1. The Importance of Names
Paul says in our New Testament Lesson “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”
I have to tell you, I rejoicing in the Lord to be here with you today!
My wife and I have been looking forward to moving here and beginning our new life with you.
Many of you have already met my wife – she is a teacher and she is looking forward to starting in a new school very soon.
Since my wife is a teacher, she often keeps me entertained as she tells me about the children in her school. Whenever she starts a new year, or in this case, a new job, my wife usually has one or two wonderful stories about the names of some of the children in her school.
One year she told me a story that one of her colleagues told about two twin children. Lemonjello and Orangejello, which although they are pronounced as if they are names from some old European culture, are actually spelled the same way as Lemon Jello and Orange Jello. Lemonjello and Orangejello – one can only wonder where those names came from.
One of her other stories had to do with a student named Nosmo. Nosmo King. It was an unusual name but it wasn't until the middle of the year that one of the teachers asked Mrs King why she had named her son Nosmo.
Mrs King explained that when she was in labor and at the hospital, she had some difficulty in delivering the child. They medicated her and took her to the delivery room, and through the haze of the medicine and the anxiety she prayed for the safety of her child, and she also prayed that God would give her just the right name for the child. Mrs. King looked up and actually saw a sign. The sign read, Nosmo King.
Of course, when you put the space after the first O instead of the second O, Nosmo King becomes No Smoking.
I guess it was toward the end of the 1960s when we became more creative with names for our children. Not long ago I read in Reader's Digest about a teacher in California. Children there were being named Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise -- and of course, they all eventually ended up in public school.
That’s when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely hung name tags around the necks of their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it.
"Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered.
And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?"
He accepted hesitantly.
By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much stranger than Joe’s, or Heather’s or Sun Beam’s.
At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses.
"Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their nametags. And instead of bland numbers, each bus was to have a name that described something about its route.
The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Tony."
Which of course explained why Tony hadn't answered to the name Fruit Stand.
Now, we can smile at those names, or those mistakes about names, but we also know that we don't want to make fun of anyone's name.
I know I have an unusual name – one does not often run into a person named “Maynard Pittendreigh.” People sometimes call me “Pastor” and I think it is a way of searching for a simpler name for me. When I served a church in Atlanta, my youth pastor received a visit from her sister who asked my youth pastor, “How’s everything going with Manny?”
My youth pastor asked her sister, “Who’s Manny?”
To which her sister replied, “You know, your boss. Don’t you know who your boss is?”
The youth pastor explained that my name wasn’t Manny, but Maynard, but it was too late. Since this conversation had taken place in front of some of the youth members, the nick name of Manny stuck – at least with the youth of that church.
I had a college professor who, for some reason, always called me Marvin. I don’t know where that came from. I corrected her time and again. On graduation day she came up to me and gave me a big hug and with tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m going to miss you, Marvin.”
We take names seriously because we identify ourselves so closely with our names.
I can be walking through a busy store and someone calls my name, "Maynard!" I stop, without even thinking.
Or as a child, when I was not behaving in school, my teacher would write my name on the black board -- and then it wasn't just my name up there. It was me!
We want people to know our name. If they don't know our name, then we feel they really haven't begun to know US.
If someone knows my name, it means they know ME.
2. The Lord Knows Us By Name
Many years ago, as a child living at home, my father took me and my mother on a trip to Washington, DC. Dad was there on business, and one day he dragged me and my mother around from office to office while he met with different people. Dad would go inside and talk to these people while my mother and I were out in the office lobby waiting. But during the course of the day, my mother and I were very, very briefly introduced to the people Dad was meeting with.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Speaker of the House. A couple of famous Senators.
This made all the waiting outside in the office lobbies worthwhile because when I went home I could not wait to tell my best friend all about it. "Hey, I know the Vice President."
My friend was not impressed.
"So what," he said. "He doesn't know you."
And of course, that was true.
I would always remember meeting the Vice President, but ten minutes after the introduction, he probably did not have a clue as to who I was.
But our God is a God who knows us by name. Our Savior, Jesus knows our name. And that means He knows US personally.
In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about Himself as the Good Shepherd.
He says, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:1-4)
There is something reassuring about the Lord knowing our name.
The Lord knows our name.
And there is tremendous comfort in this.
There is tremendous peace in this.
