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080120 Sermon - Jn 1 29-42

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My name is Frank Abagnale, Jr.

My name is Frank Abagnale, Jr.

My name is Frank Abagnale, Jr.

You don’t necessarily have to be as old or older than Frank Abagnale, Jr. - who turns 60 this April - to be familiar with the television program which lead-in such as this.  The classic picture of three people all claiming to be someone, when only one is, was the way each episode began of the popular game show To Tell the Truth.  For over twenty-five seasons beginning in 1956 and with its last airing in 2002, two imposters and one real identity would try and stump a celebrity panel - and the television audience - as to just who was who. 

Now this name - Frank Abagnale, Jr. - is one of those who signed an affadafit as to his real name, but in the case of this Frank Abagnale, Jr.  - whom you might remember as the person Leonardo DiCapri played in the recent movie - Catch Me if You Can - Yes, the real name of this person is Frank Abagnale, Jr. but in his life he “didn’t tell the truth” as he bilked the banking industry in the 1970s of between 2.5 and 4 million dollars.

If you know the story, Frank eventually was caught by the FBI.   It’s said that during this time, he used eight aliases — even more to cash bad cheques. And then he managed to have his sentence reduced to begin assisting the FBI in catching other bank fraud con-artists. 

So here was a man who lived a life of fame and fortune not on his own name, but other names.  Currently though, his name not so tarnished,  Frank perhaps found his true calling -  by establishing Abagnale and Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company. 

Our New Testament Scripture text today is all about names.  Although, I will be focusing on just one verse today, I want to read a number of verses from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning with the 19th verse.  You can find it in your pew Bibles on page _____.   Listen with me …

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

24 Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

My friends, the names that I just read are not bogus names of a popular television game show created some fifty years ago which claims to “tell the truth”, no my friends, the words that I just read, are The Truth and have been passed to us for over two thousand years.  My friends, that to what we listen to is the Word of the Lord,  thanks be to God.  Let us pray. 

Eternal God,

Author of the Word,

You have revealed your Word to us in the Holy Scriptures,

In the life, death and resurrection of the Incarnate Word, Jesus,

and now you are to reveal your Word through this proclamation. 


Therefore, Loving God

Send your Holy Spirit

to prepare our hearts, open our ears and clear our minds

so that we may hear your Truth,


We ask this in the name that reigns above all names, Jesus the Christ,

And all God’s people agreed by saying, Amen. 

And Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

So according to the Gospel of John, Simon - a common Jewish and Greek name - is brought by his brother Andrew into an introduction which is far from formal.  There is no “Jesus meet my brother Simon, Simon this is Jesus.”  No instead, in what must have been somewhat shocking to Simon, Jesus says in very formal Jewish tradition, you are the son of John.  And without hesitation gives this Ben Johanam an Aramaic nickname - Cephas - or translated in Greek Petros which literally means rock. 

So here we are in a rather long text today which according to my count has some 21 different names.  Twenty-one different names used in this text for five different people - John the Baptist, Jesus, Andrew, Peter and the Pharisees.  Jesus alone is known as Rabbi, Teacher, Lamb of God, and Son of God. I find this text so intriguing.  It is filled with Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. 

This week I prepared my sermon very unconventionally; certainly differently than we are taught in seminary.   Typically the text read and an exhaustive study of words follows before any reflecting and sermon preparation.  But this week was a bit different for me.  This being winter break gave me the opportunity to visit my mother in Omaha Nebraska.  Now, her name is Margaret Lou Wiley Packard, she goes by Lou, and her grandchildren and great grandchildren know her as Lulu and of course by my sister and me…Mom or Mother.  So you see, we as twenty-first century Christians aren’t too different than those in the first century …here are four or five names for the same person. 

While visiting Mom early in the week, I didn’t have my normal biblical resources.  I had just a Bible and so from the time I took off in the airplane I then fast forwarded to a sermon preparation step I like to refer to as  “Listening to the text.”  Listening - a sense for all of us which is so difficult to do. (Insurance analogy) The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of listening as a holy act. He said,

            Christians, especially ministers so often think that they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others…they forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.  -  Reminded of the bumper sticker/billboard that says - Spread the Gospel and speak if you have to. 

