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Don't Forget Your Nametag!

Sermons On The First Readings
Series I, Cycle C
I'm glad to see that so many of you are wearing your nametags this morning. We have been struggling for some time to get you to wear them and it seems as though our latest solution is working. Putting the nametag table right next to the greeters so that you can't miss them as you walk into the church seems to do the job. Having everyone wear nametags is important to us because at Christ Church we don't want people to feel anonymous, disconnected, alone. In this church relationships matter. Relationships are at the heart of what we are about. It is through relationships with other people that we not only get connected to other people but also get connected to God.

It is difficult to have a meaningful relationship of any kind with another person without knowing his/her name. A name is a "handle" by which we can get another's attention. When someone knows our name, he or she has a "handle" by which to single us out and grab our attention. Therefore, don't forget your nametag!

But at Christ Church we also want relationships to move past the nametag level. And to help make that happen we have become a Christ Care Small Group Ministry congregation. Last spring four of us went off to St. Louis to be trained as Christ Care Equippers in order to come back and implement the ministry. We have just finished training our first class of Christ Care Small Group leaders. Today we are commissioning them as they finally begin their small groups. They are looking for you to sign your name to one of the small groups listed today at the sign-up table in the narthex. Christ Church has invested a lot of time, money, and energy in this ministry because people matter. We don't want anyone here to feel alone or disconnected. We want people to know that we not only know their name but care about them as well. And a small group is a great place for that to happen.

We all know that you don't have to be on a desert island to feel alone. Sometimes being in a large crowd, even in the midst of thousands of people, can be a terribly lonely place. You know what it feels like. You are attending a large athletic contest. Thousands of people are around you. You don't know anyone. You feel terribly alone and isolated. But then someone comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder and calls out your name. You turn and recognize the face of a long lost friend. And suddenly you are no longer alone. You belong!

You have just moved to a new town. There are neighbors all around you. But you don't know anyone. You don't even know the neighbors living on your street. You feel terribly alone. You might as well be on a desert island. But then you hear that knock at the door. As you open the door, standing there is a strange lady holding a plate of freshly baked cookies. "Hello, my name is Patty. I'm your neighbor from across the street. Welcome to the neighborhood. And what is your name?" And you exchange names. Suddenly strangers are on their way to becoming neighbors and maybe even friends. And it all started because people were willing to share their names.

Perhaps some of you have seen Tom Hanks in the popular film of a couple of years ago titled Castaway. Tom Hanks is a Fed Ex manager who is the only survivor of a plane crash in a distant part of the Pacific Ocean. He is washed up on the beach of an uninhabited island. After wandering around the island for a few days and discovering that he is the only person on that island, you can just see and feel the fear and panic overcome him. Will he be forgotten? Will no one ever find him? Will his fiancé and friends forget he ever existed? In order to keep his sanity and humanity he creates a relationship, a friendship, with a volleyball. And in order to have this relationship, he has to give the volleyball a name. He calls it "Wilson," because it was a Wilson volleyball. The name is important because it gives him a "handle," a way to have a relationship with this inanimate object. He needed this relationship with "Wilson" in order to maintain his humanity and his sanity.

This is not all that unlike the situation of today's First Lesson. It was the sixth century B.C.E. Israel was in exile. They had lost everything. Everything that her name stood for was gone. There was no Temple, no king, no holy city. There was no more sacred soil to call her own. She had been carried off to a distant land for the expressed purpose that she be forgotten. And without a name by which to be remembered, she would have ceased to exist. In this historical situation, the words of the prophet are incredibly bold and daring. Claiming to speak for God, it was as if he was saying to them, "Don't forget your nametag!"

He tells them to remember who they are. God has not forgotten them. God still remembers who they are. God still remembers their name. "I have called you by name; you are mine!" The prophet reminds them that God has created them, formed them, and redeemed them. The words he uses would have meant much to sixth century Israelites. These words would have reminded them what God has done for them in the past. He was the God who had chosen them as he chose Abraham. He was the God who had redeemed them from bondage in Egypt. He was going to do it again. In fact, God was doing the same thing for them right now in the present. The great Persian King Cyrus at that moment was conquering Babylon and bringing the Babylonian Empire to its knees. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba were at that moment being conquered by Persia. God was using these conquered nations to ransom his people from exile. God was using this foreign king, this "chosen one," Cyrus, to set his people free. Cyrus would shortly allow the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland.

Finally, the prophet reminds the people what God will do in the future. In that day God will once again gather together all his people from the four corners of the world and reunite them as one people. No watery flood or burning desert would prevent God from gathering together his people.

