Saturday, August 30, 2014

Proper 17A, 2014 St. Clement's "The Name"

If they ask me what is his name, what shall I say to them?

In so many ways, this sentence sums up the preacher’s dilemma.  If they ask me what his name is, what shall I say to them?

It can be so hard to name God in this world we live in.  

Searching and stumbling over language and rite...seeing God everywhere and nowhere, in everything and nothing.  Filling the God shaped hole in our lives and our world with version after version.   

The rendition with graying beard and booming voice--John Huston and Charleton Heston.  The countercultural version--Alanis Morrisette in Dogma.  Genial and buddy like, Morgan Freeman in Bruce the Almighty.  Crabby and fed up with all of us, George Burns.  British and therefore droll--making an appearance in all of the Monty Python films.  

If they ask me what is his name?  What shall I say to them?

Each week, trying to paint another picture, tell another story, sing another song, evoke another memory.

Using the tools we have of art, and scripture, of music and verse, of architecture and words, or prayer and presence.  

Countering in some cases, and perhaps affirming in others, the variations on the names we give God.  

Names we learned in childhood, new names given as our lives have changed.

As we gain new metaphors for the I AM WHO I AM.

Pronouns, descriptors, adjectives and expletives.  

If they ask me what is his name?  What shall I say to them?

God the sender.

I AM has sent me to you.

God the foundation.


Before and after the beginning and the end.  All time and unbound by time.  

I will be with you.

A companion on the journey, constant and encompassing.  Leading the people on the journey of liberation.  I know their sufferings.

God the sympathizer and the liberator.  The One who prepares a place for us.

The God of your ancestors.

God who reminds us and calls us to acts of remembering.  God who tells stories in a litany of names.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  And, in those stories, a people are reminded who they are and the promises they’ve inherited.  

God made manifest in unique encounters, each to each.  

There is a Jewish story which teaches that when God gave the Torah to Israel it was like a mirror.  And, like a mirror, anyone looking into the Torah finds his or her own image reflected back.  

When we read scripture, we see ourselves.  We see ourselves because our only frame of reference is our lives and the context in which our lives can be found. 

What a notion, that we might name God out of our own experiences and places.  Our own understanding of who we are and what we yearn for.  In Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s boo “In God’s Name” the soldier yearning for peace calls God the maker of peace; the lonely child calls God friend. 

And, what an interesting way to approach scripture--understanding it as a mirror of our yearnings and our identities.

Did Moses yearn to be seen by the Israelites as one of them?  Did this man, raised with privilege within the Egyptian court long to be known as a Jew?  When God refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, does Moses understand that these are HIS ancestors too?

Did Paul’s litany of how to live as a follower of Christ emerge from his past as a persecutor?  Did he cling so tightly to what is good because he had clung so tightly to what was not?  

Did Peter’s desperation to save his friend from the pain and suffering to come, emerge out of his own fear of pain and suffering?  When Peter pins all his hopes on Christ, does he see only his hope and not his friend and the truth Christ brings?  

Peter had been taught that the messiah would come in triumph and Jesus’ insistence that this will not be the case does not reflect Peter’s understanding of who God is as a triumphant liberator--that the messiah comes in triumph masks his ability to understand that this Messiah will die to rise again.  
Moses, Peter and Paul--serving the I AM WHO I AM.  

In Sandy Sasso’s book The Name of God, the people begin to argue over whose name for God is the right name.  

But, if the name we give God is reflected out of our own life--wouldn’t such an argument over the image of God be an argument that only a certain person can lay claim to being made in God’s image.  

Wouldn’t that then be a repudiation of creation--of the idea that humankind is made in the Image of God?  All humanity made in the image, all names carrying the validity of the creator...

Sophistry perhaps.

But, I wonder...  

If that is perhaps the power of the website “Humans of New York” in which a photographer, Brandon Stanton, takes informal portraits of anyone who allows it--and asks a simple question.  “What was your proudest moment?”, “What’s the saddest thing that ever happened to you?”.  The folks who fill his frame aren’t “anybody” in particular--no fame, no notoriety--but, their honest answers strike chords and people comment by the thousands on these photos.  In the photographer’s most recent work, he’s taken his camera to places such as Iraq, Uganda and Kenya.

And, as he gives voice to those we’d otherwise never know or notice, the replies roll in...

“Tell me where to send money so that she can go to school; I have connections there, I would like to help him find a job; God bless you friend; I am a father too; my mother, she worked three jobs, I know what that is like”

People share their stories.

Some of the stories are of rejoicing and others of brokenness.

But, the stories are shared.  

In the work of Humans of New York I can see that burdens that are revealed are lightened for the telling, the weight lifted by a willing shoulder, the valley of the shadow of death reveals companions on the journey and there are constant offers to share out of abundance to those in need.

If they ask me what is his name, what shall I say?

Father, mother, friend, daughter, son, creator, redeemer, forgiver, divine, human...

Seeking and serving Christ in all persons--seeing God’s image in each face.  I would argue that what those who comment on the photographer’s work are so often responding too the Christ they’ve glimpsed in another’s face.  And, in that glimpse of the divine we see our shared humanity, shared brokenness, shared resilience. 

Take up your cross and follow me.

Moses, Paul, Peter...they were sent in order to follow.  They picked up burdens and proclaimed new truths.

All in obedience

To a name.  I AM WHO I AM

And, now I wonder,

If they ask you what his name is, What shall you say to them?