A Call To Action

Sunday, January 29, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 5:1-12

The crowds wouldn’t let up. They kept chasing him down, that young radical rabbi named Jesus who breathed new life out of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. People brought to him individuals who were sick with various kinds of illnesses, diseases, and pains. They brought to him individuals who were possessed, epileptics, and those who were paralyzed. They followed him everywhere in order to get something. Jesus healed so many. He loved them; that’s why he came. He came to save them – not just the Hebrews, not just the Israelites, he came to save everyone. He came to save the world. It sounds like the best news in all the world. Unless…….unless you don’t want everyone saved. Unless you only want your own people saved, the people you hang out with, the people you like, the people who don’t seem like a threat to you. If that’s the case, then the realization that Jesus came to save everyone is not good news; it’s a threat. And ultimately it’s what cost Jesus his life. He knew it would, yet he wasn’t going to stop telling people what they needed to hear. Jesus didn’t say what would make the crowds like him; he spoke the truth, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Jesus was always speaking for those who had no voice. He was always showing compassion, love, and mercy, to those that the society of his time felt were no good and were a threat. Those that people feared and hated, Jesus loved.

One of the most famous sermons Jesus gave is from today’s gospel according to Matthew. It’s known as the Sermon on the Mount. We’ll hear parts of this sermon over the next four Sundays. While the crowds following Jesus were getting bigger and bigger, he went up to the mountain and began to teach his disciples. With all those people needing help, the disciples needed to understand who they were if they were going to help spread his message of God’s kingdom here on earth. There’s a lot of people needing help today and as disciples we need to really understand Jesus message too.

In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us who are the blessed people of God. It’s not what the disciples or others expected to hear, and it’s not what we expect to hear. Throughout history then – and now – the idea is that the blessed people – the ones that really matter to God – are the ones who follow all the right rules and laws, yet even Jesus didn’t follow all the laws if they were laws that oppressed people. The laws said not to heal or help people on the Sabbath, but Jesus cared more about people than laws. Laws then and now are often written to help the successful even at the expense of others. The ones who matter seem to be the ones who have the most power, who can control others, who put their ideas and their values first. But Jesus tells us that we must put God first. God values life in a totally different way. God’s values are different than the world’s. Jesus says the blessed ones are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. These are the ones Jesus lifts up. He lifts up the lowly, and brings down those who think they are mighty. These beatitudes, these blessings are the characteristics of a true disciple, and the question we have to ask ourselves is are we a true disciple of Jesus or not? As Jesus’ call last week to follow him pointed out, this is not a call to simply believe, but disciples of Jesus are committed to a different way of life. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we need to live up to what that means. It means to follow Jesus’ way of life.

Blessed are the poor in spirit speaks not just to those who are economically poor – and our scriptures speak of caring for the poor over and over again – but also those who lack arrogance and realize their own sense of need. When a person is poor in spirit they know their lives are not in their control, and they are dependent on God. Whatever we accomplish is not our own doing, but it is a gift from God. Jesus lifts up the poor in spirit, not those who brag that everything they have is because of themselves because when a person does that, they overlook not only God but all the people who helped them along the way. When you are poor in spirit you don’t look at others and say they can pull themselves up, you put yourself in their shoes, and do what you can to lift them up with you.

Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, not only pertaining to those who experience the death of a loved one, but to those who engage in the act of lamenting with and for others as the psalmists did in the Old Testament. The psalmists – everyday people – lamented; they poured out their hearts to God over the present situation they found themselves in trusting that God would help them, and asking how God would use them to help others. There are so many who are mourning right now in our world. People who are struggling, and hurting, and suffering, and Jesus says we need to mourn with them. When anyone suffers in this world, we all suffer because we are all God’s children. That’s why Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because it takes the focus off of ourselves and reminds us that we are all connected to each other.

Every one of us here woke up this morning with hot water to shower with, fresh water to drink, a bed to sleep in, shelter, food to eat, and warm clothes. Yet there are so many who don’t have those things. And Jesus did not say to make sure that we take care of those in our own country to the exclusion of those seeking our help from other countries. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus drove home who our neighbor is. The Samaritan was the enemy of the Israelites, who everyone felt were terrorists, who didn’t practice the same laws, who didn’t even worship the same god, but whom Jesus pointed out was a child of God and showed God’s mercy. Over and over again in our scriptures, we are told to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the aliens. We are told to welcome the stranger over and over again. Jesus came to save the world, not just a select few. He said, “blessed are the merciful.” It may seem foolish to some, but as St. Paul said, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Jesus came to show us who God is, and calls his disciples to do the same.

