What’s in a name?

The text for this sermon is Mark 5:21-43.

The names we are called mean something. I have always been Karl with a K. This tells people right away about my cultural heritage. My grandfather, also a Karl, was the only son of German immigrants born in America. Every time I have had to correct people who wrote my name down with a C, I have shared an important piece of who I am with them.

When I was in High School, bullies renamed me Thithy. Why? Because this is what I had called them on the back of the bus when they were taunting me. I meant to say Sissy, but my speech impediment got the best of me in my anxiousness. Everytime I heard that name, my only name to them, Thithy, in the hallway of Whitmer High School, I tensed up, ready to be humiliated. They had renamed me and took something from me in doing it.

We are often named by others. People name us in a way to sum up what they believe is most memorable about us. Oh, that’s Joyce, she has been married four times. You remember Jim, his dad went to prison. Nick, who dropped out of school. Beth, who got pregnant at 16. Sam, who lost his job. Ken, who has cancer. Unlike the bullies at my school, people don’t necessarily mean to harm us by the names they call us. Their names linger though, define us, almost imprison us. I don’t want to be defined by an isolated failure, a disease I have no power over, a complicated part of my life, or a moment that daily I wish I could go back in time and do differently. Names stick. We should be careful when we rename people.

The central character in our story from Mark is named simply and anonymously, the woman who has bled for twelve years. No other name is given for her. She is alone. She is isolated physically and culturally because of a menstrual flow that will not stop. She is poor, having spent all of her resources on physicians that gladly took her money but offered nothing in return. Many people in the crowd that surrounded Jesus are likely sure that the woman who has bled for twelve years is cursed by God. For what, well God only knows but I heard…as they gossip amongst themselves. The woman who has bled for twelve years has no power and thus no hope to see the one man she believes can heal and save her. The name she has been given by others makes the reasons clear why the great Rabbi Jesus will not help her.

She is miraculously and remarkably healed of her constant bleeding. Jesus makes clear that she has been saved and healed, two different things it seems. Healed from the bleeding, but saved from a life of isolation, aloneness, poverty of spirit and soul. She has been saved because she got down on her knees in fear caused by the awesomeness of God revealed in Jesus and trembling at the great joy she felt in being in the presence of God revealed in Jesus. Her bleeding stopped but her faith saved her.

Jesus renamed her when he saved her. She could have gone on being the woman who bled for twelve years, past tense. Yet, this name would have kept her in isolation from community and God. Jesus saved her, this name would no longer do. He saved her and called her daughter, a child of God, a part of the family of God and an heir now to the Kingdom of God that draws near. Jesus gave her the only name that means anything for any of us, daughter, son, beloved.

Names are important. What if the people we met were no longer known by us by words of judgment about their character or the labels we have put on them. What if instead they were simply known as God knows them, daughter, son, beloved. We all know the name of the shooter of the nine people gathered in an historic AME Church in Charleston, Dylan Roof. He is forever now Dylan, the racist, murderer. Some of us know the name of one of his victims, the Rev Clementa Pinckney, Senior Pastor at the church, leader of the bible study and State Senator in South Carolina. The other eight are known by their families and friends who are grieving right now, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Ty Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Doctor, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson. It is a shame that their names are overshadowed by the name of their murderer.

As Dylan the racist, murderer, studied the fourth chapter of Mark with these men and women and several others for ninety minutes, he likely heard their names and snippets of their stories. If their bible study was like our bible studies, he would have heard about their losses and celebrations and about how God moved faithfully through their lives. If their church was like our church, they would have introduced themselves to simply Dylan at that point, sharing their name with him, shaking his hand in Christian love. Yet, it appears the only name that Dylan the racist murder could hear for any of them was n*****.

Clementa, Cynthia, Sharonda, Ty, Ethel, Susie, Depayne, Daniel and Myra will never be healed like the daughters in our story from Mark. Yet, they will be saved. They have received the only name that matters for any of us, daughter, son, beloved. In baptism they have forever become a part of the family of God. Even though Dylan the racist, murderer could hear or know no other name for them than n******, God knows and remembers their true name. They are in the presence of God in fear and trembling, forever on their knees worshipping the God who saves in Jesus.

And what of Dylan, the racist, murderer? Racism is just one part of our broken human condition that renames people, labels them, judges them, isolates them, and sometimes lives in fear of them because of the names we have given them. Maybe, the most Christ like thing we can do today is fight the urge to do the same hateful thing to Dylan, the racist, murderer that he did to sons and daughters who he named n*****. He was baptised, Dylan Roof, child of God at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. Whether he can be healed or not, I don’t know. I do know this, his name is Dylan, Son, beloved. If we can see that he is beloved, even as we struggle to understand his hate, maybe we will begin to realize the power of Jesus to rename each and everyone of us.

This is why we gather in community, here in fear and trembling on our knees, to worship the God who names us and saves us. This is why we approach the waters of baptism, so that the names of this world die in those waters and we are each reborn the only name that will stick for eternity. Son. Daughter. Beloved. Leave worship today leaving behind all the other names the world has given you and embrace the only name that matters, Son or Daughter.  Leave worship today, and resolve to know the true name of everyone you encounter, regardless of what the world has named them, Son or Daughter. Being named son or daughter by Jesus will save us, and maybe understanding not only our true names but the true names of our neighbors will heal us as a nation. Amen

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