Sermons

What’s In A Name?

What’s In a Name?

There is power in naming. I believe it is a great blessing that a parent bestows on a child, so we took great care and much prayer in naming ours. The name Nicole is of Greek origin and means “victorious people.” It evolved into a French feminine of the masculine, Nicolas. The surname Nicole originates in Netherlands where it was notable for its various lineages, and associated status or influence. It seems it was likely derived from the goddess Nike who, in Greek mythology personifies victory, her Roman counterpart, Victoria. In the story of Zeus’ fight against the Titans, Nike and her sister, Bia (personification of force and raw power), were first to answer his call to assist, and she is often seen at Zeus’ side. I take to heart my name’s meaning, and love how a name can bless and empower a child.

With it being Veteran’s Day, today, I was reminded of, Major Mary Jennings Hegar, author of Shoot Like a Girl, from an NPR interview, where she talks about her book. In it, she describes how, wounded and hanging onto her helicopter, she fought off Taliban to save her team and injured soldiers. She also explains her interest in supporting admission of women into combat status (they are already in this role, but had not been given credit – and attendant promotion – due to a general ban against it). Jennings Hegar clarifies, some people “assume that I have taken some kind of anti-military or anti-establishment stance, and it couldn’t be further from the truth . . . it was never about fighting the military – it was about this is the right thing to do for the military.”

The name Mary (a form of the Hebrew, Miryam) is of unknown origin and means “rebellious.” Though Jennings Hegar makes clear she is not actively working against the rule of the land, she will act to promote what is right and just, and to save lives. It seems the name Mary is, in reality, ironic. It is paradoxical since for a woman to act in an aggressive or forceful manner, she is automatically viewed as rebellious, somehow against something, even when she is fervently acting for something or someone.

Female warriors are not new, nor are they as infrequent as I was led to believe in my early education. Boudicca and the Spartans are examples, not to mention the rising number recognized in archeology. They did not engage in battle to make a point or promote a gender-based agenda. They engaged in battle because they were able, and were needed as much as anyone in the community. Currently, eight other nations (including Canada) welcome women to combat roles. The ban in the US was finally lifted (provisionally) in 2013, even though since the Revolutionary War women such as Molly Pitcher – who took over firing her husband’s canon after he died in the field – have actually served in such positions.

I am not a proponent of war. I hate guns and would like to see a blanket ban on personal guns (though I have no illusions this will ever happen). But I do promote freedom and maintaining peace, and as long as some are not free and others work to dismantle peace, force is sometimes necessary. But this is not really my point, either.

The widow in today’s scripture lesson is not named. Still, her story is memorialized, was written down. And we, thousands of years later, witness her life by recalling her story today. She isn’t named, because in that time (and places remain that maintain this practice) women were either someone’s daughter of someone’s husband. When the husband dies and there is no one left to fill his role, she is left to fend for herself. That the widow gave of all she had, is made all the more remarkable.

In light of all of these things, that she gives the balance of her meager account means she is giving away her life – there is nothing to fall back on, no reserve. This does not sound wise, shrewd. Of course, there are many places in scripture, indeed even in Jesus’ own teaching, where shrewdness and wisdom with finances is championed. Still, more often than not, Jesus goes against what any society might consider good book keeping, finances, economics.

But in God’s economy . . . What are the 2 commandments on which hang all of the law and prophets? To Love. To love the Lord your God with everything, and your neighbor as yourself.

What was this woman doing when she dropped 2 coins in the offering plate? Communicating, showing, living out her love for God, loving God with everything – her entire reserve, nothing to fall back on, she gives to God. This woman with no name, and no one by whom she might be called, named, has some sort of confidence, faith.

Paul, in Eph, gives us a clue to where that might be placed: [Ephesians 3:14-21] “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name16I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

These 7 verses are jam-packed with rich truths. It is worth sitting with each phrase – maybe reading it to someone else this week . . .

The riches – of God’s glory. Strengthened from the inside with power – of God’s Spirit. Christ lives, makes a home inside – that’s faith. And, why? That love is every ounce of our nourishment, the very foundation of our being. You see, Jesus’ love for you is higher, farther, beyond anything we can image – all that we are filled with, occupied by God – the One who can do so much more than we can ever think up.

This is the one who gives us a name – one that matters.

That the woman in the temple scene was a widow implies she was once married. It also indicates she has no one to vouch for her, support her.

