What’s in a name?

A sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A


A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name, and we talked about what it meant for Jesus to be given a name that means Saviour: what it meant for him, what it means for us. 

This Sunday’s readings call us back into the contemplation of names; or they did for me. The prophet writes, “While I was in my mother’s womb, God named me,” and he links that to his call, to prophesy, to proclaim to the people the faithfulness of God. Isaiah’s name means, “[God] is Salvation.” Was his name itself a prophecy, a promise, a call?

We read, too, the epistle from Paul, who was once called Saul; who embraced another name as part of his new vocation to preach good news to the nations, to the gentile world. 

Then there is this Gospel, in which Jesus meets Simon for the first time, and without hesitation (apparently) looks at him and sees the rock, his rock, Peter. 

Peter wasn’t always rock solid. He had his moments of fear, of confusion. When he tried to walk on water, he sank like a stone, or he would have, if Jesus hadn’t been there to hold out his hand.

But in this moment, Jesus calls him, names him, prophesies that this will be the one against whom the first generations of the church will crash and clash; who will stand firm, and found a community that will build upon the Gospel, and bring the good news of the salvation of God, Jesus, to a new world.

We talked a little at Bible Study this week about what it means for Jesus to call Simon Peter. What he might call one of us, each of us, if he were to name our call to discipleship, if he were to prophesy about our ministries, if he were to offer us a name to live into, to live up to.

Take a moment to consider that: by what name does God know you? By what name, into what name does God call you? What does that tell you about the path of your discipleship, about the ways in which you are called to live into the Gospel of Christ?

In today’s Gospel, John calls Jesus by a new moniker: the Lamb of God. Is it a prophesy? Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Here is the scapegoat, the one who takes on the curses that this world offers and removes them from the faithful community, through the cross, through the tomb.

Here is the lamb of sacrifice, the Passover of our God, who marks us safe from the angel of death, and leads us to new life beyond the sea.

In today’s Collect, he has yet another name: the light of the world. Here is the one who saves us from the weight and drag of the “mire and clay”, who pulls us out of deep waters when we are sinking, who does not let the world drown in its own sin.

Here is the Lamb of God. The disciples of John heard him say it, and they turned immediately and followed him. Jesus saw them following and asked them what they were looking for. And when they stayed with him, and when they told their friends and family about him, and when Andrew went and found his brother, and brought him to Jesus, Jesus looked at him and named him, called him, claimed him as his rock.

By what name does he call you? And will you follow?

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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