: he is the author of our Salvation, he is the King of the Universe, he is the One true Word through whom every created thing was created, he is the Resurrected Promise of the new Covenant, he is the bridge between God and Creation.
To be sure, neither the theology of Psalm 48 nor the Christian proclamation of Jesus is naïve utopianism. The psalmists knew, the apostles knew, and we still know that we live in time and space as part of a world that is fragile and troubled, terrified and terrifying. Yet, in the midst of it all, we join the psalmist in proclaiming a new reality: God rules the world! What’s more, we claim to live by that reality above all others.
This is why it is vanity to take the Lord’s name and use it to further our own agenda, to use it to judge others. It is using it in vain because the only person in the whole universe with the power of eternal judgement is named Jesus. The only person who can truly name God is himself God. Taking the Lord’s name to judge others is indeed vain, because it is useless. When we project our weakness and our hatred and our ignorance onto God, we only condemn ourselves. “Judge not, lest YE BE JUDGED.” God help us if we ever have the vanity to say “God hates _____________” fill in the blank.
When we do so, we fail to see with the eyes of faith because we are stuck in the same old realities of trouble and turmoil. We blaspheme God because we assume our own authority over other members of creation because we name them something else. We name them “other” when they are really part of us. We name them “evil” when they are really loved by God.
Believing in God and in Loving Christ means that we abandon the “old way” of wanting to have power over, and we instead become interested in having power through. Living in the world “In the name of God” is not about getting power, it is about freeing the powerless. It is not about judging, it is about forgiving. Moses doesn’t ask for the name of God so that he can go and defeat the Egyptians, he asks for the name of God so that he can go and free the enslaved! The Messiah didn’t bring the wrath of judgement to the world, he brought the promise of forgiveness.
Living for Christ means that we carry on this legacy, we don’t take the name of God in vain, we give ourselves to the name of God. We give ourselves to the power of forgiveness, and allow this forgiveness to come through our lives into the world.

Sermon Notes (Not included in the sermon--I had to cut quite a bit--but if you are interested in the texts, this gives a bit more info, especially about the Psalm)

Yes—too often our modern notion of Christianity, with it’s emphasis on individualism, lulls us into believing that we come here to worship to have our needs met! And if we don’t like the way a certain thing is done, we may complain or spread dissent. I have heard it said before that some don’t go to church because they just don’t feel like they “need organized religion.” Perhaps we should give Christ some time to rule our lives instead of just comforting it! Perhaps we should realize that the primary reason we are here in worship is to worship God—For God’s sake, not our own!
In the book of 4th Ezra, which is a scripture to come out of Judaism that is not included in our “Old Testament,” Ezra comes across a woman weeping for her fallen son. Ezra reproves her for weeping for her son when the city of God—the people of Israel, have lost so much as a collective whole. He suggests to her that she should instead weep for that. Then, before his eyes, the woman grows and transforms herself into the great city of Zion.
To contemporary readers, the claims made about Jerusalem are likely to seem highly exaggerated or perhaps even dangerously wrong. To assert that Jerusalem is the indisputable and indestructible capital of the world was probably as inflammatory in ancient times as it would be today. Besides, we know that Jerusalem was not indestructible; hostile kings and their forces were not put to flight by the very sight of Jerusalem. Indeed, the city was destroyed in 587 BCE by the Babylonians and again in 70 CE by the Romans. Was the psalmist simply mistaken? Was his or her perception blurred by an overly zealous nationalism? Was the psalmist a political propagandist? So one might cynically conclude.
But before dismissing the psalmist as a naive optimist or a misguided patriot or a clever politician, we must remember that the details of Psalm 48 are as much metaphorical as geopolitical. What Psalm 48 embodies is “poetic form used to reshape the world in the light of belief.” In this case, Jerusalem, a seemingly ordinary place, has become to the eye of faith “the city of the great King” (v. 2), a powerful symbol of God’s reign in all places (vv. 2, 10) and in all times (vv. 8, 14). In effect, the psalmist has created in poetic form an alternative worldview, a new reality that for the faithful becomes the deepest and most profound reality of all: God rules the world, now and forever! Psalm 48 articulates the faith that no power on earth or the passing of any amount of time can ultimately thwart the just and righteous purposes of a steadfastly loving God (see vv. 9-11).
The spirit of Psalm 48 is captured eloquently in a novel by Elie Wiesel:
The psalmist knew precisely this about Jerusalem: “no one can enter it and go away unchanged”—not because Jerusalem is indestructible or universally acclaimed. Rather, for believers, Jerusalem becomes a spatial, temporal symbol for the reality of God’s rule in all times and in places. Thus the footsteps of pilgrims approaching this particular place at any particular moment “reverberate to infinity.
For the psalmist, the vision of Jerusalem, the city of God, reshaped time and space. For Christians, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have reshaped the world, reshaped our time and space into a new reality. Thus, amid the same old realities of trouble and turmoil, we are changed and are able to discern by the eye of faith the dimensions of a new creation.
If this sounds strange to Christian readers of Psalms, they need only consider how the same paradox, the same scandal of particularity, lies at the heart of Christianity. For Christians, a particular event in time (the crucifixion of Jesus) at a particular place (Golgotha) becomes the central event of history. What appeared to be an ordinary execution of a common criminal is for Christians the focal point of all space and time. In a way just as particularist and strange and scandalous as the Zion theology of Psalm 48, Christians profess the incarnation of God in Jesus, a first-century Jew from an out-of-the-way place called Nazareth. Essentially, what Christians proclaim is “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24 NRSV). What Psalm 48 and Elie Wiesel say about Jerusalem is what Christians profess about Jesus: No one can see him and go away unchanged. Indeed, the early followers of Jesus were known as ones “who have been turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NRSV; see also Mark 13:1-2; 14:58; 15:29, where the Gospel writer suggests that Jesus has replaced the Temple, that Jesus is the new locus of God’s revelation in space and time).

Why would Mark include such an embarrassment in his story of this man who he is claiming to be the son of God?

On importance of “naming”
this is why after God gives Adam the charge of “dominion” over the Earth, God also hands to Adam the task of naming the animals. This is why Jacob’s name is changed by God to Israel after he wrestles with the angel by the river.
This is why I ask at a Baptism, “what is the name given this child?” and then I ritually name that person, I give them a “Christian name” through the ritual of Baptism. IN some denominations, newly baptized Christians take on the name of a saint or someone they want to memorialize or honor with their own life. Though we may not think about it, a name means a lot!

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