Second Sunday in Epiphany, 1.19.20

What could be more important than our name? We may love it, or hate it, or most of the time it barely registers. Until someone CALLS us. Today we hear Jesus called – but not by the name the angel gives him. Twice, we hear Jesus called, Lamb of God, and once, Son of God. He is also called Rabbi, Teacher, and Messiah. Right in the beginning of the gospel of John. Then at the end of our gospel Peter has a name change. He starts the day with one name, but by the end of the day, by four o’clock, they are very specific, his name has been changed to Cephas, or Peter.

Christ CALLS us. In Isaiah today the prophet says, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” We are CALLED and we are NAMED. Psalm 139 says, “You knit me in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully, wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, O Lord.” I’m sure there have been plenty of times that Violet’s parents have MARVELED at her tiny hands and feet. Violet IS a marvel. She IS marvelous! She IS wonderfully made!

When we walk our Christian path, we can feel very very CALLED. Other times, when we need to make an important decision, we many feel God barely knows our name. We may feel that we are lost in the middle of a crowd. Does God even know I exist?

In today’s gospel, Peter has an ENCOUNTER with Jesus that leaves him CHANGED.

“He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” I think Peter experienced a mini-Transfiguration event. There is no Transfiguration in the gospel of John, but I think this is a little one.

Proof of that event is a name change. Who else in the bible gets a name change? There’s a list. Abram becomes Abraham. Sarai becomes Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel. Saul will become PAUL.

And now in that grand tradition, early on in Jesus’ mission, Simon becomes Peter. Some theologians think this is a holy joke, because Peter means rock, and Peter will show in the gospels that he is more like jello than a rock. He is changeable. On one hand, he answers the question, “Who do people say I am?” with the right answer. “The Messiah. The Son of God.”

But later, he denies even knowing Jesus before the cock crows three times. We see by the Acts of the Apostles and the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches like he’s been to seminary.

The Holy Spirit illuminates him and now he UNDERSTANDS. When Jesus changes his name today, it shows the prophetic nature of the name change. Maybe getting his name changed to ROCK, gives Peter something to shoot for.

Names are important, and being CALLED is very important too. In our baptism, we are CALLED by Christ out of alienation, isolation, and loneliness, to begin and CONTINUE our journey with him. It doesn’t begin and end at the baptismal font. It’s as if a road unfurls from out of the water, and Jesus calls us to come walk with him. There IS a walk of faith with our baptism. Our walk with him can and WILL take us places we never expect, and we don’t always like being led into the unknown. Our baptismal walk can exceed our wildest dreams. ALWAYS, Christ promises to walk with us. We never walk alone.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. There is no timer set for when Christ will call you. It doesn’t all begin at age thirteen, or twenty-one, or forty. We can and are called at a very young age.

A theologian by the name of Debie Thomas, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, wrote about how when she was three years old, she threw temper tantrums and begged and begged her pastor father, to please, please baptize her. He had her wait until she was twelve years old, even though she says was more than ready by age three. She describes herself as a three-year old, as being “full of trust, open to love, and wholly captivated by Mystery.”[1] Those are qualities that make us PERFECT to be baptized. Children ARE trusting. Children ARE open to love. And children are in tune with the mysteries of human existence more so than adults. Children are AWED by the wonder and beauty of nature. These are qualities we seem to doomed to lose as we get older, and that we struggle to recapture as adults.

A small child, can be a grace-filled child who is in touch with God in ways that can get lost as we get older. Remember how Jesus says we have to become like little children to receive the kingdom. Not childish, but OPEN, VULNERABLE, and READY to be led by Christ the LAMB, the SON of God.

            Churches can have too big an emphasis on us having get an intellectual grasp of doctrine.

What is needed is the heartfelt desire to have a relationship with Christ. Certainly, when John the Baptist was baptizing, he didn’t grill those who jumped into the water on any points of doctrine before he baptized them. He didn’t even ask them what were the ten commandments!

In other words, no one had to PROVE their worthiness for baptism. That’s why we baptize babies. Why not start small? None of us are worthy, no matter how old we get. Our UNworthiness was the whole point.

We know that we can’t earn grace, it’s always a gift freely given. We receive it in baptism. Grace can be found in unexpected places, such as when we forgive others.

And in EXPECTED places, such as when we receive Christ in communion.

Debie Thomas goes on to say, she can understand her father’s point, because choosing baptism means we are stepping out. We are stepping away from the crowd and saying I choose to follow Christ . . . and identify as a Christian.”[2]

Today, Violet Malanie Hunsinger’s parents and sponsors are making these statements FOR her. At a later date, at her confirmation, Violet will make a public statement of her faith.

For now, she is “carried in the arms of faith” by her parents and sponsors, who want what is best for her. They know that a relationship with Christ from an early age is as good and necessary as medical care and education. We would not withhold either from Violet. We wouldn’t wait until Violet asked to be taken to school, or asked to see a doctor, so neither do we wait for her to ask for baptism.

I ask her parents and sponsors to nurture her faith: to sing songs and make clay animals for Noah’s ark with her, to read to her from her new bible that she will get today, take her to Sunday School, dress her up as an angel or shepherd for the Christmas Pageant. In short, nurture the faith in this tiny Christian. Help her learn her prayers. Maybe she will someday cook for the INN. Help her to see that Christians look for and are signs of a kingdom which we only see in glimmers.

I know you will teach her to be kind. In one T-shirt store, the owners said the best-selling T-shirt is the one that said, ‘Be Kind.’       

We are all called. We are all called to be kind. How do we experience that call? In Isaiah today, we read God says of Israel, “I will give you as a light to the nations.” They were supposed to be different from other nations. They were to be more charitable. More hospitable to strangers than other wealthier nations.

We are called to be lights to stand up for justice. We are ALL called to be lights in this world. We are ALL called to call out injustice. To not stay quiet. To be KIND to the stranger.

Recent anti-Semitic events leave us all dumb-founded, a breath-taking lack of kindness.

Two weeks ago, I encouraged the confirmation students to quietly, and in a way not to put themselves in danger, to say something if they see or hear anti-Semitism at their schools. Out of ignorance, youth can say and do dumb things, and our own students can quietly, roll their eyes.

We know that silence can be misunderstood as agreement. Even saying quietly, ‘That’s dumb’ makes a difference. Kindness can and WILL win out.

I thank you Lord, for the life and GIFT of little Violet Melanie Hunsinger. You are our good shepherd and you are HERS. You have called and named her as your own. You have called all of us as well, to be lights in our world. Thank you that you always walk along side of us. We pray this in the name of Jesus our Lord.


[1] Debie Thomas.


[2] Ibid.