Change your name
Let’s pray….Rev. Stuart Buisch
Maurice Krafts, “Volcanoes are bigger than us. We are nothing compared to them.”
My university buddy Deepu is from Kerala in South India. Early on, years ago, when I had first arrived to work with students at UB, Deepu told me something I couldn’t understand. Now surely I had the words down. I knew what he said, “you can tell what religion someone is in India by their name.” You see I could even quote it but the meaning was lost on me. In those days I was quite keen to get to India. But over the years I have met more students from India and other parts of the world. It is not uncommon to meet Moslem men called Mohammad and Moslem women Fatima. There are many more examples that I would not be able to name. Names in other parts of the world reflect the belief system you are a part of.
Names are important to me because my birth was a gender reveal before that was a thing and neither of my parents were prepared for a baby boy. They recovered quickly giving me a S name like my next older brother and gave me a family name for the middle name. Names are important. Disciples, indeed the apostles as well, were first called Christians – followers of Christ in Antioch.
In our text today there are two folk with different names. We could perhaps wonder if they were linguistic issues, sort of French Pierre for English Peter. But I wonder if something else is happening. Saul shifts his name almost by accident to Paul. Saul, a Hebrew name for the first king means asked for, prayed for. Paul – a male given name from a Latin word meaning ‘little.’
As Barnabas and Saul travel with Mark to visit new places and tell the gospel truth. Saul shifts from a kingly name to a name that fits his goal for himself. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain’, he would later say in one of his letters.
As they journeyed they came to Cyprus they met a Jewish magician named Bar Jesus- son of Jesus in English who is also called Elymas – sorcerer or magician. Elymas was a ‘friend of the governor of the Island.’ I take that to mean he stayed pretty close to the governor possibly sharing his food and influencing his thinking. Certainly as Paul and Barnabas begin to speak to Sergius Paulus, Elymas tries to distract the governor from the truth of the gospel.
Paul turns to the magician and rebukes him in strong words resulting in a blindness that came over him. However the important part of that act wasn’t the blindness as much as the reaction of faith from the governor. One wonders if the governor was under the sway of that magician and now felt free.
Paul gets a lot of bad reviews. It is interesting to hear who reviews that way because the books from Genesis to Revelation have been held by many versions of the church to be the authoritative word of God, not the word of writers from any generation. The task of the follower of Jesus is to understand what the words mean for their faith. It can be a tricky line between hearing the words of Scripture, understanding their meaning in the time they were written and the meaning today. Is it possible to come to an interaction that helps us walk in Christ’s ways as Paul and Barnabas sought to do?
So we come to our question, so what? I return you to Maurice Krafts. “Volcanoes are bigger than us. We are nothing compared to them.” The Krafts photographed volcanoes all over the world, melting the shoes on their feet because of their intense interest. In 2020 we forget the size we really are. Paul was a passionate Jew seeking to purify the Jewish faith from a new variant of faith that would be called Christianity. In his passion he realized that his Jewish faith was fulfilled in the life of Jesus. In his transition from Jew to Christian I believe he realized something of the size of his role in the church. The reason he was so utilized by the early church in so many communities is understood in his awareness of his size compared to the God he worshiped.
Like the Krafts with volcanoes, we need reminders of our own size in God’s presence. The difference for those who follow Christ is that our size does not measure our significance. In God’s eyes no matter how small we maybe we are most valuable. Those of our community that cultures have measured insignificant have never been seen that way by God. The racial distinctions, socio-economic distinctions, educational measurements, age-boundaries, physical/emotional/developmental details and any other cultural variant may be perceived by some to be limits but little is much in God’s eyes.
Again, the Krafts help us. “We are nothing compared to them.” Comparing is the problem. Humility, Martin Buber reminds us, doesn’t lie in comparison but in the discovery of the treasure in each individual. Clearly the Krafts travelled the world looking at volcanoes, taking pictures of them because they were unique, different, distinct.
Paul, Barnabas and Mark travelled around the known world telling others their story of following Jesus. They invited others to consider their experience and see if the treasure in them would be set free by the good news of forgiveness, abundant life and joy. Paul, little, was better equipped with that name to do this vital work, than Saul – the name of a king whose only interest was power.
What is your name? What are you called? Who does God understand you to be? Is it time to change your name? Amen.
God of the volcanoes, your power brings new lands to life, enliven us… Suffering Christ, you stand next to the marginalized, not to be political but out of love… Breath of God, you blow through our tiny-ness and empower the ministry that we are called to…