Whenever we are faced with a decision on how to live we need to ask ourselves if Jesus were standing right here in the flesh with us would he approve of our decisions? His life and his words give us the answers. Jesus’ actions were always based on love – self-sacrificing love for others – not out of any need for power. Jesus always put God’s will first. And what is it that God requires? The prophet Micah tells us, “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus never said to act justly for only certain people, but for all people. Living out of kindness means you treat others as you would want to be treated. It means treating others with respect, listening to them, doing whatever you can to help them. Kindness also means having the courage to tell them they are wrong when they are doing something that hurts someone else, even if that means they may no longer like you.

Jesus gave this Sermon on the Mount in response to the ever increasing crowds that were coming to him for help. He told the disciples that they were blessed, and in return that blessing requires us to be a blessing for others. There are crowds and crowds of people seeking God’s help today. They are poor and lamenting, they are broken and forgotten, they are being sent away, and left hopeless. Whether someone calls themselves a Christian or not, they are God’s children too. God created and love us all. A dear friend and her husband who are Muslim and have lived in this country for 38 years are now afraid and wondering if they will have to leave this country. They are two of the kindest people I know. We must be a voice for them.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a description of the marks of the church. The church is the blessed people of God, and because of that blessedness we do not remain passive when others are hurting. We do not act out of fear, but out of the confidence of the promises of God. We must be pure in heart having a single-minded devotion not to any person, or government, or even country – for that is idolatry – but a devotion to God who has been revealed to us in Jesus who showed us how to live lives of love, mercy, and compassion for all people.

In this season of Epiphany where God’s light is revealed to us through Jesus, let us remember who we are – broken people, people with faults, inadequacies, and sinfulness – in need of God’s grace. Let us truly feel God’s grace, God’s never-ending love, for only God is our salvation. Out of gratitude for God’s blessedness, let us see and lift up the blessedness of others. May the Holy Spirit move us from complacency to compassion. Amen.

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The Great Light

Sunday, January 22, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 4:12-23

Imagine a world filled with darkness – before the creation of light. Imagine a world before lamps, electricity, flashlights, mobile phones that light up. Imagine a world where darkness surrounds you all the time. Before the invention of modern electricity where people could just flip a switch and light would suddenly appear that was the case. People sat in darkness and waited for the light of dawn. At times, it must have felt like forever, until….electricity was invented, which changed the world.

Imagine what it must have been like for the ancient Israelites as written down in our first reading from Isaiah. They were beaten down. They endured centuries of oppression from the Assyrian Empire. Their Northern Kingdom was destroyed. They were invaded not just once or twice, but three times by the Babylonian Empire who invaded Jerusalem and eventually utterly destroyed the holy temple. As Isaiah writes, the people “walked in darkness.” They walked in darkness – emotional darkness until….the “great light” of God’s love and mercy shined on them. Hope changed their world.

Since the beginning of time – since the beginning of creation when the world was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep – people have found themselves sitting, walking, and waiting in darkness – waiting for the light to come – and for some the light takes a long time to reach them. Men, and women, and children even today sit and wait in the darkness of poverty wondering when the light will shine into their lives and break the darkness. Individuals sit and wait in the darkness of mental, physical, or emotional darkness praying for the light of healing and hope. There are individuals who sit and wait in the darkness of inequality and long for the light of day when they will be treated fairly. There are so many among us – here in our congregation, in our communities, in our world – who walk in the darkness of fear unable to see any light that will break through their darkness and shatter the false illusions. It is hard to sit and wait in the darkness, particularly if you are waiting alone.

But we don’t have to sit and wait alone any longer. Jesus said, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Jesus, the Light of the world, has come to bring us out of darkness, to proclaim that in him the kingdom of heaven has come near. It means that God’s kingdom is not something we look forward to after we die, but through Jesus it begins to be revealed right here on earth. It’s what Jesus taught us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus invites us to follow him in making that happen, bringing God’s kingdom here on earth.

