10/29/17 – The Name Above All Names

Eight weeks ago, we began our journey through the book of Exodus, which recounts the dramatic story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, their subsequent journeys through the wilderness and the establishment of a covenant with their God rooted in the Torah. Throughout this journey, we have been attending to the names in Exodus, since we learned that in Judaism, the book of Exodus is called Shemoth, which means names.

We first considered the name “Moses” which means “drawn out from the water.” We saw Moses live up to his name by delivering the Israelites from slavery and drawing them out from the waters of the Red Sea. This drawing out from the waters reminds us of our own experience of being drawn out from the waters of baptism, a sacrament that has historically been connected to the naming of a child; and a sacrament that we will perform together here next Sunday, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of this congregation; and a sacrament of which I remind you nearly every week when I asperge you all with holy water.

I also connected Moses’s name with a very important image in the Hebrew Scriptures: the rainbow, which was drawn out from the waters of the receding flood to stand as a promise of God’s love and protection. Moses lived up to this aspect of his name every time he reminded his people (and at times even had to remind God) of God’s love and protection. I invited us to reflect on how our individual names and our collective name (Redeemer) call us to embody the rainbow of God (the promise of divine love and protection) in San Rafael and the world.

And the way that we reflect on this most effectively is through prayer and action. First, we pray and make ourselves at home in God’s presence just as Moses did at the burning bush, where the Name of God was revealed (Eyeh Asher Eyeh). We learned from Moses’s early mistakes that faith without action is dead, but action without faith can be even more dangerous. However, once we receive direction in prayer, we need to get up off our knees and take action, moving forward in faith and courage, even when the obstacles might seem insurmountable. Our role model for this bold and prayerful action was the Hebrew character Nachshon who, according to Jewish midrash, stepped into the Red Sea before the waters parted. Nachshon’s name refers to a “stormy, tidal wave” and he lived up to his name when he walked boldly into the dangerous waters and stirred up a tidal wave of freedom and deliverance. How are we being called to take action like Nachshon? How are we being called to live up to our name: Redeemer?

We then journeyed through the wilderness with the Israelites and learned again the meaning of the name “Israel,” which means “struggles with God.” Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls these struggles with God “genuine covenant interaction,” interaction that often includes honest complaining and kvetching. And according to Exodus, how does God respond to our complaining? With grace! With grace that saves a kvetch like me. Moses says, “Draw near to the Lord for he has heard your complaining.”

When we read about Moses making water come out of a rock, the Rev Wendy Cliff invited us to do a little spiritual dowsing, asking us, “Where is God calling you to find water, to lead those who are thirsty to renewal and hope?” She reminded us that we all have the authority to lead others to deep spiritual refreshment. We have this authority and responsibility by virtue of our baptism. And some of us have responded to Wendy’s invitation to support her beautiful ministry at Braid Mission which offers hope, love and refreshment to youth in foster care. I hope we can continue to support Braid through our time, talent and treasure.

As destructive wildfires ravaged through the North Bay, we read about God’s relentless invitation to be in friendship with each of us. God persistently invites us to be friends with him, just like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by continuing to pray and serve those in need, especially our neighbors up north. And last week, the book of Exodus invited us to remove our masks and open our eyes to see the image of God shining gloriously on each of our faces. We all are part of what Desmond Tutu calls the “Rainbow People of God.” Each of our individual faces makes up a part of God’s beautiful Rainbow of Love. And each of our names calls us to embody that love in our own unique way; and we learn how to do that through prayer and service to the poor. And we all have the power to do that by virtue of our baptism.

We all have the power to be God’s Rainbow in this world; the power to be the Church of the Redeemer that San Rafael needs us to be; the power to liberate others by proclaiming the love of God; and to power to discover our own deepest freedom in our belovedness. By virtue of our baptism, we all have this power.

Yesterday at the Diocesan Convention, I had the privilege to speak with and listen to the Right Reverend Barbara Harris, the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion; and in fact, in any mainline denomination. She recalled the words of a Pentecostal minister who preached a farewell sermon for her in Philadelphia before she left to be the Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts. The Pentecostal preacher told Barbara to stand up and said to her, “If you don’t remember anything else I have said today, remember this: the power behind you is greater than the task ahead of you!” Bishop Barbara then said to all of us at the Convention, “Let that be our watchword for everybody and everything that we need to do in Christ’s Name to bring in the just kingdom of God: The power behind you is greater than the task ahead of you!” By virtue of our baptism, we all have the power to bring in the just kingdom of God in the Name of Jesus Christ.

And that brings us to our readings this morning. (That was all basically a review of the last 8 weeks, but don’t worry the sermon is not going to be much longer.) The reading from the Hebrew Scripture this morning contains the most important name of all, for Christians. The Name above all names. Although the reading is no longer from the book of Exodus (Names), it still continues the story of the Exodus and includes many colorful, familiar and crackjaw names: Moab, Nebo, Pisgah, Jericho, Naphtali, Ephraim, Negeb, Zoar, Beth-Peor, and our old friends Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and Pharaoh. But by far, the most important name, is the name of the son of Nun: Joshua. Joshua “was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him.” Indeed, the power behind him was greater than the task ahead of him, which was a daunting task indeed: to conquer and possess the Promised Land.

Moses was the Redeemer who liberated and redeemed the children of Israel from Egypt but he could only take them so far. The people needed another redeemer to bring them into the Promised Land. And why is the name of Joshua the most important name in the book of Names and in all of the Hebrew Scriptures? Because that is the name that God chose to give to his Son who offers redemption from sin to all people and who leads us all into the Promised Land, the just kingdom of God. Joshua is the English translation of the Hebrew Yehoshua, which means “God is my Salvation.” Yehoshua is abbreviated to Y’shua which in Greek becomes Iesous, which in English becomes “Jesus.” Jesus is the Redeemer who empowers us all to be God’s beautiful Rainbow of Love in this world. Without Jesus, our baptism is impotent and meaningless; but with Jesus, we are empowered by our baptism beyond our imagination; and the power behind us is indeed greater than the task ahead of us.

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus (Yeshua) explains how the Hebrew Scriptures are consistently pointing to him; in this case, in a Psalm (Psalm 110) in which King David says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’” Once again, this does not mean that our Jewish brothers and sisters are no longer the chosen people of God. They are indeed; and their readings of the Hebrew Scriptures remain valid. What it does mean is that, through Jesus Christ (through Yeshua HaMoshiach), we all can participate in that chosenness. And in light of the Gospel of Christ, we can look back at the Hebrew Scriptures and see that our participation in the choseness of Israel was part of God’s intention all along.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, we are also the chosen people of God. The Name of Jesus Christ is impressed upon us at our baptism so that we are empowered beyond our imagination to live up to our collective name here (Redeemer), to see and be the image of God in the world, to embody God’s beautiful Rainbow of Love, to bring in the Promised Land, the just kingdom of God, knowing that the power behind us is greater than the task ahead of us. May that be our watchword here in Redeemer for everything that we need to do in Christ’s Name to bring in the just kingdom of God: The power behind you is greater than the task ahead of you! Amen.