Proper 16 Year A
August 27, 2017
Last week, during our “It’s My Turn” camp for children on the autism spectrum, we had a camper who really didn’t want us to know his name. [Of course, I knew it, from his mother’s registration form.] But every day, even when I repeatedly asked him, he refused to tell me directly. I sweet-talked. I begged. But for him, his name was private, a piece of himself that made him vulnerable, and he just didn’t care to share. And so, I honored his wishes by making a special nametag, a nametag that read: “My Name is: ‘It’s A Secret.’”
But I know that names are incredibly significant. They matter. Which is why I try, really-really hard, to hear and remember peoples’ names, and which is why I was so frustrated by our camper not sharing his name with me. Names speak to our value as a person and to our value in a family and a community. Names tell us about a person, both consciously and subconsciously. And names serve to bring an individual into focus, singling a person out of the unidentified, unnamed crowd.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus shared our camper’s hesitancy to name himself. With good reason, too. At this time in his life and ministry, he knew that singling himself out of the crowd – especially singling himself out as the Messiah – meant that he would be a target for the religious and political authorities. He’d be a target for their fear, their insecurities . . . their hate. And identifying himself would mean that Jesus would become a target for death.
But among his closest friends, his disciples, some had begun to figure it out. Others, our text tells us, had it wrong. They named Jesus a prophet, like John the Baptist or Jeremiah or Elijah. Others named him a healer. Or a miracle worker. Or, a preacher. But none of those names were complete. And finally ready to reveal his name to his disciples, Jesus asked them directly, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, of course, answered correctly, and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Now as I said earlier, names reveal a lot about a person, and the name “Messiah” does just that. But note that with Peter’s right answer, with his knowledge and experience of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus didn’t just praise Peter’s acumen or heave a sigh of relief because someone finally got it right! Rather, Jesus turned it back on Peter, he honored Peter’s name and then gave him a job – Jesus gave Peter a call, a purpose, a responsibility – and pronounced that God’s kingdom would continue through Peter and through all those who follow in the Messiah’s name.
And that’s where we come in. We are the ones who follow Peter. The ones who profess Jesus as the Messiah, who gather in our Messiah’s name. And we are the ones through whom God’s kingdom continues. It’s an awesome gift, and an awesome responsibility. And part of that responsibility is to help others name themselves as God’s cherished, unique, and beloved children.
Now to my delight, this past week, that’s what our incredible “It’s My Turn” volunteers did. They valued our campers’ uniqueness, and instead of trying to change them to fit our curriculum or our needs, they boldly and bravely named each camper and stepped into their respective worlds.
• One child loved to speak “Cat.” That’s right, “Cat.” So without batting an eye, our loving counselors ‘meowed’ their way into conversation and connection with that camper.
• Another camper counted fans, so our counselors joined in the count with him. The daily ‘counting-of-the-fans’ became so much a part of our camp, that even after this particular boy left for his family vacation, the rest of us continued to stop along our way and count fans in his honor!
• Another camper wasn’t happy unless he was the leader. So what do you think our counselors did? In every possible way, they let him lead.
• Still another camper used a countdown clock to navigate his day. The number 14 happened to be one of his favorites. So over and over and over again, we set the clock to 14 and allowed him to countdown the minutes, which, believe it or not, freed his mind from worry and allowed him to participate in the activities more completely and fully.
Knowing – and naming - our campers as individuals, as beloved children of God, is what made our “It’s My Turn” camp holy, and it was how God’s kingdom grew last week.
But how do we build God’s kingdom and fulfill the gift and responsibility given to us by our Messiah every other week? Well, it’s profoundly simple – and remarkably challenging – all at the same time. We read from our Outline of Faith this morning – that the church’s mission, our mission, is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We do this through prayer and worship, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace, and love. Because in our world divisions are everywhere . . . there are some people who speak ‘cat’ while others speak only ‘dog’ . . . there are people who count grievances instead of fans. And, there are plenty of people who desire freedom instead of fear or worry.
When we move in our divided world with the heart of the Messiah, we move with the heart of God. And God’s heart loves. God’s heart forgives. God’s heart heals. God’s heart rejoices. And, most especially, God’s heart names. Amen.