The Power of a Name

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Text of the sermon preached on Proper 8B (June 28, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.

I have to admit. One of my favorite book/movie series is Harry Potter. Do you remember what they called Harry Potter early on in the book series? Folks called him “the boy who lived.” If you’ve never read the books or watched the movies, then it’s

The boy who lived!

The boy who lived!

important to know that he shouldn’t have lived. He had been struck by a killing curse from the dark wizard, Voldemort, and he should have died, but he didn’t. He lived. And so that became his name. The boy who lived.

Names — especially nicknames that are given by others to describe something about us — can be pretty hard to shake. My junior year of high school my soccer team began calling me “Big Red.” Because I was the taller of the two Katie’s on our team and I had red hair. That nickname has stuck for more than ten years now. Although, more recently my mentor began calling me “Little Red” because she doesn’t think of me as a big and bad person.

Whether nicknames are accurate or not, whether we like them or not, whether they are flattering or not, the descriptors hung on us have significant power. Why? Because in naming one reality about us — whether true or not — they tend to reduce all of who we are to that one dimension.

I thought of Harry Potter and his nickname and my nickname and the power of names because of the rather startling transformation of one of the characters in this story from Mark. Let’s set the scene.

You all might remember that last week Jesus took the disciples across the sea of Galilee through a life-threatening storm and away from the familiar haunts of home into the foreign land of the Gerasenes. There — in the passage from Mark just between last week’s reading and this one — Jesus heals many possessed by so many demons that he was simply called, “Legion.” And there’s the power of names again! Now he’s come back across the lake and is greeted by a crowd as his fame and reputation have spread. Among the people in that crowd is a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, who begs Jesus to heal his daughter. And on the way to do that, Jesus is interrupted…and then it happens — someone’s name is changed and her future is restored!

Among the crowd, you see, is a woman. She is given no name. She is described only as a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. We can assume this was most likely a bleeding condition that would have rendered her both impure and unable to bear children. Which perhaps explains why she is there all alone, hoping just to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment, desperate for even the possibility of healing. She has no advocate, no family, no community to beseech Jesus on her behalf. She is nothing, just “the woman who had bled for twelve years.”

Yet after Jesus discerns what had happened — that power had gone out of him — and after she stepped forward in fear and

Presiding Bishop elect of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has a few nicknames for us...including Crazy Christians!

Presiding Bishop elect of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has a few nicknames for us…including Crazy Christians!

trembling to admit her deed and her hope, Jesus gives her a new name, calling her daughter, calling her a person of great faith, and naming her healed.

I don’t know if something similar happened with either Jairus or the young girl. Was he “the leader desperate enough to run to the rabbi” or she “the girl who died and then was made alive?” But I do know that names are hard to shake. Notice, for instance, that when Jesus names the girl as one who sleeps rather than as the one who is dead the people laugh. Names — whether nicknames or some other descriptor — are convenient because they work to summarize a lot of things into one element. But they are also dangerous because they reduce us, strip us of our individuality and uniqueness, and label us according to what someone else sees.

With everything that has happened in the last couple of weeks or months, it’s difficult not to think of the way we name and label those who differ from us whether in skin color or ethnicity or belief, the names we have hung on and hurled at others to reduce and objectify them. Humans are by nature, social, even tribal, creatures. And so we gather with those who seem like us and characterize those who don’t as different, naming them by some attribute that creates convenient definitions and borders for us by stripping others of their individuality and labeling and lumping them together.

And yet the pattern of Christ is exactly the opposite. Jesus is constantly crossing borders — whether geographic or social — to see people for who they are and to draw them into relationship. That’s why the woman who interrupts Jesus’ preaching and healing tour is no longer just “woman” or “the one who has been bleeding for twelve years.” She is now “daughter,” one restored to family and community and health and life.

This is, of course, Christ’s charge to us as well. To see people for who they really are, unique persons, each created in the image of God, and each worthy of our attention, care, love, and respect. Christ calls us to leave the comfortable and familiar behind in order to reach out to others as brothers and sisters, all children of God.

Yet let’s be honest. Simply saying that isn’t enough. We know this.

What might make a difference, however, is being known and named ourselves. What might help is recognizing that we too, are often labeled, reduced to one attribute or incident that hardly captures our identity and yet has named and shaped our behavior and our future in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.

I want you to take a minute and think of all of the names that you have been given. Perhaps by yourself. The names that seem to chase you through the day and haunt you at night. Name the illnesses or failures or missteps or regrets that somehow have come to name and define you. Think of them.

Now forget them. Get rid of them. For Christ sees us differently. Christ names us differently. We are “daughter” and “son” and “person of great faith” and “faithful” and “crazy christians” and “wonderful” and “beloved children of God” and so much more.

In Christ, you see, we are given a new name. In fact, in Baptism we are named as children of God and promised that no matter what happens, no matter where we may go in life, no matter what we may do or have done to us, God always sees a unique and beloved individual worthy of love, honor, and respect. And each week when we come to church we come to be reminded of this new name. To be reminded of our identity given and help in absolute and unconditional name. We come to be reminded because so much in the week has worked to make us forget and to undermine our confidence. So we come to church to be named anew.

Remember that love wins and God loves us all, no matter our names.

Remember that love wins and God loves us all, no matter our names.

And when we have remembered our new name and received again our new identity, perhaps then we can go out and resist the urge to use destructive names to define and label and reduce others. Perhaps then we can reach out in love to call those around us — and especially those whom society has overlooked — brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, all children of God.

The boy who live, the woman who bled, the man who failed, the girl who dropped out of high school, the kid who got hooked on drugs, the family with no home. These are not the names God has in store for us. This week we are reminded that we are named anew — beloved child of God — and we are a people set free to walk into a future of hope and promise.

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