Bonhoeffer goes on and says, many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.  But the one who can no longer listen to his brother or his sister will soon be no longer listening to God either…the beginning of the death of the spiritual life. 


I read those words again this week while trying earnestly to “listen to the text”.  Trying to find that nugget of Truth that God had for us this week and except for all the number of names that I’ve previously explored, it seemed as if I could only hear one little piece of the text… You will be called Cephas. 

Jesus, the Rabbi, Jesus, the Teacher, Jesus, the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Son of God…all these great names of Jesus all contained in this incredible text and I hear - as I learn much later in the week in my word study, that what Simon means… “hearer”…and Jesus lays this moniker on Peter.  

You will be called Cephas.  

­       Peter. 

­       Rock.

­       Keys to the Church.

­       Denial of Christ.

­       Tries to Walk on Water.

­       Sermon at Pentecost. 

We instantly have this ancient biblical saint pictured in our mind.

All based upon …Peter. 

A single name.

When we hear single names or double names such as Simon Peter, we know immediately who these people are.  It stands true today.  Our current culture is all about single names, names that we know immediately whom we’re talking about.  Mention the name “Brittany” and “Spears” isn’t needed.  I noticed yesterday that the campaign signs for Mrs. Clinton simply say “Hillary”…no confusion.  And in today’s football game - I suspect the announcers will simply refer to Packer quarterback Brett Farve as Brett rather than the customer announcer discipline of using a player’s last name. 

This text I listened to all week, this long text of names continue to speak to me as we also drove to Dallas on I-35 - and couldn’t help but notice exits in both Austin and Waco for streets named for  Martin Luther King.  I kept listing to our Scripture text as I saw those exit signs and thought of all the name calling that went on in the Reverend King’s life.  Tomorrow, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and as I began thinking of his name, a name that was changed to honor the great Reformer of the church - I was reminded of something Dr King  wrote some four months before he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.   I had never read his Letter from the Birmingham Jail until I attended seminary.  For the past forty years his Dream Speech has been listened to by many, but I find that despite all the advances in civil rights made since the 1960s, I’m not convinced that we - especially we Christians - have listened to keenly to Dr. King’s words as written to Christian leaders in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. 

Listen with me, please. 

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here …just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies," Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."

King goes on and says to these Christian leaders.

I have traveled the length and breadth of southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?  Why are they not speaking up?

This letter goes on with Dr. King challenges the Christian community for support…and as I read it over again…although he doesn’t precisely say it…I sense he was also charging the Christian community of being guilty of not listening.  As Bonhoeffer said earlier, by not listening to their brother and sister, they began to spiritually die by not listening to God. 

You will be called Cephas.  

Was Peter listening?

So, my friends what name does Jesus call you? 

Listen to the text. 

You will be called Cephas.  

Did you not here your name?

Then listen again.

Listen to the text and don’t include your Christian name.

You will be called. 

You will be called. 

You will be called. 

Yes, my friends, Jesus knows your name without naming you.  As he did to Peter he is calling you. 

You see, we want desparately to hear Christ call our name, but listen ….it is you are being called by a Name, a name that is above all names. 

Yes this Name is calling you

as he called Cephas to build his Church, This Name above all Names is calling you to sustain his church and become the Christian you have been baptized. 

This Jesus, this Messiah, This Lamb of God, the Son of God, this Savior, this Christ calls us to:

             Love your enemies,

             Bless those that curse you,

             Do good to those that hate you,

             Pray for those which despitefully use you, and persecute you

             Feed the poor

             Clothe the naked,

             Visit the imprisoned

             and bring social justice to all in God’s Kingdom. 

Oh my friends, Listen again to this text with me...We are not called a name.  We are called by a Name. 

And what wonderful Good News that is.

Before I close, this will be perhaps my last time in this pulpit as I finish my internship in Austin.  But this year as you hear to the Gospel of Matthew in the lectionary texts, listen to the call of Christ to all of us which is prevalent in the Gospel. 

Go today my friends and listen to your brother and sister in order that you may be come more spiritually alive and allow the Holy Spirit to enable you hear God loving voice and Christ’s calling to you. 

Listen to the text. 

You will be called Murray

You will be called Lois

You will be called Cameron.

Let us pray. 

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