In fact, it leads Paul to make this wonderful statement about those whose names are in the book of life. In our New Testament Lesson, Paul says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
In the movie, Patch Adams, there is a scene in which a group of medical students are going from patient to patient, under the supervision of an experienced doctor. They stop at each patient. The teaching doctor will say something like, "The patient has been here for 3 days. The patient has shown signs of this and the patient has shown signs of that." Then the doctor begins to ask questions of the students, who say things like, "I would do this to the patient, or I would do that for the patient."
And all this time, a poor, frightened woman is on a bed looking with great anxiety to the doctors and students who surround her and who talk about her as if she is not conscious of them.
When the doctor asks the medical students "Are there any questions," it is Robin Williams, who is portraying Patch Adams, who asks, "Yes, I have a question. What is her name."
The doctor consults her chart and says, "Her name is Margery."
That moment becomes a teaching moment, not for the student, but for the doctor, who for the first time address "the patient" by the name, Margery. Hearing her name called, she perks up. In that experience the teacher discovers the importance of the name.
In the midst of our lives, God calls us by name.
In the noise of our lives, God knows our names.
In the business of our lives, God knows our names.
In the tragedies of our lives, God knows our names.
And more than this, God not only knows us, He not only knows our names, but He wants to be sure that our names are recorded in a very special place – His Book of Life.
3. The Lord Writes Our Name In His Book
Now in our New Testament Lesson, St. Paul writes about this Book of Life, which is a way of talking about Eternal Life. To have a name recorded in the Book of Life is to have Eternal Salvation from Christ.
Remember, that the New Testament books by St. Paul were written in order to be read in worship services from start to finish. Paul would send these letters out and when the letter arrived, the church members would gather together and listen while someone read the letter aloud to everyone. And toward the end of the book or letter to the Philippians, Paul names names.
"I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord."
These two ladies in the Philippian church must have looked at each other as this letter was being read in church. Imagine how Euodia and Syntyche felt about this. Their names had been called.
Then Paul continues, "Yes, and I ask you, loyal coworkers, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."
"Whose names are in the book of life..."
“The book of life” is a reference that shows up in the Bible from time to time. In Revelation it says (21:27) "Nothing impure will ever enter heaven, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
“When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there... “
How many of us remember when we were in school and the roll would be called and the teacher would come to our name.
Hearing the name called on the roll meant that the teacher expected us to be there in class.
Having our name written in the Book of Life means that Jesus expects us to be there with him, in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is one of the miracles of the Bible that Jesus knows my name, and records it in the Book of Life.
4. The Lord Wants Us To Know The Most Important Name – Jesus Christ
Now, it is not enough simply for the Lord to know our name. It is not enough for the Lord to know who we are. We need to know the Lord.
Think about this on a human level for a moment. Everyone in this room knows who I am. I’ve introduced myself to you. A few weeks ago the Pastor Nominating Committee introduced me to you. Some of you may have visited my personal web pages on the Internet and read some of my sermons and other writings. Some of us are already friends on Facebook.
Now imagine how you would feel if I did not even try to remember your names. I know some of you, and with a few hundred members in the church, it is going to take me a while to remember everyone’s names. I know you will be patient with me while I get to know you, and I know you won’t mind when I have to ask you to repeat your name once or twice.
But imagine how you would feel if I did not even try to remember your name.
Our Lord knows our name.
He wants us to know His name.
And in the Scriptures, knowing the name of Christ is more than simply remembering with our mind a word that represents someone.
To know the name of someone is to be part of that person, and to have that person part of you.
In the Old Testament of Genesis, Jacob wrestles with a man all night long. But it is not a man. It is God Himself. And as the sun is rising, the Lord suddenly and easily wins the fight – and Jacob suddenly realizes it was never a real fight at all – for God could have overpowered him at any time.
Then there is an interesting exchange between the two.
The Lord asks Jacob for his name, and when Jacob answers, God gives him a new name, “Israel.”
And then Jacob, or Israel, asks God for His name. He asks for God’s name because in that culture, to know the name of a person was to know the character of that person. To know the name of a person was to have a relationship with that person.
The Lord wants us to know His name. The Lord wants us to have a relationship with Him.
In our New Testament lesson, Paul has this to say in chapter 2, beginning with verse 9. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
That is the way our name gets into the Book of Life – by knowing the name of Jesus, and at His name, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
I want you to know me. I want you to know my name. I want very much to know YOUR names.
But the most important name for all of us to know, is the name that is above all names – Jesus Christ.