Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Firm Foundation - Naming and Knowing

Preached on Sunday, March 13, 2016

Scripture readings: Exodus 6:2-8; Luke 9:18-27

Walking along Lower Crab Creek
Near Desert Aire/Mattawa WA
February 2016
I was about five or six years old when I first discovered that reading opened up a whole new set of ideas to you. A few months after learning how to read, “see Spot run”, our class had a reading book where the kids called their parents “mother” and “daddy”.
I knew all about calling my parents “mommy” and “daddy”. I knew that they were also my mother and father, but I had never thought of calling them anything but “mommy” and “daddy”. No kid my age called their parents anything different.
So I asked my mommy what this meant and she made a big mistake. She told me that “mother” and “father” were grown-up words for “mommy” and “daddy”.
I was six, and I really wanted to be grown-up, so I started calling my parents “mother” and “father”. In later years, my mother has said that this change in what I called her made her very sad. She could have fixed it, at least a little, by back-tracking a bit and telling me that what the really big kids called their parents was “mom” and “dad”.
At the age of six, I would have taken her up on that. But I soon got set in my ways, and I went on calling my parents mother and father, ever afterwards, when I spoke to them. I was well on my way to being a very strange kid.
At the age of six, I missed the whole point. Calling my parents by a new, grown-up name didn’t make me more grown up at all.
Peter and the disciples learned a new name for Jesus. They knew that they could call him Christ, if he would let them. Christ means Messiah, which means “anointed one”, which means being set apart for a holy purpose, and the sign of that setting apart was to be anointed with olive oil: having oil poured over the head.
Olive oil was the main source of fat in the diet of ancient Middle Eastern people. I don’t know about you, but I love eating fat. For God’s people, olive oil represented the richness and fullness of the Holy Spirit at work in them. People set apart for God’s great purposes were anointed with oil. It was the sign of the abundance and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit of the living God that would enable them and empower their lives for their special task.
With God’s people, there were three kinds of people set apart by anointing with oil: the prophets, the priests, and the kings. With the Roman army occupying their country, the people of Israel, when they thought about the Messiah, thought about their need for a king to raise up and command an army. They wanted a king to drive out the Romans. They didn’t think about anything else. But getting this anointed king, this Messiah, this Christ.
When the disciples learned that Jesus had a name that they had never thought about before, and when they learned that this new name was “Christ”, they thought of their need for a king. So Jesus told them not to use that name, at least not yet, because they didn’t understand that name. Using that name would keep them from.
They didn’t understand what the name “Christ” really meant, even though it was one of Jesus’ names. They needed to grow up a lot more, and that growth would only come when they learned more about Jesus.
From that moment on, Jesus began to teach his disciples the way they would learn more about him. For one thing, they would never understand what it meant to call him Christ until they watched him die.
I’ve heard that time teaches the same lesson to all of us. No matter how well we may think that we know our own parents, or our dearest loved ones, and no matter what our favorite names for them may be, only time teaches us fully who they are and what their lives mean. Death itself teaches us what their lives mean to us.
With Jesus, it was not only his death that would teach his disciples what the name of “Christ” meant. It was also his rising from the dead that would teach them (and us) what it means to call him our “Christ”.
‘Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”’ (Luke 9:21-23)
The truth is that, because Jesus is the Christ, we can never know what anyone’s name means, or what anyone’s life means without our knowing the Christ. We can’t understand what anyone’s life means unless we know that Jesus suffered many things, and was killed and raised to life for a world of other people, and for those we love, and for us. We can’t understand what our own life means unless we understand that Jesus is our Christ, full of the power and the richness of the Holy Spirit on our behalf, because he suffered, and died, and rose from the dead.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Nobody wants to do that, yet that is what it means to be on the same road as Jesus. Jesus suffered many things and died for us. Jesus denied himself for us; to do us good. Jesus denied himself to rescue us and give us life.
If the name “Christ” means the king (and our King) then the one who writes the laws we live by, and holds our lives in his hand, has given us orders for how to follow him, and how to live. We could call that life a road, and we could give that road a name and call it the Jesus Road.
Jesus gave his life to serve others in love. We give our lives to serve others in love. Love teaches us the difference between living a life that is bent on losing ourselves and a life that is bent on saving ourselves.
It should go without saying that it means nothing to lose anything that you don’t love. We have to love ourselves and realize our true value in order for our giving of ourselves to have value.
And yet, even at this stage, we don’t know what it means. It isn’t enough to watch Jesus die. We have to meet Jesus as the one who has risen from the dead. The Jesus Road isn’t just the road of the cross. It’s the road of the resurrection.
Since Jesus talks about us taking the road of the cross every day, the implication is that, when we follow him, we should also call our road the Resurrection Road, and realize that we can take up our resurrection daily. There is a way of denying ourselves that opens our hearts to receive new life from Jesus.
Of course our resurrection doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Jesus. He is the Christ (the king) of that road.
Back in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the Lord told Moses that his people used to called him by the name “God Almighty”. No matter what they went through they found that his power was sufficient. God Almighty’s power was more than enough. They found that God was always in charge, and providing for them, and bringing them through all their adventures. God Almighty was the right name because he had the talent for making the seemingly impossible truly possible.
So the God Almighty told Moses that, from now on, the people of God would use a new name and call him the Lord. (Exodus 6:3) At the burning bush Moses learned that this new name meant “I am who I am” but it also means, in Hebrew, in ways that are too complicated to translate without making the name into a whole paragraph, “I will be who I will be”. (Exodus 3:14)
Learning who Jesus is, as our Christ, is like taking a long road with Jesus every day, and finding out what he will turn out to be. We find that Jesus will be something newer, and greater and greater every day. We are always learning about who and what he will be for us; as our Christ.
This, in fact, is the only way we can learn about each other. We learn by sticking together every day who we will be for each other.
But this is infinitely true of God. We know God through Jesus. Jesus is God come into our world as a true human, a true brother and kinsman of ours. This is how God tells us who he is. It is why it is so true to call God, as we know him in Jesus, “I am who I am, and I will be who I will be.” There is always something we don’t know or understand about Jesus. We need to be ready to find out who Jesus will be.
I think that eternal life will be a road on which we joyfully see more and more of what God, in Jesus, turns out to be, and it will always be new every everlasting day of the day everlasting.
In this life, we know more and more of Jesus as we take our own crosses daily, because every day will call for us to take up that day’s cross. And every day will offer us a new resurrection for that day. This is what Jesus did for us. This is the only way to truly know him, to walk that Jesus Road.

When we do this, we have the right and the experience to say exactly who Jesus is, even though we are still learning who he will be. We will not only be able to say who he is. We will be able to show who he is because we will be like him. We will know his name because we know him.

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