Call to Worship I waited patiently for the Lord.
God bent down to me and heard my cry.
On my lips God put a new song.
Many will be filled with awe and learn to trust in God.
My desire is to do your will, O God; ;your law is in my heart.
Let all those who seek you rejoice, and those who long for your saving help cry out, “All glory to the Lord!”
We will be your people, O God.
We long to follow in your way.
*Hymn of Praise # 62 All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) We thank you Lord, for your presence in the passages of life. Even now you are with us. Gather us as your pilgrim people. Guide us into your way. Grant us a vision of your kingdom. --Duane Sider Stand near to us in this moment, O Christ, for we would be your people. We pray in faith. Amen.
Psalm Response Psalm 40: 1-11
Our Offering to God May our offerings this day be part of our testimony to all of God’s goodness to us.
Prayer of Dedication In gratitude and hope, we bring you our gifts, O God. Hold them in your hands, that we may be wise in their using. This we pray, in faith. Amen.
*Hymn of Prayer # 260 Just as I Am v.1, 3, 5
Pastoral Prayer Almighty and everliving God, you are beyond the grasp of our highest thought, but within the reach of our frailest trust: Come in the beauty of the morning's light and reveal yourself to us. --Henry Sloan Coffin O God, you have called your people to be a light to the nations in every age, following you out into the world in courage and claiming the ground for justice and truth. Show us the way, Jesus Christ, and help us to hear all whose voices are silenced in despair or oppression.
A silence is kept.
As we wait on you today, we are aware of some people who need to be embraced by your hope and held fast in your love. We pray for them now.--
Raise up among us the prophets of today and open our hearts to hear them above the sounds of those who would lead us away from your calling and on to more comfortable paths. Give to us all that we need to be more faithful to you.
*Hymn of Praise # 457 Lead on, O King Eternal
Scripture Reading John 1:29-42
Message Need a Name Change?
God wants to make "all things new" (Revelation 21:5). Becoming a Christian means becoming part of these name-changing energies making "a new creation" (Galatians 6: 15), "a new heaven and a new earth" (2 Peter 3: 13), "a new human" (Colossians 3:10), and "a new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2).
As Americans we tend to identify national moods and trends by tagging them with the names of the president. Refer to the "Roosevelt years" and an entirely different kind of America comes to mind than the "Eisenhower" "Kennedy" "Reagan" “Clinton” or “Bush” years. Whether we change presidents in 4 years or 8 years we leave a trail revealing this nation's concerns and self-images. The changing names are symbolic of our shifting national identity and purpose. In this second term of W we are told that the trail will take a different direction than the first term. That will be a new ?
Taking a new name has always been an important way of revealing new information about a person's role and identity. People change their names for all kinds of reasons - when they get married, when they join a religious order, when they aspire to the celebrity cult, when they are adopted, when they convert to a new faith tradition. In our culture people also demonstrate changes in their lives by adding letters to their names - M.D., Ph.D., M.Div., M.B.A.
Earning these letters means taking on the identities of doctor, professor, pastor, executive, lawyer. This takes place in addition to whatever other titles might already define who you are - mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother. For many of us, those additional letters behind our names took years and years of sacrifice and dedication, struggle and scrimping. Earning a degree while living a life is not easy, little wonder that once those sought-after letters are finally added people often feel that we have arrived.
Dr. Carolyn Bohler, Professor of Pastoral Psychology at United Theological Seminary, asked a class of seminary students to reconsider that kind of thinking. She encouraged the graduates to re-examine what a name change really means and to rethink the concept of "having arrived." While all these additions to one's name are nice, the real question becomes whether one receives a new identity along with the alphabet additions.
Dr. Bohler used the classic tale of that wily name-changer Jacob to consider these questions. Jacob was infamous for his ability to take on new identities. He was the almost-firstborn - coming out of Rebekah's womb clutching the heel of his twin Esau. (Thus "Jacob," meaning "heel clutcher.") Matured into an ambitious young man, Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) and then took on Esau's name and characteristics to fool their father Isaac into giving him the elder son's blessing.
After having gained what he thought he desired most - the birthright and the blessing - Jacob had to flee for his own safety. After many years he heard God calling him back to the land of Canaan. On the way there Jacob encountered his famous midnight wrestling partner. A powerful identity-changing event in Jacob's life:
Jacob and the antagonist wrestle all night long. The stranger finally calls out, "Let me go, day is breaking." But Jacob, who had sought his brother's birthright and his father's blessing in the past, now insists upon a blessing from this antagonist. "I won't let go of you until I have your blessing." The stranger asks Jacob, "What is your name?" Jacob answers. The stranger does not give what Jacob asks for, the blessing, but instead gives Jacob a new name. His name had been Jacob, heel-clutcher; from now on it would be Israel, God-clutcher. He had held on among gods unnamed and had overcome. Jacob asked for a blessing and got a new name - Israel.
On the very night when Jacob thought he was returning in triumph to Canaan - following a directive from God, no less, and bringing with him all the family and worldly goods he had worked for years to accumulate - on that very night Jacob underwent a name change exposing his true identity. Jacob had thought that he had arrived. He was ready to go forward with his life. All night he struggled with godly forces, and he emerged having arrived ... but what had he arrived at? At the capacity to strive! ... The new blessing which he wins from the angelic stranger is the identity of refusing to let go. The lifelong struggler held out. As the sun rises, Jacob limps, yet he is exuberant ... he has arrived at striving.
One of the challenges confronted in Jesus’ day came from steadfast followers of John the Baptist failong to shift their allegiance from the proclaimer, John the Baptist, to the proclaimed one, Jesus the Christ. Have we ever seen that happen in churches where the proclaimer (pastor) has a more prominent role than Jesus Christ. John's Gospel thus takes great care in presenting the Baptist - emphasizing his highly specific calling and establishing a clear hierarchy between Jesus and John.