That invitation started with the first disciples when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. What made these ordinary fishermen leave their livelihood, drop their nets, and immediately follow Jesus? They left everything behind and didn’t even know where he was leading them to, yet they didn’t hesitate. Why? Because they saw the great light of Jesus, and they had to follow. His light, his spirit, his very presence compelled them to follow him. It was infectious. They encountered the light of God in the flesh of Jesus even if they didn’t know it at the time, and they were changed by that brief interaction with him. That is what an encounter with Jesus does to a person; it changes you and you are never the same again. Where have you encountered Jesus?

We first encountered him in our baptism before we even were able to understand. We encounter Jesus through the sacrament of Holy Communion as Jesus’ very real presence comes to us and abides in us through the gifts of bread and wine. His body and blood changes us as we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and grace in that holy meal. The light of Jesus then envelops you, it takes over you, abides in you, and you yourself reflect that light.

When was the last time you invited someone to share in this holy encounter with Jesus? When was the last time you invited someone to encounter Jesus through you? That’s what answering Jesus’ call to follow him means. It means to reflect Jesus’ light in this world. It means to shine his light in the dark places of this world. It’s not merely a call to believe, but a call to action. The call to follow Jesus demands an immediate response because there is a lot of darkness that needs to be overcome. It means to show God’s love to all people through loving words and actions. It means being kind in all situations and treating others as we would want to be treated. It means to have compassion for people by putting ourselves in their shoes, listening to their concerns, respecting their opinions, and feeling their pain and then doing whatever we can do alleviate their suffering. We are called – each and every one of us – to shine the light of Jesus wherever the Holy Spirit leads us.

We don’t know where the Spirit will lead us, or what the Spirit will ask us to do. The Spirit is eager to speak through us and through others. We must be alert and open to answer that call to action. We must listen for those people and situations that are praying for help and let God answer their prayers through us, just as others can be the answer to the prayers we lift up to God. Our God is a mighty God who works through people to answer prayers, to feed the hungry, to care for the poor, and to seek justice for the oppressed.

God has been intervening to bring light out of the darkness from the beginning of creation. When our world was lost in sin, Jesus came to bring God’s light and salvation to break through our darkness. Jesus is now calling us to follow him and continue to shine his light to all the dark corners in our world. We are to shine that light in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods, and everywhere we go.

Imagine a world filled with light. Imagine signs everywhere saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” That is the vision that God has for this world. That is why Jesus came and that is why he asks us to follow him today. Imagine how bright that light would shine if we all shined together. Jesus said, “follow me.” That call to action begins today. Amen!

Sing A New Song

Sunday, January 15, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 1:29-42

“I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song….” These words are from the song 40 by the group U2. It is a song of thanksgiving and praise based on Psalm 40. Every time I read Psalm 40 the song from U2 echoes in my mind and in my heart. If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to listen, and I’ll bet the tune will stick with you as well. The psalms or songs in our Scripture are honest and open prayers to God about the writer’s innermost feelings. Memorizing a song or two from school to a familiar melody is a great way to carry these prayers with us wherever we go. Psalm 40 that we read today is a song of thanksgiving for the God reaching down to us and saving us, for being our strength, for promising to stay with us, for the many things God has brought us through. And this psalm is also holding onto the promise that when things get rough, when all seems hopeless, it’s God who will bring us through them. It’s a song of thanks, of praise, of promise, and hope. The psalmist is lifting up his voice in thanks with a new song. The psalmist is pointing to God who is the source of our salvation.

The psalmist is acting like a compass pointing us in the direction that would lead us home. Today in our gospel reading from John we hear another voice, the voice of John the Baptist who is also pointing, not to himself, but to the source of our salvation – Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world. Last week we heard about Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of Matthew who gave us specifics and told us how God’s voice proclaimed Jesus as the Beloved Son of God. Today we hear how John the Baptist’s voice wasn’t preaching for people to follow him, but for people to come to know Jesus. John – like a compass that always points to the truth north to guide us home when we are lost on our journeys- was pointing to Jesus, the true Way who will always guide us home when we are spiritually lost.

