Jesus had all kinds of names and titles. Some of those names and titles he gave himself. Some were given to him by people who cared about him and admired him. And some were given to him by people who couldn’t stand him or were threatened by him or maybe were envious of him.
People who were close to Jesus gave him names like “Rabbi.” Or “Savior.” “The Son of God.” Or “Christ.” And all those names had one thing in common. They were an attempt to honor Jesus. A way of exalting Jesus and lifting him up. Ironically, most of the time Jesus wanted to be known as anyone besides exalted or lifted up. Rather, Jesus preferred names like “Immanuel,” which means God with us, and was much more in keeping with who Jesus perceived himself to be. But it didn’t stop people from trying to put Jesus on a pedestal.
Meanwhile, the enemies of Jesus called him by their own names. “Rulebreaker.” Or “Blasphemer.” “Sabbath violator.” Or “Consorter with Satan.” They were all names designed to discredit Jesus. The only problem is that their attempts backfired. After all, who doesn’t want to hang out with rule breakers and blasphemers? Those people tend to be a lot of fun and probably some of our best friends fit into those categories.
Finally, we have all the names Jesus called himself. The list I offer you is long and not exhaustive. The one he used boldly in this morning’s Scripture lesson from the Book of Revelation. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Talk about some kind of name to give yourself!
But don’t forget about “Light of the world. Bread of Life. Living Water. The Door. The Good Shepherd. The Resurrection and the Life.” Then of course there was “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And “The True Vine.” And “The Son of Man.”
If you listen carefully to all the names and titles for Jesus you’ll notice something. The people who were friendly with Jesus came up with names that put him above human beings. At the same time, the people who were unfriendly with Jesus came up with names that put him down below human beings.
Meanwhile, Jesus came up with names for himself that emphasized connecting to others on the same level. Being something for someone else or doing something for someone else. For Jesus it was all about guiding someone on a path. Calling someone who had lost their way back home. Bringing someone back from death or at least back from something that felt like death. Jesus was all about relationships…about the ties that bind us together with those around us.
Jesus was never about names and titles that set us apart from one another, good or bad. He refused to let others define him. Which is why it was so important for Jesus to define himself. This is who I am and I will not let you remake me according to your image or perception.
What’s fascinating is how many names Jesus gave himself. Far more than the names given to him. It’s almost as if Jesus wanted to keep us off-balance. To remind us that he was greater than all the things we could imagine about him as a way of making sure we didn’t pigeonhole him.
Thank God Jesus set the example for us long ago. The names we are given by others are not the names that define us. No one can put us in a box, unless we choose that box for some reason. What’s more, who we were once upon a time is not who we are today.
Some of us have overcome really big things in our lives. Once we were an alcoholic and people put us in a category and gave us names and tried to define us. But now we are sober and we are no longer who we once were. Once we were alone because of a divorce or some abuse of our body or mind or spirit. We were separated from the people who loved us and lost in our own despondence and disorientation. But now we are found and we have friends and cherished relationships and we’re no longer isolated and marginalized.
And some of us have stories that are slightly less dramatic but no less powerful. Reflect back on the names you were once called and then think about where God has brought you today. Wow. In some cases it’s probably amazing you even recognize yourself. And what about all the good things God has in store for you in the future…
Which brings us to this morning. From time to time here at Wapping Community Church we emphasize putting on nametags. There is a nametag board out in the Gathering Room and some of you are pretty good at wearing your name tag on a consistent basis, especially if reminded. Whenever you put a nametag on yourself, here at church or somewhere else, you are claiming your place. You belong here. Likewise, you and I belong to each other, either a little or a lot. Ideally, a nametag says to someone else that we want to be in relationship and by sharing our name we indicate some degree of willingness to trust those around us.
We’ve all filled out plenty of nametags before. Most of the time we put our first names and last names. Sometimes we put down a title if we have one and think it’s necessary. But this morning, I’m going to give everyone here a chance to write your name down on a nametag.
The catch is that I’m not really asking you just to write your full name on the nametag. If you have an official title, I’m not asking you to put that on the nametag either. Instead, I hope all of us get a little creative this morning. Or a little humorous. Or maybe a little surprising.
Take a moment or two and think about what you want other people in this sanctuary to know about you this morning. How do you perceive yourself in this place? How do you want to communicate either who you are or who you want to be?
For example, I could take my nametag and write “Pastor Mark or Reverend Mark.” Accurate though that might be, it would be not especially creative. I could write something on my nametag that sounded really churchy. Like “Mark, Beloved Child of God.” Which would also be accurate, but it wouldn’t be particularly unique. After all, we are all beloved children of God. Or I could write a fun fact on my nametag like “Mark, Lifelong Red Sox fan.” And that, too, would be accurate. But it might not be churchy enough. (NOTE: in the first service I was “Mark, Weird Hymn Chooser.” In the second service I was “Mark, Anything But Coffee Enthusiast!)
So here are a few examples of the kind of thing you might write on your nametag. If you are a person who likes to reach out to other people on a Sunday morning, you might write something like “Chief Resident Hugger.” If you love to host Coffee Hour, you might write, “Wapping’s Finest Coffee Maker.” If you’ve only been here a few times on a Sunday morning or if today is your first time in worship, you might write, “Special Guest or Church Seeker or Spy on a Secret Mission.”
The point is to give yourself a name and give yourself a title this morning. Then write it on your nametag. Or give yourself more than one name or title if you want because that’s what Jesus did.
Then after we have written our names and titles on our nametags, we are going to stick those nametags on ourselves and Pass the Peace with people we know and maybe people we don’t know, making careful note of who we are greeting by their nametag and maybe learning something about someone that we didn’t know before.
Today is Homecoming Sunday. It’s a day for introducing ourselves to each other and welcoming each other. It’s a day for calling each other by name. And it’s a day for each of us to claim who we are, remembering that all of us belong!
(If you look in your bulletins, there are nametags attached to them. Think about how you want to fill your nametag out. If you don’t have a pen, hopefully you can share with someone nearby. Or there are extra pens and nametags located along the inside and outside of the pews. In a few minutes, I’m going to invite you to put your nametag on and greet one another by the names written on your nametags. The peace of Christ be with you…)