What is Your Name?
In seminary, I had a professor ask me something like “Why do people call you Joanie?” My explanation was “Well, my name is Joan. But growing up everyone called me Joanie. When I got to college, and people didn’t know me, they started calling me by the name they saw on paper…Joan. Now, here in seminary, there are a few of my friends that I grew up with from home that knew me as Joanie…so they still call me Joanie. I feel like Joanie is more of a term of endearment…if you call me Joanie, then you really know me and love me.” To which my professor’s response was, “Then, Can I call you Joanie?”
Listen for the names you hear used in today’s scripture reading. What are the names or words used to describe the characters in this narrative?
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
My dad has a sense of humor…a bit silly, but none the less, keeps you on your toes. If you ask him, “How are you doing today?” You will NEVER get “Okay” or “I’m good.” You’ll almost always get something in the lines of “I don’t know I haven’t checked yet” or “fair to midlin’”. Folks, I have heard “fair to midlin” ALL my life and I still can’t tell you for the life of me what it means.
Back to my dad’s sense of humor…part of his sense of humor is that hardly ever calls anyone in the family or anyone he knows well by their real name. In most cases, the names are something that he created from some mis-spoken word. I’m about to reveal some big family secrets here…so don’t use this against me. Someone in my family, to remain nameless, intended to say once—“I made a boo-boo” while they were cooking dinner. Instead, it came out, “I made a blu-blu”. And for the past 45 years that nameless member of my family has been called “bloo-bloo.” Bless her heart.
My dad always referred to me as “Pa’s sweetie.” At Lacey’s age or younger, as I tried to repeat my dad’s endearing phrases “you’re my sweetie” it came out something like “I’m Pa’s siggy.” And so for nearly 40 years, my name in the family has been “Siggy.”
But it didn’t stop with immediate family. In a more recent conversation with one of my cousins we were discussing how my dad never called any of his nieces or nephews or great nieces or nephews by their real name. Instead, he would intentionally mix up their names with one of their siblings. So, Joel, said “Yea he always calls me Matthew, but I’m pretty sure that’s because he can’t remember our names.” To which my response was…”Oh, no. He knows your name. You can be sure that if he called you Matthew, it’s because he really knew you were Joel.” It’s a fun game in the family for the little kids to convince my dad of their real name…and dad never budges.
And well…you can rest assured that it passed down to Jason, too. Oh, for sure someone new was not going to enter the family untouched. Dad, affectionately refers to Jason as “Josh”. Where did Josh come from, you ask? Oh, there’s a story behind that, too. You see, when my dad retired he started paying attention to one of the soap operas that happened to be on tv everyday that mom watched. And he quickly, picked up on the fact that the love interest of about 5 of the 6 women on this soap opera was this one man named Josh. So, if Jason was my love interest, then his name must be “Josh.”
Well, I’m here to share with you that things came full circle in my family. My dad is not called “granddaddy” or “papa” by my children!! When our daughter was very little, the first grandchild in the family, my dad loved to communicate with her by blowing his lips and running his finger through them. It was very funny to hear them sharing thoughts through these sounds with their lips. One particular Sunday morning we were visiting, my dad handed Joy Kate a couple of M&Ms after breakfast. She ran from the kitchen, stopped, turned to my dad and said “tant tou bluh-bluh (make sound with lips)”. And from that day forward, my dad has been known to my girls as “bluh-bluh.”
So, in a nutshell. Names are important. In our family, and with my dad, if he creates a new name for you…you know you are loved. You know you are part of the family. You know there is a special connection.
I love the names that are used in today’s scripture.
Lucy Lind Hogan, Professor of Preaching & worship at Wesley Theological Seminary, concludes that this story is about identity and authority. Think about the identity of this centurion. He is a Roman soldier, a gentile. And, because he is Roman, he is quite frankly considered an enemy of the Jews. But, the centurion sends for Jesus to heal his slave. This centurion has faith in Jesus. So much faith, that he knows and tries to respect Jewish tradition. He knows that Jews, in practice, see the Gentiles as unclean (remember we addressed that a few weeks ago, when we studied the story in the book of Acts where Peter sees a vision and totally redefines who may be unclean…declaring that we should not see “unclean” those that God has made “clean”). Anyway, this Gentile honors that tradition and protects Jesus from breaking Jewish laws…saying you do not need to come into my home.