John the Baptist’s first words name Jesus with a distinctive title: "Lamb of God." The descending Spirit and the miraculous spoken message clearly define Jesus and his mission. Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit; Jesus is the "Son of God." or "the chosen one of God" (cf. NEB).
The Baptist brings his own disciples to Christ through a personal introduction. Jesus first asks John's disciples what it is they are "looking for" (v.38). They respond by giving Jesus yet another name, "Rabbi." "Rabbi" was one of John's favorite titles for Jesus, although he defines "rabbi" somewhat inexactly here as "teacher." To a first-century audience "rabbi" meant more literally and commonly "great one," "lord" or "master."
Andrew runs to find his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus by announcing that he has found "the Messiah" (v.41). Thus John adds another title to Jesus' expanding resume: He is Logos, Lamb, Son, Chosen One, Rabbi, and now Messiah - or anointed one, the Christ.
Simply by having "looked at him" (v.42) Jesus detected enough of Peter's strength of character to name him as future symbol of an unyielding person of faith.
Simon arrives at the same destination as Jacob when Jesus renames him Cephas or Peter, the Rock. As we all know from the Gospel stories and as he himself no doubt was painfully aware, Peter was far from being a stalwart, dependable rock for Jesus at this point in his life. So why does Jesus declare this disciple, who will soon display all the fortitude of sand or squishy mud at best, to be his "rock"? Why? Because it too is a name to strive after, a name to wrestle with and struggle against.
It is only after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection that Peter begins to truly inhabit his new name. And even as he stood firm and foundational for the emerging Christian church, Peter still knew that within his soul there remained sandy corners and mushy-mud underpinnings. But Peter, like Jacob, had arrived at the capacity to strive. Like Jacob he had received a new name and a new identity - and hardly one of his own choosing. //
Living up to our names is one of the toughest jobs we ever make for ourselves. We falsely feel compelled to be "better than," "richer than," "smarter than" others we wrongly measure ourselves against. But God has given us a way out of that endless name-drain - by giving us the one name that frees us from all other title-quests. The kingdom of God now has a human name and a human face - the name and face of Jesus Christ. It is through the power of that name that we can fully inhabit the names we have been given by the gift of the Christ - sons and daughters of God - and strive to live up to the other names we have been given by our parents and by ourselves.
*Hymn of Response # 302 I Love to Tell the Story
*Sending forth May Your kingdom be established on earth, and the word of your prophet be fulfilled: "The Lord will reign for ever and ever."
Blessed be the name of the Lord for ever; and let the whole world be filled with God's glory. Amen and Amen.
--Adapted from The Gates of Prayer (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1975), 619.
# 480 Rescue the Perishing
# 35 Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise
Jesus, the Name High Over All
God of Many Names
The Lectionary Texts
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Second Sunday After the Epiphany,
G. K. Chesterton once said: "If God can make a saint out of someone like Simon Peter, maybe God can even do something with me!"
Anthony De Mello tells the story of a dynamic young woman who was suffering stress and strain. The doctor prescribed tranquilizers, rest and a return visit in a couple of weeks.
When she came back to see the physician, he asked her if she felt any different. She replied, "No, I don't. But I've observed that other people seem a lot more relaxed."
De Mello goes on to point out how we see other people not so much as they are, but as we are.
--De Mello, The Heart of the Enlightened
Zan W. Holmes, Jr., tells the story of Dr. William B. McClain, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary, preaching at his church (St. Luke Community Church, Dallas). There McClain told of meeting a South Korean tailor in Itaewon, Seoul, named Smitty Lee. "When Dr. McClain asked whether the name 'Smitty' was Korean, the tailor told the story of his life being saved during the Korean War by an American soldier from Virginia who was called Smitty Ransom. The tailor further explained a rather familiar custom in that Asian culture, and summed it up in two simple sentences: 'He saved my life. I took his name.' That is indeed what happens when we encounter Jesus; he saves our lives, and we take his name."
--Holmes, Encountering Jesus
"Some years ago, the Institute for American Church Growth in Pasadena, California, conducted a study. More than 86,000 people in 39 denominations were interviewed. The finding was simple and clear: Churches that grow are more loving than churches that don't grow. Regardless of theology, denomination or location churches that grow are churches that love.
"A good example of a loving church is the story of a middle-aged woman who finally joined our church after two years of attending. She belonged to a neighboring church in town and just couldn't make the break, she said, although she had joined our choir and was active in our women's fellowship. After she joined, I asked her why. 'Your people loved me into it,' she replied."
--Ned Barnes, "How We Set Ourselves on Fire," in Good News in Growing Churches,
ed. Robert L. Burt
"Scott Levy, a pastor in the Midwest, was preaching for a pastor friend one Sunday morning. He went early to the church to see what it was like and get the feel of the atmosphere.
"As he was walking down a long hallway, his sermon notes in one hand and his pulpit robe draped over the other arm, he came upon a large room used as a nursery for preschoolers. Glancing in, he saw a little boy who looked about four years old, sitting all by himself.
"The little boy said, 'Hi, my name's Tommy, and I'm all alone in this big room.'
"Scott, answered back, 'You feel all alone in that room?'
"'I don't just feel it,' said the little boy. 'I know I am all alone!'
"Trying to reassure the boy, Scott replied confidently, 'Don't you worry now. I'm sure that before too long somebody will come to be with you.'
"With wistful eyes, little Tommy looked up at him and said, 'Why not you?'"
--As told by James W. Moore, Can You Remember to Forget?
Well, why not ... you? Why not ... me? Why not ... this church? Why not?