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Sermon Trinity 16 – I have called you by name
Who do you say that I am?
No longer the newest residents of the Vicarage – welcomed two cats
on Friday following the extensive adoption vetting procedure. Both
6 year old DSH’s
We’re currently debating the tricky matter of what to call them.
Originally named Candy and Tanzy by their first owners, Holly Hedge
decided to rename them Gem and Rose. While we certainly prefer
their more recent names we’re wondering whether to change them
again – for something a bit more ‘us’ and perhaps a bit more ‘them’.
Names are after all expressive of relationship and identity. We are
Meanwhile, as I begin to know you, getting to know, and remember,
your names is an integral part of our growing relationship. It’s been
wonderful to be welcomed by name by so many of you; sensing that
you are already beginning to connect with me. Please be patient as I
seek to catch up!
Naming in Biblical tradition is crucial – the patriarchs were given new
names as part of their emerging call by God; and their deepest longing
was to know God’s name that they might know God.
Naming God ‘Yahweh’ (‘I am’) becomes central to the growth in faith,
identity, vocation and relationship for God’s people.
Earlier still, in the creation myths, God gives humanity the task of
naming the creatures and elements of creation; to express
relationship both with creator and creation. Naming has been, and
continues to be a sign of creative stewardship and mutual
Naturalist Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks is in part of glossary
of names for elements of the natural world, most of them increasingly
in danger of falling out of use. Macfarlane is seeking to show what the
biblical tradition also suggests – that to name is to have a relationship
with; to understand and appreciate something or someone; to allow it
to be itself: the book invites us to realise that names are not just a
means to describe the world but also a way to know and love the
world. What we cannot name, he suggests, we cannot see.
All of this is background to us exploring Jesus’ question to his
disciples at the heart of today’s gospel; and at a crucial axis point in
Mark’s telling of the Jesus story:
• ‘Who do people say that I am?’
• ‘But, who do you say that I am?’
The wider response to Jesus is to see him in continuity with great
prophetic figures from the past – ‘John the `Baptist, Elijah, one of the
Jesus’ BUT as he addresses the disciples with the question ‘but who
do you say that I am?’ suggests that there is more to his identity than
past experience and assumption; more to who he is and more to
what he is called to. Peter offers what seems to be the right answer:
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus praises Peter for his insight and promises
him a foundational role in building the church. But in Mark Jesus
immediately urges this naming as messiah not to be shared. Jesus
seems alert to the danger of this name being misunderstood; and the
strength of his reaction to Peter’s subsequent ‘surely not you Lord’
illustrates the danger.
The name ‘Messiah’ expresses Jesus identity, for and with the world,
his vocation; but it is a vocation liable to false expectation and
misunderstanding. It’s a name that might suggest the wrong kind of
expectation and response. Jesus’ embrace of this name is an embrace
of his calling to walk the way of the cross. “This is my name and this is
what my name means.” Name, identity and vocation are all bound
together. Peter’s mistake is to think that the name means something
else; and that he is therefore mistaken about who Jesus is, and what
he is called to.
As the passage unfolds it becomes clear that Jesus’ name and identity
are to be ours too; those who follow are those who own both the
name and the calling. To be ashamed to own the name is to be
ashamed of who we most truly are, and what we are most truly called
to be and do.
You will discover in my sermons that I have some favourite
theological and spiritual friends whose words and wisdom I often give
voice to. One of them, Thomas Merton, encapsulates this relationship
between name, identity and calling perfectly:-
“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love
is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my
true identity. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”
Well, Amen to that.
But there is something more specific to explore – something that I’m
beginning to think is a really important consideration and
conversation for us at Cotham.
At a Southwark clergy conference a few years ago we were joined by
Victoria Matthews, until recently the Bishop of Christchurch, New
Zealand. In her closing reflection Bishop Victoria invited us to
consider a range of questions that scripture sets before us. The final
question is that posed by today’s gospel, but with a special twist that
enables us to hear it afresh:-
Who do you say that I am?
In what way do we see our lives as our answer to Jesus’ question?
In other words what is the particular way in which we are called to
reflect the life, identity and name of Jesus? As those called to bear his
name how do we show the good news of that name? How will we
live the name of love?
In our first reading the source of the prophet’s identity emerges from
his listening to God each morning – what he hears is what he becomes
for others – one who sustains the weary with a word. It is God who
makes us who we are for others – how do we, morning by morning,
day by day allow God’s voice to shape who we are for others?
This sermon is suggesting that a way of asking ourselves these
questions is to ask what our name is. To ask how we want our life
together to be an answer to Jesus question ‘who do you say that I
So, who are we, what is our name?
And what might that name reveal to us about what we
are called to and who we are called to be for others.
I have never been at a church without an identity shaping name
before. The dedication of a Church invites that community of faith to
become the name they bear: All Saints, St John the Baptist,
St Thomas, St Mary – stories that can become our story, invitations to
reflect the name.
In this church and parish we have inherited two names, but they don’t
seem to be part of our identity now. My reflection at this early stage
is do we need a new name to help us to know better who we are?:-
• a name that speaks of our calling and our identity;
• a name that speaks to us of how we are called to bear the
name of and life of Jesus to others;
• a name that we recognise as authentic because it is who
we know we are
To know our name might be to better see and live our calling; and it
might help others to know better who we are too; to speak of us and
At this stage I’m not looking for a quick answer; but simply a
discussion as to whether this is a good and helpful question. A
question to pray with, as we seek to hear our calling to bear the
name of love.