3rd Sunday of Lent C
Last time I was on the Journey Retreat I gave a shorter sermon than normal and I received shockingly, and disturbingly, few complaints so I thought I would try it again.
The Baptismal Rite for infants begins with an interesting question. What name do you give your child? It is not because the priest might have forgotten or that we do not have adequate paperwork. (The Church might not get everything right, but no one doubts we are good at paperwork.) It is because this is the beginning of a relationship between God and the child. And like any relationship it starts with a name. “Hi, my name is …”
But it meant more than that in the culture in which the Church began. We think of names as an identifier, something to differentiate one from another. You call me Bob so you do not confuse me with Bill for example. But then a name carried more significance; it carried your essence. It was who you are. For someone to know your name was for them to be a part of you. In sharing my name, I would not be just saying this is what you call me; I would be sharing my “Bobness.” There is power in a name. Our children’s names strike a resonance within us. We bow our heads at the names of Jesus and Mary.
That is important as we hear the reading of Moses and the burning bush. Moses, understandably, is overwhelmed by God’s call to free his fellow Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He is not even welcomed in Egypt and has no leverage with Pharaoh. He argues that it should not be him; that indeed what God is asking would be impossible. Yet, the God of his Fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob insists he end the suffering of God’s special people. Moses needs more. He dares to ask for God’s name. You can sense the reluctance of God to give a name. After all, no person could handle the essence of God. Sharing the name would shake the foundation of the world. So when God reveals the divine name, it is not as if God says, “I am the Lord your God, Eddie.” Or “I am Phyllis the almighty.” Instead, the name is more of a definition of God. “I am who am.”
This is a breathtaking statement. God is the ground of all being. Actually, God is being itself. And that is definitively true. But scholars, especially the great American Jesuit John Courtney Murray, look at the translation and the circumstances in which it is said (Moses’ mission to free Israel) and concludes the more accurate translation would be “As I am I shall be there with you.” What a revelation! The essence of God is to be there for us. What a beautiful name for God. Our God is truly love.
So when his son came into the world with a very common name, he lived up to the name of his Father and elevated his own so “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend.” (Philippians 2:10). He would be “there for us” in his healing, in his praying and in his suffering. He would be there for us in giving his life on the cross. He took up the mantle of the divine name with his life.
We, who dare to call ourselves Christian, also claim a part of the divine name. If we are truly made in the image of God and then we must be able to say “As I am I shall be there with you.” We are now the agents of God’s peace, mercy and blessing. We are consecrated to the mission that no one is forgotten as God did not forget his people; that no is alone as Christ welcomed all; that no is excluded from the grace of our God. It is our duty, responsibility and life to follow the name of our God. We must be able to define ourselves, “As I am, I will be there for you.”