Given the circumstances, this is truly a startling promise.

A similar promise is offered in today's Gospel, Luke's account of the Baptism of Jesus. As God reminded the Israelites in exile that "I have called you by name. You are mine," he does the same here to Jesus. "You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased." Jesus was beginning his pubic ministry. He was beginning his long walk to Jerusalem and the deadly fate that awaited him. In the face of all kinds of opposition, Jesus' ministry would be marked by this message: "The Kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the good news." This would be no small task. As Jesus soon discovered after his baptism, there would be a constant temptation to abandon this task. So, here at the beginning God reminds Jesus of his identity. He has a name. He is the Son of God. Jesus, don't forget you who are. Don't forget your nametag! Remembering who and whose you are will give you the strength to complete your mission.

Jesus' baptism is a picture of our baptism. Even though at our baptism the clouds didn't open, a dove didn't descend, and we heard no voice booming from the heavens, the same promise was given to us. When the water was poured and those words were spoken, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," it was as if we were there with sixth century Israel when the prophet on behalf of God proclaims, "I have called you by name. You are mine." It was as if we were there in the Jordan River with the Baptist and the heavens opened and the voice said of us, "You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased."

On that day we received a new name, a name that can define our identity forever. But Baptism is more than a name-giving rite. Baptism is more than the dedication of a child to God and naming him/her John or Mary. Baptism is God giving us a new name. From now on we will be known as Christs, Christians, the chosen ones, sons and daughters of God, princes and princesses. From now on God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, and all the Christians on earth and in eternity are our family.

Even more, because we have been named after Jesus, we can now make the sign of the cross on our breast and forehead to remind ourselves of who we are. We can always be sure where our lives are headed. Because of this Baptism and the granting of this new name, this new identity, Jesus' fate and destiny are now also ours. We can live our lives giving ourselves away as he did. And when we breathe our last, we will not be dying alone. We will die "with him" and therefore will be raised "with him."

No one or no thing can take this name from us. This promise defines who we are forever. When the prophet encourages those sixth century exiles by chanting, "Fear not ... I have called you by name; you are mine," we are also included. "Fear not," people of Christ Church. We have nothing to be afraid of. God will never forget who we are.

So, when we leave this place and go back out into the world, don't forget your nametag! I'm not talking about that piece of paper stuck to your clothes with your name on it. I am talking about the name you received at your Baptism. And because of that name, it is no longer going back to business as usual. Everything now has changed.

I hate shopping for a new car. I remember a couple of years ago, when I was shopping for my last car and how uptight I was. I remember walking into that car dealership looking for a late model used car. And there he was, just as I feared: the ever present used car salesman who ran up to me, enthusiastically offering me a handshake, making sure I would not elude his presence and said, "Hello, my name is __________! And who are you?"

Instinctively, I recoiled. I didn't want to give him my name. I wanted the comfort of anonymity. I wanted to stay in control. To give him my name meant I would be giving up some control in this potential transaction. I wasn't about to do that. I hesitated. I hemmed and hawed. My wife finally jabbed me in the ribs, chiding me for being so rude. And I told him who I was.

My real problem was that I was afraid. I was afraid that, if I gave him my name, I would lose control. I was afraid that if I lost control, then I might not get the best deal. I was afraid of being taken advantage of, and of coming in second in this game of one-up-manship, of who can get the best of the other. I wanted to be a winner, but if I didn't give him my name, this negotiation was dead in the water even before it started. If you aren't willing to share yourself, if you aren't willing to give your name, you will finally be a very lonely person. You not only will not be able to buy a car, you will never be able to get along with others in this world. You will be a very lonely person. You might as well live on a desert island.

But we know who we are! We are Christ's. God has called us by name. We are his. We can never lose that name to anyone or anything. God himself stands behind us. Regardless of winning or losing, regardless of whether we get the best deal or not, we will always be the apple of his eye. Therefore we can afford to offer ourselves to others. We can give our names. We can dare to care. We can dare to become weak and vulnerable for the sake of someone else. We can, how else can you say it -- love!

Isn't that what love is? Putting aside our own interests for the sake of someone else? We can dare to do that now. We can dare to take the risks of service. We can dare to go against the grain, to do what is right and not necessarily what is popular. We can dare to introduce ourselves to others, even to strangers, even to those whose language or culture or skin color is different from ours, even to used-car salesman, without fear or worry. Why? Because we know who we are; because we remember our nametag!
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