Third Sunday after Trinity Matthew 10:40-42 [Psalm 89:1-4; 15-18]
I picked up a book recently – as one does from time to time – mainly to try and find somebody: it’s a ‘Who’s Who in Christianity’. As I opened it, I came upon a William Ames first of all, 1576 to 1633. I’d never heard of him, but my eyes fell on a few particular references, which caught my attention: This William Ames was a theologian, who became known as an extreme Calvinist. After living in Colchester (which I know), where he was prevented from holding a parish by the Bishop of London (how intriguing!) he settled in The Netherlands… ahh… There he was an observer at the Synod of Dort .. (learned about that at school). He was appointed Professor of Theology at Franeker (that’s in the province of Friesland, in the north), where he was regarded as one of the best theologians in Europe. How enlightening!
I’ve forgotten what made me look at that book in the first place. But it’s interesting what you can learn, about a certain name that represents a story in history.
‘What’s in a name’, we sometimes say, quoting from a famous author. Well, a lot, I would say. We all have one, whether we like it a lot or very little. My Mum, for instance, hated hers; she shortened it and if you wanted to annoy her, you would call her by her full name, although that was not really advised… Our name is part of our identity. It’s how we are known from others. It’s important on identity papers, but it’s also important in our relationships. A family name gives us a context from our roots, and a first name gives us character. When we say, ‘our Mary, our John’, we put certain characters close to ourselves too, as family. So, Yes, I’d say, names are important. When we refer to an ‘unmarked’ grave, we are saying that the person who is buried there is unknown to us, because there is no name on a memorial. There is nothing to bear witness that they ever existed. Did you see the last in the recent series of ‘A house in time’? It was about a house in Bristol, and the final episode told the story of one resident of whom very little was known – his fiddling with his name, his ‘fluid’ identity didn’t help – and how sad it was that he died and was buried in an unmarked grave. What made it more interesting for our community as viewers was that this man died at Ham Green Hospital, Pill… Bringing it closer to us in the context of space, as it were.
In Psalm 89, we find descriptions of God that would serve as special attributes to the name of the almighty: his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his righteousness, his favour, are all parts of his name, who is the Holy One of Israel.
When Jesus, then, talks about ‘whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’, he speaks about welcoming people in the name that describes their authority. It’s that name that determines both character and witness, and is able to issue a reward. We rely on the name of Jesus, because we know who he is; where he came from, what he did, what he has given us by that name. He says so in John’s Gospel, what we call the high-priestly prayer, how God the Father has kept safe the disciples ‘in his name’ (John 17:12). The name Jesus signifies divine authority, protection, guidance, peace, salvation, love. It’s because of that connection between Jesus and the Father that we know we are held in their embrace, by relying on the truth of the name of God. We are called to stand on the name of Jesus, by accepting him and by proclaiming him. Acting in the name of Jesus for the good of others connects us to Jesus and through him to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. What’s in a name? In the name of Jesus, I’d say is our life and our destiny. When I looked at ‘Who’s Who in Christianity’ again, I noticed that Jesus Christ, not surprisingly, is also in it, and with a longer paragraph than most. It finishes saying, ‘The title Christ attached to his name signifies that he is the long-awaited Messiah and the Church teaches that, as second person of the Trinity, he is a co-equal, co-eternal person within the Godhead, ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God’’. To that, I can only say, ‘Amen!’.