What is in a name?
"Join us, and pursue a life that creates peace and builds up our brothers and sisters." ~ Romans 14:19
"Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our past behavior." ~ Logan Pearsall Smith
When we think about what a name really is, a name is but a handful of syllables that are connected to a much larger life history.
What do people associate with your name, or with my name? Or when I label myself as a Christ follower?
The power that comes with a name is the background as King Solomon offered a prayer for the newly built Temple, and his prayer builds to this moment where he implored God to always pay attention to this place where God had said "God's name would be there." (1Kings 8:29)
For the Jewish audience hearing that, there's a lot of overlap between how they thought about a name and how we think about it today.
For them, a name was not merely some kind of haphazard designation. The name carried the nature and essence of the object as it represented the reputation of whatever was named.
Today, in our English language, we often refer to a person's reputation as their "good name." When somebody introduces me to somebody new, my first impression of that somebody new begins with the reputation of that somebody I know; that somebody I know by name. When a company is sold, part of that sale is the company's "good will," that is, the right to use the company's name.
So, for those hearing Solomon's prayer, as Solomon reminded them God had said, "My name shall be there," they knew that was a powerful declaration. They knew -- from the third commandment -- that "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain."
That's a common reading for that commandment. Yet, when some people hear that, they take it to mean that it's best to avoid using God's name when cursing. While that's great advice, there's more to it; it's "Never use the name of the LORD your God carelessly." (GOD's WORD Translation)
Jesus Christ carries this fullness of God's name. He also invited people to be at home in Him, just as He is at home in God; at home in the history and character and legacy and personality of God; as Jesus bears the fullness of God's reputation -- a reputation for "very goodness."
And when we accept Jesus' invitation to name or label ourselves as Christians, and groups of us name ourselves as faith communities that follow Jesus Christ, we're called to bear the full reputation of God.
Which brings us to yet another case where I love the honesty of the Bible. When Jesus invited His followers to do this, they replied: "This teaching is difficult."
Yes, it is difficult to fully carry out everything that Jesus calls us to do; such as extending grace, asking forgiveness and practicing mutual forbearance (accepting differences while working together).
And while there is a real difficulty with the actual doing, the bigger challenge is the difficulty that begins with consciously choosing to do so.
To make that choice to carry the name "Christian" and bear the reputation of God means to choose to always remember here in our place in the history of God's people that we are no better than any other because of our denomination, nor our skin color, our gender, political affiliation, our community status, our job (even as a pastor), our house address, car, investment portfolio…etc.
With Jesus inviting us to abide in Him as He abides in God, He challenges us to bear the identity of our God of Creation.
Are we willing to accept the risk and work for the "very goodness" of life that God designed -- and still intends?
Mike Wilson is the pastor of Prineville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at 541-447-1017.
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