And we get lost all the time. It’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to follow the wrong path, the wrong direction. It’s easy to take our focus off of Jesus and trust in some other compass to guide our way. There are so many other voices that try and lead us astray. Voices that convince us that there isn’t enough resources to go around so we have to hoard it all for ourselves instead of sharing. Voices that try and convince us that some people are more important than others, that some groups of people should be welcomed and not others, that we have to be perfect, that we aren’t okay the way we are, that bullying is okay, and violence is the answer to violence. But these voices are speaking from the darkness of fear and selfishness. These voices are not compasses pointing to the true Light of God. So how do we tell the difference between the compasses that are pointing to the true direction? The answer is to spend some time with Jesus, as much time as we possibly can. That means praying more, quieting our minds and listening for God’s voice, studying the Scriptures, opening our hearts to be more loving.

Jesus understands that it’s easy to get lost. That’s why he asked the early disciples in our reading today, “What are you looking for?” He saw them following him. He knew they were looking for something, even though they didn’t quite know what they were looking for. Yet, Jesus asked them, because he wanted them to name it. He wanted them to think about what it was they were really after. He wanted them to look inside themselves, search their hearts, and identify what it was they were seeking. This question is for us today as well. What are we seeking? What is it that we are looking for? Are we looking for security? For safety, for healing, for wholeness, for relationship, for community, for some peace of mind, peace in our hearts, peace in our souls? What are we hungry for? And more importantly where are we looking to get these needs met?

The early disciples thought they could find some of the answers to what they were seeking through following Jesus. They wanted to know where he was staying so maybe in his company they could figure it out. Maybe in Jesus’ presence the answers would be revealed. So Jesus said, “Come and see.” His answer was an invitation, an invitation not to just give them an answer, but to allow them to experience and discover for themselves who Jesus was. He was pointing them to God revealed in himself.

Jesus invites us today to “Come and see.” Jesus is inviting us to experience in his presence the gift of grace, God’s love, freely given and revealed in Jesus. Don’t just rely on answers from every other source that offers you answer, but rely on the true Source who is the answer to all our needs. Jesus is God revealed to us in the flesh. Jesus is the one the psalmist wrote about so long ago that came to deliver us out of the pit of wherever we find ourselves in. He came to lift us out of the miry clay and set us safe and secure in his strength. Jesus is the one who gives our life meaning, and purpose, and wholeness. This is reason to celebrate. This is reason to sing a new song. This is reason to be a compass pointing to Christ. It’s not about us or about what we do individually or as a church, but what God does through us.
We need to sing a new song, first to ourselves, to remind ourselves that God has indeed done great things for us. And then we must sing this song for others. We as disciples are called to tell everyone how wonderful God is through our voices and through our lives. We are called to show how Jesus Christ came to save us all, how Jesus Christ is the answer to all those things we have been seeking. We need to be a compass like the psalmists, like the prophet Isaiah, like John the Baptist, like the early disciples, like Martin Luther King Jr., like the group U2 and lead singer Bono who uses his voice to point to Jesus, like the teacher who stays late to help a struggling student, like the teenager that welcomes a new classmate, like the man or woman who donates blood to a stranger, like enemies that decide to finally end the feud and live the way of peace. All these people point to Christ.

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that the church is not lacking in any spiritual gift because we all have gifts to share, gifts that point others to Christ. All our gifts – no matter how great or small – have been given to us to use for the glory of God. They have been given to us to care for others in this world, and show them that God cares for them through our actions. We are called to use our gifts to point to Jesus when seeking solutions to issues of social justice, environmental stewardship, and poverty by responding with Jesus’ love and compassion. We are called to point to Jesus when seeking solutions to violence, and guide people to Jesus’ way of peace. We are called to point to Jesus when people are feeling afraid and assaulted, and listen and respond with the love of Jesus. There is a way out of hopelessness, and it is pointing to the promise of Jesus that he remains with us always through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us. God’s Spirit is alive. God’s Spirit is here, calling and inviting us to share Jesus with the world. God’s Spirit is calling us to care for others, to work for justice for all people so that all can sing a new song of freedom and peace.

