As you know if you're a regular reader of this blog, my father-in-law died several weeks ago. I lost my own father many years ago, in 1994. Like my father-in-law, he did not speak often of matters of faith, and when he died I worried about that a lot. But also like my father-in-law, he had God's name placed upon him in Holy Baptism in his childhood, and although I didn't often see him in church or hear him speaking about God, I do know that he never renounced that baptism. During one of my last visits with him, when he was days from death and unable to speak, I whispered in his ear of God's great love for Him and my certainty that his God was watching over and caring for him, and he nodded. That, and now these words from my husband, spoken at his own father's funeral, have given me much comfort. I hope they may bring you comfort, too.
Grace, peace, and mercy be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
"What's your name?”
That's a question asked of us often in our lives. The answer tells people who we are. It tells people Whose we are, too.
For a long time Dad ran from his given name--Eddie--preferring to go by the more dignified-sounding Edward or Ed. That's actually something a lot of us do, as we take on nicknames, alter-egos, and noms de plumes. I know I've played a little with my name over the years, and so did Dad.
But in the end, when he was suffering in the hospital, he came back to the name his parents gave him--the name he still claimed when he was baptized.
God's a great name-changer. In the Bible people often have their names changed when they are called to serve Him as prophets, apostles, or evangelists. In Holy Baptism, God, the great “name-changer” does something even more valuable with our identities: He gives us HIS name, and places it upon our hearts. Adopted as His sons and daughters, we get to have our Brother's name--that is, Jesus' name. That's why many Christians make the sign of the cross, by the way. It tells people who we are. It tells people whose we are.
Of course, Dad wasn't what we might call a "crosser." I doubt He ever physically made the sign of the cross. He was raised Baptist, and that's not their custom. In fact, as we all know, Dad ran not just from the name “Eddie” but also from his baptismal identity for many years. But God's name is a funny and wonderful thing: it doesn't go away. And wherever God's name is, There He is.
You see, God cannot evacuate His name. And so He is always there to be called upon. Yes, He can be disowned. For ceremonial reasons the Verse before the Gospel in the liturgy today glosses over God's Law that God does disown those who disown Him. And that is His word of warning for us today. But that doesn't mean He goes away or gives up on us. The Verse continues: “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” Even Peter disowned our Lord three times--only to be forgiven and restored just as Christians are each day when we remember our Baptisms and call upon God's Name.
I heard Dad call upon the Lord the last day I was with him. And as I left he thanked me for my prayers for him. He gave us all hope that just as he was returning to be called “Eddie” in the end, he was also returning to the Name that was placed upon His heart, and placing his hope in the one whose strong Word named him and claimed him so many years ago.
I chose our readings today to encourage us in this hope. The prophet Isaiah encourages us with God's promise that His Word “will not return empty, but accomplish the purposes for which I sent it.” The Psalmist is languishing with bones in anguish--just as Dad's bones were in anguish from the cancer that killed him--and yet rejoicing comes as the Lord hears the cry of his child, David, and the enemies are defeated.
That doesn't mean we don't die. The enemy is really not sickness and death. Think about it: all the people Jesus healed of their diseases ultimately got sick and died. No, as the catechism teaches us, the enemies are the devil, the world, and our own, sinful nature. For they think the justice of God's name is scandalous! They say, “How dare the Lord say to the thief on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in paradise'?"
Old Adam wants to justify himself by works, so that he can deceive himself with “I'm better than the that guy.” Ever notice than when it's up to the Adams, everyone is above average?! But in God's love His justice doesn't work that way. He doesn't draw the line somewhere in the middle, but draws it way at the top so that NONE of us measure up. The only one who measures up is the perfect one: Jesus Christ, the New Adam who died on the cross and paid the full sacrifice for all our sins. This way no one can boast. We all become beggars before God. This is the only way He can deal with us, and thanks be to God that He does. For if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And so God gives us His righteousness. It's what theologians call The Great Exchange. He doesn't see us according to the names the world gives us. He sees us according to the name HE give us, and hears His children when they call upon His name. It doesn't matter whether someone believes longer or believes stronger. Such thinking turns faith into work. But faith is not a work of man. Rather, it is a gift from God. And the gift we receive by the Holy Spirit, the gift we inherit in our baptisms, is a gift that keeps on giving. Even when WE are faithless, GOD remains faithful. He is the giver of faith. And just as He cannot evacuate His name; He cannot disown Himself.
And so that's our Good News for today. If you aren't calling upon God's Name today, what's stopping you? The devil, the world, your sinful nature? They are all defeated! Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Call upon His name. Just as Eddie did.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.