What's in a Name?

  • Alex - defender or protector of men
  • Austin: from Augustine, great, venerable, to increase
  • Ashley: Ash tree clearing
  • Breanna - strong one
  • Brent - steep hill
  • Blaine - source of a river
  • James - supplanter
  • Jesus, Joshua - God is salvation
  • Marley - Lake meadow
  • Logan - small cove
  • Amanda - lovable
  • Joan, John - God is gracious
  • Jenna - small bird
  • David - friend, beloved
  • Courtney - from the courts of Curtis, courteous, short nose
  • Caleb - bold or dog
  • Payton - village warrior
  • Wyatt - little warrior or brave in war
  • Melanie - dark beauty
  • Scott - from Scotland
  • Simon - hearkening, listening

For every parent, the time of choosing a name for their baby is significant. So much goes into determining what it will be. For some it has to do with the sound of it, or how well it will go with the last name. Sometimes it is cultural. Will the child's friends be able to make fun of it, turning it into something else as they tease on the playground? Kids get named after relatives living or dead, or their parents' hero, or national figure. For some, the name is like a blessing pronounced upon the child's future. Something to live up to, to strive for. And, other times, the parents just look into the baby's face and touch those sweet little hands and a vision comes to mind and they describe the mood or the scene with words.

And then, throughout the growing up years, the kid gets a nickname anyway that gets used until the day when the child himself begins to wonder about who he is, where his life is going, and what he wants to stand for. Perhaps then the name becomes important, it describes a character trait, or evokes a man of great renown and inspiration.

Here in Matthew we read a passage that has had profound consequences for the church…and in it is a discussion about names. Twice actually. Once Jesus is asking who people think he is, and the disciples rattle off a few names of famous people…and the second is when Jesus calls Simon a word that sticks for the rest of his days as a name.

Again, it all has to do with what the name stands for in the mind of the hearer. I mean think about it, Jesus is Jesus. His name is actually Jeshua in Hebrew and it means God is salvation. Why would anyone think he was one of those dead dudes come back to life? Unless there was something amazing about Jesus and his actions that were reminiscent of these great heroes and prophets of bygone days? Is it that the quality of a person lives on long after the body is dead and decayed? Each one of them mentioned went around the nation calling people back into a relationship with God.

But the point that was being made by Jesus wasn't that people didn't necessarily understand who he was by name so much as what he was and what his presence upon the earth meant for the world. This conversation followed closely upon the discussion about the "yeast" of the Pharisees who wanted to see some sign from the heavens to prove Jesus' claim. And the ensuing discussion of the baffled disciples who went off in the wrong direction with literal bread instead of thinking metaphorically. They were still caught up in the amazing miracle of feeding so many people real food that they missed the point. Jesus was concerned about what the Pharisees and Saduccees were teaching the people. Over the centuries they had lost sight of the important central message of what God's will was for creation and especially for the Israelites.

And rightly so. It happens all the time with any group of people who gather around a purpose or ideal. They evolve into something different after awhile because they lose the original ethic, their lives are different, and they perceive other needs that are more important. The history presented in the Bible is just that. God is constantly calling people back after they wander off to other issues.

So, when Jesus asks his disciples who THEY think he is, and Simon chimes in with the answer, "the Messiah, son of the living God." Jesus jumps on that moment and says, "there it is, that's what I'm looking for. You've got it! Hang on to that confession!" I can picture him running over to him, hugging him, slapping him on the back saying, "Aw man, you're the rock. You've got the foundation of what we need. The core essence of how we will begin to build a people who understand what God is all about.

When Jesus calls Simon blessed, we shouldn't think that he was the only one among the disciples who understood. Back in Matthew 13:10-16 Jesus says to all the disciples, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not…and longed to hear what you have heard but did not hear it."

And Jesus intimates that it is a difficult concept to teach and have the students actually learn it. "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." It takes the power of the Spirit moving in one's heart…the power of experiencing the living God in your life to give one the ability to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. But when you have it…you've got the rock hard foundation that withstands even the gates of Hades. That even the threat of death cannot change your faith, only deepen it.

For a modern day example that even the kids might understand, look at the movie Hook. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's about Peter Pan, who actually left Neverland to marry Wendy's granddaughter. He is now a busy executive who barely has time for his children and he has forgotten who he really is. Hook comes and steals his kids away and Tink comes to bring Peter back. His children have heard the stories of Peter Pan but have no idea that their father is really that Peter. Finally, the man Peter regains his understanding of who he is…and when his kids see him again, the realization dawning on their faces is priceless. "My Dad's Peter Pan!?" But it changes them. It gives them the courage to stand up to the Pirates and especially Hook where before all they could do was cry, Daddy, save us!

This understanding of who and what Jesus really is and being willing to confess it to all the world is the very rock of the church's foundation.

We today say that Jesus gave Simon a new name. In a way this is true. There is no recorded history prior to this in either Aramaic or Greek that the word Rock was used as a name. But because Simon was willing to declare the truth about Jesus, the word stayed with him as a name…and he would be forever known by the foundational truth that he now grasped.

From then on, Simon Peter and the disciples would go around preaching and teaching and building a people that confessed Jesus as Lord - our very first creed. Even the term "binding and loosing" is a rabbinic term for authoritative teaching. In other words, who was qualified to interpret the Torah, to determine what was permitted and what was not. It was a term for those who could make the decisions for the life of the earthly community. And, so they did. The disciples through their teaching brought the rock of salvation to city and town and family.

So, what is our name? We are Saint John's. I suppose we could hearken back to either John the Baptist, or the John of the gospels and the John of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos. Do we claim our identity and our purpose and our mission from the lives of either of these two saints? Are we preparing the way for those who are lost? Are we calling the many to turn their lives around? Do we have the eternal vision planted firmly in our planning? Or do we claim our identity from the meaning of the name, God is gracious? Is it not the basic foundation of being Lutheran.


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