This week, pray for Jesus to be the guiding compass of your life. Open the Scriptures. Read them. Engage in faith formation classes. Let the Holy Spirit transform your heart. And then sing a new song of gratitude, and share that song with others. Amen.

God’s Beloved

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 3:13-17

How did we get from baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas to the celebration of the baptism of Jesus today in a matter of only a couple of weeks? Jesus sure grew up fast! It’s as if someone hit the fast forward button on the remote in the life of Jesus. We’ve fast forwarded our scripture readings as if we wanted to get to the next best part. What we’ve done is fast forwarded to another great epiphany or revealing of God. The first appearance happened at Christmas when God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Angel voices announced the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Today, we celebrate the next great appearance -Jesus’ baptism- when God’s voice proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, and God’s beloved. In both of these instances, God is revealed to us through Jesus. God has come close to us through Jesus. God has become one with us through Jesus. It’s almost shocking when you stop to think about it.

Imagine John the Baptist’s shock when Jesus waded into the Jordan river asking for John to baptize him. Once again, God came close in an unexpected, surprising, and shocking way. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He didn’t need his sins forgiven. But Jesus did need to go deep into the murky, muddy Jordan river with everyone else. Jesus wasn’t afraid to get dirty. In fact, he deliberately sought the Jordan out, the same river that the Israelites traveled through to escape the slavery of Egypt. He knew that would be the place where the people were going to John to repent of their sins. John no doubt chose that river because of that history. He knew that would be the place where a person had to go all the way in the murky water in order to come out changed. He knew this would be the beginning of something very different in his life. Jesus went into the water without everyone knowing who he was – perhaps a great prophet – and came out with God’s voice echoing through the ripples in the water “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And the ripples from Jesus’ baptism continue to affect us today in our own baptisms. Through our baptism we are joined through the Holy Spirit with Jesus who is joined with the Creator. In baptism, Jesus was born again only not just as an infant in a manger, but as the anointed Son of God. It was a new beginning for Jesus. His mission was now proclaimed to everyone; Jesus was on a mission to save the world. The Jordan water may have been murky, but God’s voice was clear. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

We’ve all been in deep murky waters at one time in our lives or another. There have been instances where we have gotten ourselves in situations that seem way over our heads. We’ve found ourselves wading in the dark waters of suffering, grief, or sin wondering if we will ever find our way out. And if we do, how will we be changed? Will we let the challenges we’ve faced break us and turn us into synical or judgmental individuals? Will we let these difficulties harden our hearts? Or will we let these trials transform us into images of God’s redeeming light? The waters of baptism have the power to deliver us through our trials and bring us into the kingdom of God.

Jesus experienced this before any of us, and led the way for us. Immediately after he was baptized the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Yet, Jesus was able to overcome these temptations because of the anointing of grace he received at his baptism. Jesus was given the strength to overcome evil by the life giving waters of baptism. It was the promise of God’s voice that Jesus held close to him when he faced any kind of adversity. He carried that promise all the way to the cross. He carried it all the way from death into resurrection and new life. It is that same baptismal promise that we carry with us when we are faced with any kind of trial. Our baptismal promise of eternal life and eternal union with God is what we carry with us each and every day.

When we are looking to find God, we don’t have far to look. God is revealed in Jesus, and Jesus is revealed in unexpected places. Just as John the Baptist was shocked when Jesus came to him to ask for his help in carrying out God’s mission, we too are often shocked when Jesus comes to us asking for our help in carrying out God’s mission. But God works through ordinary people and ordinary things. John the Baptist’s hands carried out God’s mission in anointing Jesus. Jesus hands carried out God’s mission in healing and saving the world. God needs our hands too in carrying out God’s mission for the world. It may not always be easy,
but we too have been anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We have been anointed to serve. We have been anointed to love. We have been anointed to do God’s holy work. And there’s a lot of work for us to do in spreading God’s love and peace in a world that desperately needs it now more than ever.

