There are a couple themes during this season of Lent.
- Although Lent is a solemn time, I embrace it as a time of renewal and new life. In fact I begun it with New, but NOT Charmed, Life preaching about our new life which is not free from temptation, sin, and suffering. The “new” theme continues this week with New Name, New Identity.
- This year, focused on the Gospel according to Mark, is full of covenants, promises, or contracts between God and God’s people.
New, but NOT Charmed, Life included the promise made after the genocide of the flood. It is the promise that God will NEVER destroy humankind, animals, or creation again. As a sign of that covenant/promise, God placed a rainbow within the sky, not necessarily as a reminder to God’s people (all creation) of this covenant to last forever but as a reminder to God’s self.
This morning, we have another covenant narrative, which God made with Abram/Abraham and his descendants. It is a covenant originally created with two individuals significantly beyond the age of child-bearing. It is a covenant that these two will parent a child and their descendants will be more numerous than all the stars in the sky. As a sign of that covenant, God has changed their names (and identities).
The common thread in our scriptures this morning is the coming into a new identity, a new understanding of our identity, or a new life and being that may or may not include a change in our names.
In our Genesis text, Abram (exalted Father) who had no children became Abraham (father of a multitude of nations). While his wife Sarai (my princess) become Sarah (mother of the nations).
Nations might seem an odd word for the Biblical era, thus I encourage you to think of it as the “tribes” or the “peoples”. The Biblical Ancient Near East (ANE) was a tribal society divided by families/clans of origin and the current concept of nation-states such as the United States, Germany, England, or Ireland was non-existent.
Thus, our given names and family surnames are important.
A friend and her husband wished to name their son with a strong first and middle name in order that he would grow strong and stand up for those who struggled or could not stand up for themselves. He is two years old and the parents are thinking “maybe we should have picked names a little less strong”. He is a strong boy, both in personality and physical strength, but what do you expect with a name like Odin.
As these parents considered the name of their next child, they were again considering names that described the kind of person they wish the child will grow to be.
This significance of names is the heart of our passage this morning.
What are our names?
How do we live into it?
I am curious, how many of you when considering names for your child/children looked up the meaning? Although I do not see many hands, I do see a couple. It is a practice that has gone out of style because we now tend to name a child from those names we enjoy the sound of it. However, if you looked at early records of Puritans and their children born in the Americas, you would notice the popularity of Faith, Charity, Chasity, and Hope which were all qualities they hoped the child would grow up to exhibit. Therefore, it is not necessarily a foreign concept to us.
Our Romans scripture shares that when we, as Christians, go through the waters of baptism we die to our old self and receive a new identity in Christ. Again, I am curious, how many of you have heard of a “Christian” name? Again, I do not see many hands and it is another practice that has gone by the wayside. The idea is that in the baptismal waters, the child/person receives a “new” name known as their “Christian” name. I have another friend, who is from South Africa, who has a Swahili name, an English name, and a Christian name from his baptism. I have other friends, who are primarily Roman Catholic, whose middle name is one of a Roman Catholic Saint. Again, this “Christian” name or saintly middle name is with the hope that the child/person will exhibit the attributes of said saint. So, yet again it is not necessarily a foreign concept.
In our Mark gospel, the ‘naming’ connection is not fully developed because we do not have the first portion of the story. I have spoken about the calling of Simeon (obedient/listening), Andrew, James, and John to be fishers of men. However, Jesus changed Simeon’s name to Peter (rock) as a sign that Peter will become ‘the rock upon which the church is built’. The reason for Peter’s title occurs before our current passage.
Jesus asks the disciples, including Peter, what the people (public) were saying about him and his ministry and what is the name, title, or identity being given to him. The disciples respond with a variety of answers, ‘some call you a Rabbi (teacher)’, ‘some call you a prophet’, and ‘some say you are Elijah returned’. Peter, however, shares his strong conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. It is this confession that is the ‘rock upon which the church is built’. The Messiah, the Anointed One, or in another word the Christ.
Peter (Simeon) proclaims Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
Now, we enter into our Mark passage this morning… Jesus replies
“BINGO! You (Peter) got it! Now, let me tell you what that means:
I (Jesus) will be arrested.
I (Jesus) will be beaten and endure the Passion.
I (Jesus) will be persecuted, hang upon a cross and crucified.
I (Jesus) will die and in three days be raised from the dead.
In the Biblical era (and now) there are different images of the Messiah/Christ, which often included a religious, political, and military leader who would reunite the tribes of the Southern Kingdom with those of the Northern Kingdom. In other words, Israel would be reunited as one nation, one tribe, one people.
Peter held that common expectation of the Messiah/Christ. Peter was prepared to lift up arms (weapons) for the cause. So, when Peter heard these words he responded as we would to one we dearly love saying ‘I do not think that is a good idea’, ‘think more positive’, and ‘that is not going to happen to you’.
The infamous line, ‘and Jesus rebuked [Peter] saying “Get Behind me, Satan”‘. This ‘satan’ is not necessarily the little red man with horns, a devil’s tail, and pitchfork for that is Sparky the Arizona State University (ASU) Sun Devil. No, not THAT satan, BUT an adversary that opposes God’s plan. Jesus understood that Peter was standing in opposition to God’s will and God’s plan for the Messiah/Christ.
Our passage demonstrates for some (religion nerds) the double meaning of Peter’s new name. Although his confession may be the ‘rock upon which the church is built’, sometimes Peter was as dense as a rock too. He did not always understand, much like the rest of the disciples and ourselves.
What about our new life as Christians through the waters of baptism?
What about our new names and identities in God?
I researched the meaning of a few names in preparation, although it is not normally a hobby of mine. I did, however, know the meaning of Melinda, which is odd, it means dark but gentle.
My sister is Amanda meaning one deserving love.
My mother is Tonya meaning praiseworthy.
My niece is Kayla meaning pure.
One of my favorite names, which I hoped she would be here, is Miranda meaning one to be admired.
I encourage each person to search your name, but be mindful that your parents may NOT have known the meaning of your name. Reflect on whether or not you would self-identify with the attribute. Is it an attribute/quality you would desire/embrace?
Ultimately, we have discussed the waters of baptism, that Lent is a time of reflecting and entering into the darkest depths of who we are in order to emerge from our old selves into our new identities. Reflect on what is that new identity, how do you live into it, and how do you live it out daily?
THIS is the purpose of Lent.
May it be a positive, insightful, and life-giving journey for each of us. Amen.