Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on the “Name that is above every name…”

Read the text here: Philippians 2:1-13
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  This is a festival that does not land on Sunday very often and it provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider the Holy Name of God and the Holy Name of Jesus – in whom we are baptized and in whom we have our calling, our purpose and our very lives as Christians.  Therefore I would like us to consider two of our lessons and lay them side by side – Psalm 8 and Philippians 2:1-13.

O LORD, our lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth. (Psalm 8:1, 9)  Actually the first two words of this Psalm are “O Yahweh, our lord” which immediately reminds us that God has a name and that name is Yahweh.  Out of respect, however, this name is never spoken – especially among the ancient Israelites.  The word “LORD” (spelled with capital letters) is spoken instead, even though the name Yahweh appears in the Hebrew.  Now what does the name itself mean, and what does it tell us about God? In Exodus 3, after encountering the burning bush and receiving a very clear call to return to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of captivity, Moses asks God a question: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me’ and they ask me, ‘what is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13-14 – pew bibles p. 39).  God’s response: “I AM who I AM.”  In Hebrew this is haYah haYah.  Notice anything familiar?  Yes, the first three letters of the name Yahweh appear after (what we would consider to be) an article.  So, who is God?  God is “I AM” – being itself, being personified.  The name Yahweh is a special word that is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.”  Psalm 8 then goes on to describe a creator God of great power and might; a God who is powerful enough to create the heavens and the earth and who has created humanity “a little less than divine.”  A God who is worthy to be worshipped and glorified and who gives us our lives and our purpose.  It is this God of which that humanity is a reflection (Genesis 1:27 – p. 1). 

And here is where we run into trouble.  It is so tempting for us to think of God only in these terms – power, glory, might.  The problem with this is that 1st, this is not the whole story and 2nd, there is a great temptation for us to see ourselves only in the reflected glory of God.  So when, in Psalm 8:6, we read that God has given over to humanity “dominion” over the creation – we tend to interpret this line that well, we are in charge now and can do whatever we want.  So we see the creation as ours to exploit and use as we see fit, and we see ourselves reflected in the glory and power of God.  So power, might, wealth, glory all become for us a part of what we believe we are called to pursue and acquire.  This attitude has been a sad part of Christian history since the beginning and is, unfortunately, as much a problem today as it was 2000 years ago.  Everything from the “Prosperity Gospel” to the temptation to see ourselves as God’s crusaders – standing up for God, defending God in the various ways, seeing ourselves and our group or even our nation as God’s special, unique group – these are all manifestations of this misreading and misunderstanding of the Bible.

Remember, Luther said, we are to always – ALWAYS – read the bible through the eyes of Christ, through the lens of the Gospel.  So let us turn to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Of course, people in Jesus’ time struggled with the same problem.  Jesus being proclaimed “Messiah” or “Christ” led those folks to the exact same problem: “The Messiah is supposed to be the great and powerful and mighty liberator who will free us militarily and with violence from the Roman oppressors” was the general belief. Unfortunately, that is not what the Messiah does.  Paul is addressing this issue when he quotes this ancient hymn which is found in 2:6-11.  Who is the Christ? Paul answers – Christ is the one who refused to bask in the reflected glory of God, but who instead emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness… humbled himself… obedient unto death…  What a different way of understanding who God is, who Jesus is and what our calling is as Christian disciples!  The name “Jesus” means “God saves;” in Hebrew the name is “Yahowsua” (or in English – “Joshua” – “Jesus” is the Greek form of Yahowsua/Joshua).  Did you notice the first three letters of the Hebrew: Yah?  Yahweh – God – being itself saves and constantly saves – how? Through Jesus the Messiah – how?  By emptying himself, taking the form of a servant/slave…?  Why – love – amazing, incredible and incomprehensible love (John 3:16 – pp. 71-72).

When we are baptized into Christ we take the name of Christ it is becomes a part of who we are and how we are defined as Christians; it becomes a definition of our calling.  When we are baptized into Christ we are emptied and then filled with the love and grace of God and sent forth to be servants of God, humble and obedient.  As much as we humans would prefer to stand in the reflection of God’s glory and power, the Gospel deflects this and we stand, by virtue of our baptism, in the light of God’s love, as reflected in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God; God incarnate; the one through whom God is offering salvation!
Yahweh - יהוה 

I Am that I Am – haYah haYah   היה היה
Jesus = Yahowshuwa = Joshua  יהושוע 


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