A New Name

Sermon – Sunday, June 23, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 8:26-39

Hey you. Yeah, you. What’s your name? Hey, you. That’s not a great way to be addressed is it? Of course, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been called worse! Names are significant. It’s why we spend so much time picking out a name for a child. My dad’s middle name was Edwin, which is where I got my name from. Names mean something. They give us a sense of identity. We know who we are and names are a way for others to know who we are.

Everyone likes to be called by their name. Being called by name creates a bond, a connection between you and the other person. And sometimes the names we are known by indicate the level of that connection. To some we are called by our given name and that is more formal. To our close friends we might even have certain nicknames. For myself, I am called such names as intern, mom, daughter, Edwina, Wina, even…. Eddie. When you are called by name you feel important. You’re no longer a faceless, nameless stranger in the crowd – no longer hey, you – but someone who has worth. That’s what’s so tragic about the man in today’s gospel story. He has no identity. He has no worth.

The man with the demon who meets Jesus has no name. When Jesus asks him, “What is your name?” he says, “Legion” because there were that many demons inside him. He doesn’t even have a name of his own anymore because he is only known by what it is that is possessing him. He has no sense of worth. He lives in the tombs, away from the rest of society, away from any human interactions. He has no friends, no one to talk with, no one to help him. He has been taken over by these demons and that has become his identity. Legion – which in the Roman army analogy would have been between 5000 and 6000.
That’s a lot of demons! When Jesus asks him “What is your name?” Legion is now his identity. That’s a painful reality.

The phrase many of said as children “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” isn’t really accurate. Names can and do hurt. Sometimes other people call us hurtful names and if they say it long enough those names become imbedded in our minds and we start to believe them and say them to ourselves. Names like: loser, failure, stupid, lazy, dumb, idiot, fat, skinny, no good, weirdo….The list is endless and I’m sure you can add to ones that you’ve been called personally. Names can really hurt. And after a while, these names become our identity. They become demons keeping us bound up like the man in Luke’s gospel. They have power.

Until we encounter Jesus. Just the very name of Jesus has power. St. Paul writes, that “God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10) Yes, the very name of Jesus has the power to destroy demons. That is why even the demons were afraid of Jesus. Because Jesus is stronger than any of the names that have power over us and in Jesus we are given a new name and a new identity.

It’s interesting that the demons in this story were sent into the pigs that then drowned in the water. According to ancient Middle Eastern thinking, demons cannot survive in water. Luke 11:24 says that demons inhabit “waterless regions.” Water was believed to kill them and how much more powerful is water when mixed with the word of God!

We are all plagued by demons, some of our own making and some caused by the actions of others. We are all “captive to sin and cannot free ourselves”, but there is One who can. here is One who can rescue us from the bondage of sin and death and that is Jesus, who has already rescued us through the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism we know who we are – children of God. We have worth and value and a purpose in the kingdom of God. We are no longer bound by the false lies that evil tries to persuade us to believe.

Today Samantha and Mackenzie Anderson received the sacrament of baptism. Through the water and the word they have been given a new name. They are called children of God and this name can never be taken away from them. Their white dresses symbolize that they have been clothed in Christ, clothed in the resurrection. They have a new identity. They have indeed been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The oil they received on their foreheads – symbolizing the Holy Spirit – has been used since the beginnings of Christianity.

Just like the toys from Toy Story 2, mentioned in our children’s sermon today, were marked with Andy’s name on their feet to show who they belonged to, so are we marked with the cross of Christ to show who we belong to. Samantha and Mackenzie have received that promise, that mark of who they belong to and so do all who are baptized in Christ.

In their lives they may be called names that are not true to who they are, but they only have to remember their identity as children of God to know the truth. They will sin just like the rest of us, but they have the promise of Jesus’ forgiveness. Samantha and Mackenzie did not ask to be baptized. They did not have to do anything to earn this baptism. Baptism is a gift from God who reaches into our lives and claims us as God’s own children. We are claimed by the living God and we are sent.

We are sent to proclaim what Jesus has done for us. Just like the man possessed by the legion of demons in today’s gospel was given a new identity and sent to proclaim the glory of God, so too are we claimed and sent to proclaim God’s glory wherever we are. We are not baptized into ourselves; we have been baptized into the entire body of Christ, the church, here on earth. Even the smallest child is a witness to the glory of God. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matt. 19:14

When someone says, “Hey, you. What’s your name?” Remember your baptism. Remember you have been marked by the cross of Christ and proudly say that you are a beloved child of God. You are claimed and sent by the Almighty to be a witness to the glory of God. You belong. You have worth. When the demons of doubt and fear try to call you by any other names, repeat to yourself as often as possible, make the sign of the cross – first inscribed on you at your baptism – and say, “I am baptized.” Praise God for this gift of grace and tell the world. Amen.

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