March 5, 2017 – The United Churches of Olympia
Most of us know something about our name. We carry the mantle of a family name. We were named after parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Some even carry a family last name as a first name. Two of our members: Linda Grant and Steve Boruchowitz named their son Grant Baruchowitz. Grant, and only child, bears the love, blessing and history of both of his parent’s families in his very name.
I hope you know the origin of your name. My first name Tammy, was rocketed to fame by Debbie Reynolds when she portrayed Tammy in the 1957 movie: Tammy and the Bachelor. My middle name Ellen was also my mother’s middle name. About 17 years ago, I changed my last name Leiter, a name from my father, to my husband’s name Stampfli. This month we celebrate 37 years of marriage, but I resisted changing my name to Stampfli for feminist reasons and because I thought Tammy Stampfli sounded like a Dr. Seuss character. I named my daughter Megan after a friend named Megan who died in college. My son carries a family name as his middle name: Best. We name our children for tender and complicated reasons. My granddaughter Alex was named because of the meaning of her name: Defender of Humankind. I know her parents had that role in mind for her when they picked that name.
We have the names that we have been given, the names we have chosen for ourselves and the names we have been labeled with. I want to show you a quick video about a man that has been labeled: Arab American. That particular name is a scary one under our current administration, as is the name Muslim, which is somehow now linked with extremist.
(Watch video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCy8Cfvoe6g)
Other names that Karim Sulayman put on his sign were: Black, Brown, Women, GLBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, Other. Names are powerful. Names signify belonging.
For better or worse my name: Tammy Leiter Stampfli identifies me with the clans to which I belong. I belong to the Leiter’s and now I belong to the Stampfli’s. Both clans have their issues, and both have their strengths.
In the gospel of Matthew we come upon John baptizing people in the Jordan River. Matthew 3 is all about John’s prophetic ministry. You can just imagine this crazy wild guy ranting about in his camel’s hair clothing and his leather belt, eating locust and honey for supper. People were drawn to him like a magnet! Droves of people turned out from the cities to the Jordan River in the wilderness. They came from the center to the margins. Even Pharisees and Sadducees came and they were not greeted with a smile having their baptism followed by a brunch. John called them: Children of snakes! That is not a nice name! Following this act of baptism one must demonstrate a changed life John demanded. In his preaching, he points to one who will come after him: cue Jesus. Jesus enters the baptismal scene and expresses his desire to be baptized. He too wants to join in the new world order that John is calling forth. After a brief discussion to sort out who is worthy to baptize whom, John baptizes Jesus. Immediately, Matthew tells us, that when Jesus came up out of the water the heavens were open to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him as a dove and resting on him. Then a voice from heaven said: “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus is named and claimed by God at his baptism. Baptism is a dynamic present-tense activity. In baptism, we receive a name – Beloved – and with that name an identity “Child of God” one to whom God is unfailingly committed.
Water is the primary and essential symbol in baptism. Before each of us was born, water protected us in our mother’s womb. Water brings cool refreshment. It sustains life on our planet. Without water we would die. Water also has the power to kill us. Water can drown us. That is why water speaks so forcefully in baptism.
In the early history of the church, when baptisms were done by immersion, the power and centrality of water in baptism was obvious. Early Christian brothers and sisters had to prepare for three years for their baptisms. Then they fasted the forty days of Lent and submitted themselves to prayers and exorcisms. During the Easter vigil the candidates for baptism would enter into the baptismal font (which was a large pool) after having removed their old garments, and be immersed in the water. After, they would be anointed with oil and receive new white garments signifying their new life in Christ. Then they would enter the sanctuary for the first time and receive communion with the believers.
Baptism is the sacrament in which we formally receive, experience and act upon God’s everlasting love for us. Baptism is clearly a gift of God’s love, and of God’s initiative on our behalf. Nothing, not years of Bible Study, nor hours of prayer, nor our promises to be faithful to God, can be done to earn God’s love. Nothing.
In baptism, we are named and baptized into the family of faith. This is the sacramental ceremony wherein we become part of the church. In a way, it is a lot like a wedding ceremony wherein friends and family come together to be a part of a covenant that is being made. We the members and friends of the United Churches as a family of faith enter into a covenant with those being baptized. We promise before God to be their companions on the journey of faith. We promise to show them what we know of God. That is why this is a public ceremony, because we are partners in this covenant.
The name that we receive “Beloved” “Child of God” and the covenant that we make with one another is powerful and sustaining in a time where so many would like to identify and define us by many, many names: Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, American or foreigner, gay or straight, rich or poor, Black or White, and the list goes on.
This is why it is so important that we remember that our primary identity is “child of God” and that in Baptism God named – and continues to name us – as “beloved.” It’s not that all these other names are worthless; some of them may be quite important to us. Rather, it’s that while all these other names, affiliations, and identifications may describe us, they dare not define us, as only the name we receive in Baptism “Beloved Child of God” defines who we are.
Names are powerful: they convey identity, purpose, authority, and more. And we have been given an awesome family name. We are God’s beloved children, and each time we wash, each time we are near water, each time we make the sign of the cross, we remember that name and are renewed in faith, hope, and courage.
(Make “I AM” signs.)