01 January 2017

Holy Name 2017

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara)
Photo Credit: Maria Mendes on Flickr.com

What’s in a name? We, quite a lot, really.

Names are important. When we are known by name, it means that someone is paying attention. It means that someone is interested in us. Getting to know each other’s name is an important part of our Church’s strategy to be more welcoming. This is why we get new people a name tag as soon as possible. It’s also why we request that our parishioners wear name tags to help welcome new people so they can get to know our names as well. Jesus tells his disciples that God knows each person by name. A name speaks to the essence of who you are.

In the old days your name described who you were in terms of where you were from or what your occupation was or your personal attributes. Last names often denoted place or occupation, first names often denoted personal characteristics or hopes for the person named.

In the Bible, sometimes people’s names changed after they had an encounter with God. God had a new name for them. God somehow recognized their changed essential nature which led to their new mission. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel – one who struggles with God. Saul – one who persecutes the Christian Church becomes Paul – the greatest defender and Apostle of the Church. Simon becomes Peter “The Rock” upon which Jesus will build his Church.

Today’s Gospel reading is very familiar to us. In fact, we might think it is the same reading we read on Christmas Eve. And it is, except for the last verse which is added:

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Names were usually given at the baby’s circumcision, just like in the Christian Church, the baby’s name was given as the child was baptized. But Jesus isn’t given a name thought up by his parents, but rather, the name given to Mary by the angel Gabriel nine months earlier at the annunciation. The name means literally “The Lord is salvation.”

Now it is a peculiarity of the Christian Church, and it’s development in later years through the Roman Empire, that we have come to know the Son of God as Jesus. But unless the Angel Gabriel spoke Latin to the Virgin Mary, he actually told her to call him “Yeshua” which was the Aramaic language spoken by Mary, a version of the Hebrew language which has the same name as Joshua.

When know that the actual sound that Mary and Joseph’s neighbours would have heard when she called her son in to dinner at the end of the day would have been “Yeshua.”

Yeshua, the Lord is salvation, is the name of our Lord and it is this name that has power and meaning for us today.

Returning to our Saviour’s Hebrew name can bring us new, or renewed, insight into our Lord today. When we think of Joshua, we return to the most famous Joshua, before our Lord. The patraich, Joshua, was the one who completed the journey that Moses began. Moses brought the people through a time of wandering for forty years in the wilderness, leading them to the promised land. But Moses never crossed over to that land. He only saw it from a distance. It was Joshua who brought them over the Jordan to enter into that promised land.

It is Yeshua (our Jesus) who brings not only the children of Israel, but all people who follow him into another promised land: the promised land of the Kingdom of God.

And what does it mean that Yeshua is “Salvation.” Well the word, Salvation, means healing – being made whole. It doesn’t just mean “being saved.” Like saved on a shelf somewhere, like a jar of pickles, just ready for the second coming. Salvation is a dynamic thing, it’s about a journey of healing. It’s about movement and maturing. And it’s never about just you. You’re made whole, healed, transformed, not just for you – so you get to go to heaven someday. You’re set on this journey of transformation and wholeness so that you can make a difference in this world, and help us all get to the promised land, which is the kingdom of God.

Now the real truth about this spiritual journey to which we are called, is that it is essentially an internal journey. It’s a journey of discovery about who you really are, and what is your true self. And it is a journey that is not presided by your intellect and your thinking. It is a journey of the heart.

This is why the one of the most important points of the Gospel story is that when Mary sees all that happens in the stable and hears the witness of the Shepherds who rush in from the fields and tell their stories of the host of Angels. The Gospel says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

It seems that so often contemporary Christians try to sort out their faith in their heads. It’s all about logic and thinking, and getting everything to make sense. Mary understands that you live your faith in your hearts, rather than just understanding it in your head.

So for us too, the first and hardest leg of our spiritual journey is a journey of approximately 12 inches. It is the journey from the head to the heart.

And how do we learn to ponder these things in our heart? Well, you’ve got to learn to quiet the head. There are about a dozen of us who have learning to do that each week for the last seven years through our centering prayer group which meets every Wednesday at 2 p.m. We practice a meditative method which helps us to slow down our thinking, and to find the stillness we need to go deeper and listen for the God whose first language is silence: who didn’t appear to Elijah in the earthquake, or fire or thundering wind, but whom Elijah experienced in the sound of sheer silence.

The  main part of the method is to use a sacred word to return to the stillness when you catch yourself engaged in the head with thinking. You can choose any sacred word you like, but mine has been for the last seven years, the holy name of our lord. Not the Latin one we mostly use in Church, but the name that Mary was given by the Angel Gabriel. The name our Lord heard when his parents or his friends called him. Yeshua: God is Salvation: the one bringing us to wholeness of being, leading us one a journey which transforms us and helps us to be agents ushering in God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

May the Holy name of our Lord, Yeshua, bring you on that journey. May you find the stillness you need to journey from your head to your heart, and may you be transformed into all whom you were created to be. May you give your time and your energy and your life to bringing others into salvation and may you be made whole. Amen.

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