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His Name is John: What’s in a Name? #3

August 21, 2022

Change is difficult; but, when change is directed by God, it opens new doors!

Scripture: Luke 1: 57- 67

Sermon Text

Today’s scripture is about the naming of John who becomes known as John the Baptist, a name which conjures images of an unkempt, unhoused, man, wild in appearance, preaching from a river. He is certainly a far cry from the well-dressed Sadducees and Pharisees who made their home in the temple. Which is exactly the point—how people meet God is about to change forever.

In my college days, I worked at Summer Day Camps—my favorite one was located at what was once Lion Country Safari.   There were horses to ride, hills to roam, ping pong to play (I was the champion), and a water park adjacent where we got to spend time most days. 

Each morning began with what I can only describe as “forced fun.” 

The group would gather and a boisterous counselor would insist the children get on their feet and join in the shouts and the songs and whatever silliness they could dream up. 

I had slightly older kids, some of whom were just waking up and did not really want to jump into the fray.  They rather sit and watch.  And there were times I just wanted to sit and watch, murmuring to myself, why are we forcing these kids to jump on cue?

You probably like to have fun.  Many of you, like me, like to sing and move your bodies to the song’s rhythms.  You like to play.  The catch is… we don’t like to be forced to do any of that…we want to be able to choose. 

Change, like play, is fun when it is something we choose. 

We like to change our furniture, travel where we can experience something different, and try new foods—what else can a County Fair put on a stick?  

Our favorite television series center around changes—we don’t tune in to watch people do the same thing every day.  No…we want drama and intrigue and romance….and all of these things require a change in the character’s circumstance.   It took me watching Grey’s anatomy for a time to understand how a supply closet can change relationships. 

It is magical when we meet someone new who we get along with…we get to tell our stories again and hear another’s stories.  Such moments can be filled with Spirit and wonder. 

Lots of changes are fun. 

But not the ones that are forced upon us.

I get that. 

It has been said God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And that’s true.  But it doesn’t say God will work in your life the same way yesterday, today, and forever.  The one thing we know about God is God changes his tactics in order to keep our attention.  God has to move to keep us interested.

You may remember in Jurassic park, if you suddenly found yourself face to face with a T-Rex, should you run?  No, you stay still because he can’t see you. 

Or try pointing out to a friend the bird you saw alight on a tree branch.  So often, they cannot see that bird, until the bird starts to move. 

We are wired to pay attention to movement.

And, at this moment in scripture, where John is being named, God is moving; and is calling the faithful to move alongside Them. 

It is easy to miss the importance of this moment where Elizabeth says to the crowd “his name is John.”   In the lectionary, the jubilant songs in Luke’s gospel get all the attention.  Even Zechariah pulls attention away from Elizabeth, standing there as a priest who God has made mute.  But before Zechariah writes “His name is John” there is Elizabeth boldly proclaiming that something new has happened.  Her son will not be called Zechariah, after his father.  The crowd pushes back.  She’s just a woman.  She doesn’t have the power to choose.  

So, they go to Zechariah and ask him, “what is his name?” 

Elizabeth dares break with tradition.  She understands God is up to something new. 

You see, Zechariah means “The Lord has remembered.”  Zechariah’s name looks backward into the past.

This is not a time to look back but rather to look toward a changing future. 

Elizabeth, by the way, in Hebrew means “My God is abundance.”  Her name stood in contrast to what had been a childless life.  It isn’t until she is beyond childbearing years that she becomes pregnant. 

That she kept faith despite the promise delayed is worthy of our praise. 

Many of you here have the strength of Elizabeth, the testifying witness that proclaims, despite what I lack, My God is abundance.   My God is abundance. 

Like Elizabeth, you have the strength to say, God is going to do a new thing.  And, it may not be what I imagined, it may not be what I wished for, it may not be something that makes my life easy…

But, my God is abundance, and by God, I will stand.

Despite tradition and the crowd’s disbelief, Elizabeth stands firm, “His name is John.”

John means God is gracious. 

In today’s world, where disbelief crowds out the memory of God’s handiwork; where self-reliance overtakes trust; and the realization that the earth, our environment, will never be the same partially because of human actions….

We need more Elizabeths.  We need people who are ready to move with God believing in both the abundance and grace of God.  

My friend Terry is called to work with those who understand the depths of environmental change.  They grieve what is lost.  

In a recent conversation, she said to me that the gospel message is needed now more than ever.  The central story of our faith is that we, humans, mess up.  There are “natural” consequences when we do.  But God remains with us.  God continues to work in us.  And God continues to move us…

Today is an opportunity to move with God. 

When we move, we can be seen.   When we move, we can reveal God’s new thing.

One last warning…Terry calls people to look beyond the trouble to the Creator.  I found a story that illustrates:

One day, a professor entered his classroom and asked his students to prepare for a surprise test. They all waited anxiously at their desks for the exam to begin.

The professor handed out the exams with the text facing down, as usual. Once he handed them all out, he asked the students to turn over the papers.

To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions–just a black dot in the center of the paper. The professor, seeing the expression on everyone’s faces, told them the following:

“I want you to write about what you see there.”

The students, confused, got started on the inexplicable task.

At the end of the class, the professor took all the exams and started reading each one of them out loud in front of all the students. All of them, with no exception, defined the black dot, trying to explain its position in the center of the sheet.

After all had been read, the classroom silent, the professor started to explain:

“I’m not going to grade you on this, I just wanted to give you something to think about. No one wrote about the white part of the paper. Everyone focused on the black dot.”

When we insist on focusing only on the black dot – the health issues that bother us, the lack of money, the complicated relationship with a family member, the disappointment with a friend, we lose sight of all the space there is to create something new.

As we look towards the Fall, let us see the dot, yes, but focus on the unlimited unmarked space.  It is in the limitless possibilities that we have room to move with God.

Picture of Reverend Heather DeVoe Miner, M.Div

Reverend Heather DeVoe Miner, M.Div

Rev. Heather served as the pastor at NLBCC until 2022. She continues to spread the loving and inclusive message of Christ, serving a church in Boise, Idaho.

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