Naming our Faith


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 102; 148, Isaiah 33:17-22, Revelation 22:6-11, 18-20, Luke 1:57-66

Many cultures believe names – and knowledge of names – contain power. In some cultures a person has two names: one for public use, and a private, secret name known to a few or maybe only the one who bestowed it. In other cultures, a person acquires a new name upon completion of a rite of passage into adulthood. Within our communities, we are concerned with protecting “our good name.”

As Christians we don’t revere names as magical, but we do recognize the importance of identity. Christenings and confirmations are powerful examples.

In today’s reading from Luke, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth follows the instructions of an angel and names her son “John” (or more accurately the Hebrew Yôḥanan meaning “God is gracious”). Doing so defies the Jewish tradition of naming the child for a family member. People are so upset about this break in tradition that they demand a response from the child’s mute father Zechariah … but he stuns them when he confirms his wife’s choice by agreeing with her – in writing. This act frees him from years of silence that began because he didn’t believe the angel who prophesied John’s birth to him.

This act of naming – like John the Baptist himself – signifies a change in tradition. It shatters expectations. John defines his own wild, confusing, holy identity as the herald of the messiah.

As Christians, we too are in the business of defying society to forge identities in Christ.

That statement may seem dramatic in a predominantly Christian country like the U.S., but cultural Christianity and life in Christ are separate issues. Jesus fish magnets, Christian radio stations, and Christian dating websites are a sign that in some ways Christianity has become identified more with a consumer brand than a faith identity. Some Christians avoid calling themselves “Christian” not because they are ashamed of Christ, but because of negative associations with scandal and hypocrisy.

Even within the Christian community, we struggle against our own deeply ingrained traditions and expectations to seek the true heart of Christ, and are met with resistance and outright hostility from fellow Christians. When we have the courage to defy expectation and define our own names, our new voices – like Zechariah’s voice – can claim the name “Christian” for positive, meaningful, grace-filled ways.

Comfort: God does not name you as the world names you.

Challenge: With a small group, read and discuss The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

Prayer: God of Peace, name me as your servant. Amen.

Discussion: What does your name mean to you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Rocks, Thunder, and Dough

Your hands

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Genesis 41:46-57, 1 Corinthians 4:8-20 (21), Mark 3:7-19a

Our faith assures us that God knows us intimately inside and out. Psalm 119 declares: “Your hands have made and fashioned me.” All through our lives God actively shapes and reshapes us body, mind and soul. All who encountered Jesus were changed, usually spiritually, sometimes physically — and occasionally by name. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say Jesus revealed their true selves.

When Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (“the rock”), he predicted Peter would be the rock upon which the church was founded.  But Jesus was not without a sense of humor. Being rock-like also implies stubbornness, and Peter had that quality in abundance. At the beginning of his journey with Jesus, Peter was not particularly self-aware, but over time  Christ transformed Peter’s character flaws into some of his greatest strengths. What other than faithfully applied stubbornness could have seen the Christian church through its early stages?

Then we have the disciples (and brothers) James and John, or as Jesus called them, “The Sons of Thunder.” They were outspoken and quick to action. These traits didn’t always pay off as intended, but once the brothers learned to temper them  with wisdom, they became central to Jesus’s mission both before and after his resurrection.

Paul is another example of repurposed character. As Saul he zealously persecuted Christians, but after his conversion he was even more dedicated to  spreading the Gospel. Such single-mindedness is not within most people’s grasp, but it equipped Paul especially well for his calling.

What character traits would you change about yourself? Is it possible God built them into you for a reason, and what really needs to change is how you understand and use them? Justice is often fueled by anger, and success by stubbornness (masquerading as “persistence”). God did not create you to be someone you’re not. When we feel convicted to change something about ourselves, it’s worth asking Christ how he might reshape that thing toward a better use. Raw dough is inedible but has the same ingredients as delicious bread. Sometimes we only need to bake a while longer to rise to our potential.

Comfort: God knows and loves you, for he created you just as you are.

Challenge: Make a list of what characteristics trouble you. Pray about how you can look at them differently to serve God.

Prayer: God of creation, thank you for making me in your image. Help me to understand what that means for my life. Help me to shape my gifts to best serve your Kingdom. Help me appreciate the gifts you have given others. Give me ears to hear the new name you have for me. Amen.

Discussion: What about yourself have you had to learn to love (or are still learning to)?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!