Whenever we find ourselves in a situation that seems overwhelming, fast forward to that baptismal moment when at our baptism- like Jesus’ – God spoke those words of promise and love: “This is my son, this is my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Take these words wherever you go and there is no day, no moment, that will seem hopeless for you are God’s beloved. Amen.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Sunday, January 1, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Numbers 6:22-27 & Luke 2:15-21

 

Happy New Year! That’s the usual phrase we greet everyone this time of year. It’s the beginning of a brand new year, and we hope it will be one that is better than the last. This phrase then is a wish for ourselves and for others. Happy New Year is like saying “good luck” or “here’s hoping for the best.” It’s a way of putting a name to our wishes.  It’s a wish, not a blessing.

There’s a big difference between a wish and a blessing. A wish is something we hope will come true. It’s something we long for. We wish for easier times. We wish for better health. We wish for peace. We wish for a great many number of things. A blessing, however, is more. A blessing is an action. A blessing knows what the wishes and hopes are and does something to bring them into existence. A blessing is a powerful thing.

The stories in the Old Testament about blessing illustrate the importance of blessings. That’s why when Isaac was too old and blind to see and Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing instead of his older brother Esau, it was so significant. The blessing was a means of passing on power, prosperity, and protection. It was more than just saying, “yes, you can have the thing you have been wanting.” It was saying, “I am giving you this thing because I love you and cherish you.” Yet it’s more than status; it’s a new identity. A blessing is a new beginning. It changes the person who is blessed. They are no longer the same.

The Aaronic benediction or blessing in our first reading from Numbers is such a blessing. God commanded Aaron to bless the people of Israel using the words we often end our services with: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” These are not just wishes for God’s people. These are specific actions or blessings that God is giving to each person. God is continually pouring out God’s blessings on us. God is keeping us – nothing will separate us from God. God is holding us close and will never let us go. God’s face is shining on us – God’s light is guiding us. God is gracious to us and pours that grace on us daily. God’s eyes are always fixed on us, looking out for us, and giving us protection. God is the source of our peace. God is pouring out on us all these promises of protection in this one single blessing. And God continues by saying “So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” This blessing put God’s name on the Israelites – a name that they wouldn’t even say out loud. Jews even today do not spell or say God’s name out loud. They spell YHWH or Yahweh, but they do not say it because it is that holy. Instead they say Adonai or in English, LORD. And this same blessing put’s God’s sacred name on us today. It is a powerful blessing of promise. God’s holy name is on us.

What does having God’s name on us mean? It means that through our baptism we belong to God. We take on God’s name. What is that name? We hear in Luke’s gospel that “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name Jesus means “The Lord Saves.” It is the same name as the Hebrew name Joshua, who led the people of Israel into the land of freedom. Jesus is the name the angel Gabriel told Mary to name the child. Jesus is the name that the angel told Joseph in a dream to name the child. Jesus’ name didn’t come from Mary or Joseph; it came right from God. Jesus is the Savior. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of the world. Every time we say the name Jesus we are reminded that God is our Salvation. Jesus’ name is therefore a prayer. It’s a prayer of hope and a prayer of promise. There is power in Jesus’ name.

There is also a responsibility as Christians in bearing Jesus’ name. As the second commandment clearly states, it isn’t to be used in the wrong way. Yet, for centuries humans have justified the evil done in Jesus’ name.  From the crusades, to racism, to prejudice, to murder…..countless injustices and evil has been done all in the name of Jesus. Yet, Jesus’ name is one of blessing and salvation, not for a select few, but for all people. We who are blessed by Jesus are blessed to be a blessing to others. As followers of Jesus who bear his name, we are commanded to love like him in a self-giving way.

What might this year look like where Jesus’ name shapes our work, our relationships, and all our actions? What if this year we made our resolution to bear the name of Christian with a holy commitment? Keeping the name of Jesus in our minds and hearts will shape the way we live. When we are faced with joys and opportunities we can express gratitude to God with the name of Jesus on our lips. When we are faced with illness, trials, and challenges we can face them with strength with the name of Jesus on our lips. When we are lost and searching for direction we can wait with confidence with the name of Jesus on our lips. And when we are close to death we can surrender to God in peace with the name of Jesus on our lips.

The name of Jesus is not any ordinary name. It is filled with power greater than any force on earth. We who bear Jesus’ name through our baptism, share in this same power.
We are not blessed to keep it for ourselves; we are blessed to be a blessing to others. As we begin this new year:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”  The blessing of God’s name is on you. Go and share it with others. Amen!