What’s in a Name?

January 15, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

(Gospel Text provided below)

How many of you, either now or at some point in your life, have had a nickname? I’m not talking so much about shortened names, like being called Jimmy instead of James, but more like Ronald Reagan being called “the Gipper” or Margaret Thatcher, “The Iron Lady”.
When I was growing up, my brother used to call both me and my sister “Twin.” It made things easier, especially during front-yard football games. And while my nickname was short-lived, some span a lifetime.

As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., this weekend, I was curious if he had a nickname. Thanks to Google, I quickly learned that when King was born, he was named Michael, not Martin. When King was 5 years old, his father, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, took a trip to Germany. He was so inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, that when he returned, he not only changed his own name to Martin, but his son’s, too.[i]nickname-collage

Nicknames are nothing new. We even see the use of nicknames in the gospels. Today’s reading has John the Baptist using a nickname for Jesus. He called him “The Lamb of God.” By calling Jesus this, at the outset of the story, John is giving the audience a pretty big hint about who Jesus was in his life and in his death.

This “Lamb of God” language, would, for the Hebrew audience, evoke the image of the Passover Feast. The Passover celebrates the ancient exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, saving them from their hard-labor under Pharaoh. The Passover ritual calls for an unblemished lamb to be sacrificed for the feast. lamb-of-godSo, in nicknaming Jesus the Lamb of God, John is revealing Jesus as the new Lamb. Jesus is the unblemished one that will be sacrificed for our salvation. John’s gospel uses repeatedly the images of the lamb and sheep and the Good Shepherd. So, calling Jesus the Lamb of God anticipates the rest of the story.

What we see next in the gospel is another kind of naming – that of titles. There are lots of people that get called by their title. For example, some people call me Reverend – which points to my role as an ordained priest. We call policemen and women, “Officer” – unless they’ve just given us a ticket, then we may call them something else entirely. We use titles like Mom, Dad, Judge, Therapist, Doctor, Mailman. They each tell us what the person does or who they are in our lives. We see titles being used in today’s gospel as Jesus is introduced to new people.

Two followers of John the Baptist hear John call Jesus The Lamb of God, and then they start to follow Jesus. When Jesus stops and asks them what they’re looking for, they call Jesus, Rabbi, which we are told, means Teacher. And then, a little while later, one of those followers, Andrew, introduces Jesus to his brother, but he no longer refers to Jesus as Rabbi, but says “We have found the Messiah,” which means the Anointed.

Have you had that kind of transformation happen with someone in your life? Perhaps someone you’ve worked with as a co-worker or a boss, and then, something shifts in your relationship. Your co-worker becomes a trusted friend, or your boss an influential mentor. Those kinds of shifts usually take time. But here, in John’s gospel we see it happen virtually overnight. Andrew was with Jesus for a short while, and then, all the sudden, something shifted dramatically. Andrew no longer sees Jesus as a Teacher, but instead, he’s the one they’ve been waiting for – the Messiah. Andrew is so sure of it, that he introduces Jesus to his brother, Simon.

And then, when Jesus meets Simon, he immediately gives Simon a nickname – Cephas. We’re told that it means Peter, but if we stop there, we’re missing the nickname part. peter-rockCephas is an Aramaic word that means Rock. The Greek word is Πετρος (Petros), which in English is Peter. But, the name Peter isn’t the important part – the nickname is ROCK. By giving Simon this name the audience knows right away that he is going to play an important role in Jesus’ journey. Remember, Simon Peter becomes the rock on which the church is founded.

John’s gospel concludes with the resurrected Jesus having a conversation with Peter asking Peter if he loves him. When Peter says yes, Jesus says “feed my lambs… tend my sheep.” That is, take care of this Lamb of God work that has already begun!peter-icon-fisherman-icon_gm

That brings me to a third type of names used in the gospels – the names given to those who follow Jesus. There are two used most often. Any guesses?

Yes, Disciples is one!

While we often think of the word disciple to mean follower, it actually means “Learner” or “Pupil”. These early followers, along with us today, are journeying with Jesus to learn what he has to teach us about God. He shows through his words and actions how we are to love and have compassion for one another.

What’s the other common word used for Jesus-followers?

Yes, Apostles!

The word Apostle, simply means “one sent out” – a messenger or ambassador. I would argue that today’s gospel shows how quickly Andrew shifted from being a disciple to an apostle. He makes the leap in one verse! He was a quick learner, perceiving more fully who Jesus was. Then, Andrew became an ambassador for Jesus, professing who he was to others!

As I mentioned earlier, John’s gospel concludes with clear instructions to Peter, the Rock. If you love me, you will feed my sheep and tend my lambs – acts of service. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends-out the seventy to go and make relationship with people that are outside their community. Take no bag, no extra clothes, just GO!me-an-apostle Go and break down the barriers that divide us – barriers of all kinds – geography, socio-economic, religious, cultural. These are the SENT-OUT works we are called to as Jesus-followers.

This year at Christ Church we have a tangible way to embrace our SENT-OUT moments. These SENT moments can be times we use our gifts of self to reach out help those outside our community. Perhaps it’s a parent and child signing up together to help in the Thrift shop. Or, it could be participating in the Hunger Walk, where the funds raised go to help those in need.

sentSENT moments can also be times we intentionally engage those in other life-contexts, to broaden our relationship and understanding beyond our walls. This could be attending an interfaith dialogue, or seeking ways to be in fellowship with those who are different than us.

Whenever you do this, you are invited to fill out one of our Sent-cards. Then, when the offertory plate comes by, drop it in. This will allow us to make as an offering to God those gifts-of-self shared in outreach. This way ALL of our gifts, financial and self, will be lifted high, as we bless our dollars and SENTs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. lived a Sent-Out life. He lived into the name “Martin” – the Reformer of old. King was one who put his feet where his heart was, peacefully protesting in the hope of bringing down those things that divide us. It’s fitting that his day of remembrance has been adopted as a time for serving others, continuing this God-directed work in the world.

As with King’s life, doing this work, following this call, doesn’t just happen. There is a progression in our life – a journey from being a new disciple, or learner, to be an active apostle or proclaimer. Andrew, in today’s gospel, shows how it’s done – though he sets a pretty high standard.

As you think about this, I ask you to consider where you are on the spectrum between disciple and apostle. If you think of one side being “An early learner”, the midpoint is “Maturing in faith, yet timid about sharing with others” and the other side is “Avid proclaimer and ambassador for Christ,” where are you right now on that spectrum?spectrum

Then, think about what steps you want to take this year to move along that spectrum. What might you do individually, and we do collectively, to live more fully into the sent-out call of Christ in our lives? The journey is yours to commit to. It’s ours to walk and encourage one another together.

I invite you and us to step into that journey and see where it leads.



Gospel Text:

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).  (Jn 1:29-42)


[i] Christopher Klein, “10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr.,” April 4, 2013. HISTORY.com, http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-martin-luther-king-jr, Accessed January 13, 2017.

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