The priests that sent for Jesus name the centurion “worthy”. They witness to Jesus that he loves the Jewish people. And, they continue, he is worthy is because he helped build the synagogue—a place that would have been meaningful to Jesus and to the Jewish priests.
And not only was he called worthy, but Jesus also saw he was “faithful”. Because this Roman soldier basically said.. “I know you can heal my servant. Please do! It’s not safe for you to come into my home, so heal him from there. You are so powerful that all you have to do is say something and he will be healed.” So the identity of this Roman centurion is “worthy” and “faithful”. Worthy. Faithful.
Now, let’s examine the identity of Jesus in this story. Hogan, in her article, reminds us that Luke’s gospel repeatedly asks the question of who Jesus is. There is another healing story after this one in Luke chapter 7. After the second healing story, John the Baptist even asks “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” or “what is your identity? Who are you?”
Today’s story immediately follows Jesus’ sermon on the plain…where Jesus teaches his followers to:
- LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. (LUKE 6:27)
- DO TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU (Luke 6:31)
- BE MERCIFUL (LUKE 6:36)
- DO NOT JUDGE (LUKE 6:37)
- FORGIVE, AND YOU WILL BE FORGIVEN (LUKE 6:37)
So, now Luke puts Jesus in a position to practice what he preaches. When a Roman soldier needs help, will Jesus love the enemy? When someone needs to be healed, will Jesus heal them? Will Jesus show mercy on the slave? Or will Jesus, instead, judge the centurion and turn the priests away? Will Jesus forgive and show love and honor the requests of the centurion? Will Jesus’ identity be of love, mercy, and forgiveness?
Well, we see that Jesus is caring, full of mercy. Despite the fact that the centurion was a Gentile, an enemy of sorts, Jesus goes with the priests towards the one who needs to be healed. Jesus did show mercy.
When Jesus heard the words of the centurion’s second messengers “Do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; But only speak the word and let my servant be healed”, Jesus himself was amazed. “I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Let me remind you that Jesus saying here—that not even in the Jewish nation, Jesus’ own people and family, did he witness such a display of faith. Jesus is allowing in himself, all walls to be crumbled. He shows mercy to the slave and he is healed. Showing mercy means that the only judgement that has been placed on the centurion is the judgment that IS worthy and faithful.
The ONLY judgment Jesus placed on the centurion was that he is worthy and faithful. The centurion did not believe himself worthy to have Jesus come to his home. But, Jesus saw his faithfulness and did find him worthy. Even though the centurion didn’t see himself as worthy…Jesus did.
Which leads me to the question…how do you see yourself? Do you see yourself the way Jesus does? Are you willing to call yourself worthy and faithful?
All too often, we let our own insecurities in our faith hold us back. We have a hard time with some of Jesus’ teachings in the way we treat ourselves. We preachers and ministers spend a lot of time asking you if you are opening the door for others. Today, I wonder if you have opened the door for yourself.
- Have you offered yourself the love…to love yourself even when you are your own worst enemy or critic?
- Have you judged yourself too harshly?
- Have you really forgiven yourself for bad decisions or mistakes of your past?
- Have you allowed yourself to move on?
- Have you found yourself worthy of God’s gift of love and mercy?
Let me repeat that last question: HAVE YOU FOUND YOURSELF WORTHY OF GOD’S GIFT OF LOVE AND MERCY?
Jesus’ love is transformative and healing. The centurion, a Roman, believed that Jesus could heal the slave. Jesus’ love of even one that may be considered an enemy was transformative. Jesus’ love transformed the sick to healed. Jesus’ love transformed an enemy to a believer. Jesus’ love can transform you. Jesus sees you as worthy and faithful. Jesus shows mercy to us in our weakest moments. God forgives when we have turned from following God.
The truth is our names are part of our identity. Our names are terms of endearment. When someone calls out your name, you look up. You know that’s you. It states who you are. And your name helps you identify your relationship with the one calling you.
God calls you by name. Worthy. Faithful. My child. Claim it. Look up in delight because God has called you. This name identifies your relationship to the Creator. It is God’s term of endearment for you—it is God’s expression of love for you.
You see, I know that my dad uses names as way of expressing his deep relationship to those he loves. I’m SIGGY and Jason’s “Josh” because that is his expression of love. God’s love can transform and heal us. Can you call yourself worthy and faithful—the way God sees you? Can you own God’s expression of love in your life by claiming “I am a child of God…worthy, faithful, saved?” May it be so.