There are incidents in the scripture that do speak to the wise use of resources – the parables of the talents are excellent examples. But there is something about the strength of this woman’s faith that is compelling. The faith she has in being named as part of Israel.

In the OT reading, the connection is more clear: Ruth, another widow, though there is no chance she will ever have the security of being named by another male in Naomi’s family, sacrifices any chance of her family of origin’s help because she knows there is something about Naomi’s God that she must be a part of. She desperately wants to be called a member of that faith tradition. Ruth is eventually guided to Boaz and then, by forgoing her youthful prerogative to find another young suitor, takes the name of the elder Boaz – and is subsumed in the lineage that leads to king David, and ultimately, Jesus.

Jesus is the final piece of the naming lineage – because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are called God’s own – ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.’ And Ruth’s instinct was to follow in that tradition.

So, since it is Veteran’s Day, I dug around for the possible origins of our country’s name. One article by, Jonathan Riikonen, compiled a fair history:

Most of us were taught it comes from the Italian navigator, cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who headed for the land called the New World in 1497.

But one Viking legend claims the continent was named Amteric after Erik the Red, where Amt means district in old Norse; Erik’s District. 11th century sailors called it Ommerike which means Farthest outland in Norse. The Gothic term was Amalrik, or Kingdom of Heaven which apparently the Pilgrims liked and preferred. Irish like to claim it comes from their Iargalon or a land beyond the sea. The Gaulish name was Armorica meaning place by the sea. Welsh people meanwhile claim America is named after Richard Ameryk, another sailor.

In Nicaragua there is a mountainous area named Amerrique, which means Land of the wind or the spirit. Mayans used to call their homeland Iq Ameq’el and Algonquin natives Em-erika, both resembling the name this has today. Old Gothic Lord of the work ethic was called Amalrich, also claimed to be an origin for America.

The most amazing coincidence might be the Sioux natives in the Dakotas region. Their Chief Red Cloud namely called the area Center of everything that is. Much later Rugby, ND was proven to be the geographical center of North America.

Later America has been called The Land of the Free, The Land of Opportunity, Home of the Brave, Land of Milk And Honey, Uncle Sam, The Melting Pot, The Western World and already mentioned The New World. In Europe America is also called Land Across the Pond. Chinese call it Mei Guo or Beautiful Country, perhaps because ‘Merica sounds a little like that in Chinese.

Despite the dubious circumstances surrounding America’s origins, our country has many things in place that offer relative security and resources when we find ourselves in desperate need. Often. Yet, as I write this, there are so many who have no idea how they will get through the next day – no transportation to a job she is trying to hold on to, no extra money to for other fees. The Durand Ecumenical Council is a beautiful resource for a few basic needs, but there isn’t enough for some of the larger monetary emergencies. What does my identity as God’s own mean for how I respond to this? How might I be a part of making a little bit right for a single mother in our plot of land in this country? I feel like I’m constantly wrestling with what my role is in directly helping people.

“In Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God. [and the Bible does give us some general hints toward how we might engage. There are] some clear themes: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. Love one another. There are over 2,000 verses dealing with money (most about how you should give it away, and how it’s impossible for rich folks to enter the kingdom of God). But when it comes to the specifics of how we live those broad themes out in our day to day lives? The Bible is full of wrestling with that.” [Brian Murphy]

My parents gave me the name, Nicole, because my mother always liked the name. Giving a name is a blessing, it is also, often prophetic. And while my mom might be exasperated by my strong will and determination, I know she also appreciates that strength. I love that though the name Nike is associated with an individual, Nicole means “victorious people,” suggesting leadership that ushers, shepherds a people to that end. It’s the community that is victorious. The work of Jesus was to accomplish exactly this, and my task has always been to “work out” that salvation (Phil 2:12). It is frustrating to be misunderstood because of societal norms that ascribe arbitrary characteristics to people based on equally indiscriminate indices. But Jesus was always misunderstood, and I suspect all of us experience being misread.

We need to work on this together – in community, we must “work out” our salvation – that is, act on what we are saved to do, to be – and in the power of what we are saved from and freed to access. Right. That would be Love. And while love might seem an ethereal, intangible notion, I think we have enough to go on in order to understand what Loving looks like. And we know that Love wins. Love conquers all. Love has the victory. I am “victorious people.” my identity is in direct relationship to community, my people, who take their name from the Triune God. So, will you join me in actively, victoriously living out the blessing of this name? Because even if we have helped one life gain victory – breathe easier – knowing her family will not starve or be homeless, we know that we’ve truly gained victory.