"10 Promises of God: No Empty Name"

Numbers 6:22-27; Matthew 21:23-27

Rev. Dr. Lisa Rzepka

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In the passage you are about to hear, Jesus has entered Jerusalem. Since his arrival, he’s been quite active in the Temple, overturning the money changers tables and healing the blind and the lame. The Temple leadership are not happy. Things are getting more and more tense. This is what happens next:

Gospel Reading. Matthew 21:23-27. When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

Names matter to God.

And, names are taking a more prominent role in the birth of children. In this world of amazing technology, pregnant couples can learn the gender of their babies before birth. A Birth Day’s big news is rarely the gender anymore. Rather the BIG REVEAL more often now is the name of the baby. Just who it is that has arrived. There’s been an emphasis shifts from what, girl or boy, to who has arrived. Two and a half years ago, we knew we were awaiting the arrival of a grandson. It was only after he was born, did we learn he was named Lincoln John.

Names indicate relationship. Children are often named after family members. John is a name that has traveled four generations in the Rzepka family. And a recent internet search helped explained the meaning of our grandson’s name Lincoln. Lincoln is a place-name is derived from the British name “Lindo,” meaning lake, and the Latin word, “colonia,” which means settlement or colony. During the Roman occupation of England, the town Lincolnshire was an important administrative center along the North Sea. Do you know what your name means? Who or what does it link you to?

Names have meaning.

Common in the book of Genesis, God renames important characters in God’s story. In the early chapter of Genesis, God calls into service a couple named “Abram and Sarai.” In chapter 17, God changes their names to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s name now means “Father of a multitude” and Sarah’s is “Mother of Kings.” Their son Isaac’s name means “He laughs” because Sarah laughed when she heard the angels say she would bear a son. Isaac’s son Jacob was renamed Israel after he wrestled with a stranger. The One he was wrestling with said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Gen 32:28)

Knowing that names matter, Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.” Instead of answering, God asks, “Why is it that you ask my name? Yet, in the place of a name, God gives receives a blessing.

Knowing someone’s name is powerful.

If someone came up to you on the street and asked for your name, you’d probably answer the same way God did. “Why are you asking?” We are careful who we give our names to, aren’t we? Especially our full names. Who knows what a they might try to do -- get more personal information; an address, a phone number, all sorts of information that could potentially make us vulnerable.

Knowing a name reminds me of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. The Brothers Grimm documented a 16th century fairytale about greed. The story is about a miller of grain who hopes to bring himself and his daughter out of poverty. So, he tells the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king is in disbelief and decides to test the miller’s daughter. The King placed the miller's daughter in a room full of straw. The girl begins to cry because she cannot actually turn straw in to gold. Suddenly a little goblin like creature appears in the room and decides to make a bargain with the daughter. He would spin the straw into gold if she gave him something valuable. She pledged him her necklace. The creature turned the straw to gold.

The king is astonished that the girl could do this and decides to send her into an even bigger room of straw. The girl again begins to cry and then the goblin appears again to cut another deal with her. She promised the ring she was wearing, and another deal is sealed. The next morning, the king returns, and all of the straw was turned to gold again.

The king decides to test her one more time with even more straw than the last time to determine if she would become the new queen. The girl begins to cry once more, and the creature returns for the final deal. If the goblin spins this last batch into gold, then he gets the girl’s firstborn child. Okay, she says. The last batch of straw is spun into gold and the girl became the queen.

One year later the queen’s baby was born, and the goblin returned to claim his part of the deal. The queen refuses to give up her baby and the goblin said that if she guessed his name within the next three days, she could keep her baby. The first two days the queen couldn't guess the creature’s name. The last night before the last day one of the queen’s messengers came up upon the goblin dancing around the fire singing and shouting his name. The messenger returns to the castle to tell the queen.

On the final day the creature appeared, and the queen started guessing names and on the third guess correctly named Rumpelstiltskin. The tale goes that Rumpelstiltskin was full of anger and started to kick his right foot into the ground and eventually got it stuck. He tried to use his left foot to pull the other one out and in the process was torn in half causing him to disappear.[1]

Greed is destructive. And, knowing someone’s name is powerful. The queen had power over Rumpelstiltskin when she learned his name. Which is why when Moses encounters the Burning Bush and receives instructions from God to confront Pharaoh, Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” Again, God seems reticent to give up the divine name. In ancient times, possession of the name of a deity brought power to the holder. The chief priest and scribes are essentially asking Jesus the same question. He’s asked to name where his authority and power comes from when he heals and comforts and proclaims God’s justice.

God knows that revealing the Divine Name is risky. You don’t just give it up to anyone. God is vulnerable. When God told Moses, my name is YHWH, which means: “I AM who I AM or I Will Be Who I Will Be.” (Exodus 3:14-15) The name of God is an expression of who God is, God’s character and essence, and What God Does. God brings blessing and healing for the people Israel and for us.

In the Numbers reading, we heard God taking another big risk. God blessed them and God’s name was put on the people Israel, so that they would in turn be blessings to one another. We confess as Christians that we are a continuation of God’s blessing on Israel. How are we blessings to one another?

The third commandment is significant: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 &  Deuteronomy 5:11. Commonly, the command is shortened to “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain” and many think it’s a command not to swear. Using God’s name for profanity is irreverent, but it’s not the most serious infraction of the Divine name. More serious is the breach of shaming God -- hiding the fact that you are a person of faith, or more importantly, using God’s name to do harm.

According to author Albert Curry Winn, the third command may be the second most violated command after the tenth, You shall not covet.[2] The third command is violated whenever: we use God’s name as an excuse for our own self-interest, or when we seek vengeance with violence, when we exploit the resources of those who are disadvantaged, when the bodies of the innocent are broken for the evils of a few, or when our sense of justice is flawed and we do harm.

Throughout Christendom’s history, God’s name has been tangled in political justification. An attorney general recently cited Romans 13 as a sanction for the separation of immigrant children from their parents.[3] Folks from an array of faith traditions cried out at that that was an abuse of God’s name.

Yet, throughout history many have changed the world for the better in God’s name. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled for civil rights in this country in the name of God. In God’s name, churches from around the area, including First Presbyterian of Annapolis, turned out yesterday to share God’s blessing and love at the PRIDE Festival. Often a target of terror – it was an important day in the life of the LGBTQIA community. And, First Presbyterian sent the message loud and proud that God loves every one and everyone is welcome here in the name of God.

“The Promise” inherent in the name YHWH - I WILL Be WHO I WILL BE means that by wearing the name Christian, what we say and do matters. It matters what we do in our justice seeking in the public square --- And It Matters in how we treat one another in everyday interactions. Today, look around you to the folks you interact with, and ask yourself; “How am I a reflection a blessing to this person?” “Is what I AM doing reflect the name of God?”

The Spirit of God is vulnerable. God turns over power with the use of the divine name: Will it be for blessing and hope and making life awe-inspiringly sacred - or will it be used to harm and exclude? As your Trans pastor, transitional that is, it’s a gift to witness the ways folks here at First Pres glorify God’s name: in the STAIR program, in your justice seeking through Anne Arundel Communities together, in your compassionate outreach around the globe, in the way you care for one another in times of hurt and distress, and how you celebrate life in your many adventures.

Intrinsic in the 3rd PROMISE is silence; something that often eludes us. Yet, it is the practice of Silence where we can soak in the awe and inspiration and blessing. Sit with that for a moment – in the silence – so you can soak in the awe and inspiration and blessing in the Name of God. Amen.