What’s In a Name?

The Declaration (Summer Sermon Season)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid[h] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[i] on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, New Living Translation)

When I was a student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, I, as did many students at Sam, here at SFA, and many other college campuses across the country, spent a good chunk time on school days at the Wesley Foundation (The United Methodist Student Center). Living 40+ miles away didn’t lend itself well to going home between, classes, so I went to the Wesley Foundation between classes.

One week, on Tuesday or Wednesday, then campus minister, Max, came up to me and said, “Keith, you’re in my sermon Sunday night.” Trust me friends, unless some kind of explanation goes with those words, you might start to worry. I’m a preacher, Max was a preacher. Maybe he was going to make me the punchline of a joke.

In those days, my church had a Sunday night service every week. It is the only congregation I’ve served having a Sunday night service every week. I went back and aftering other options that they turned down, convinced them to cancel worship that night so I could go to worship at school. They rejected my options but said they thought I should attend worship and not preach occasionally. That service would work.

All four of us, Cindy, me and the boys made our way to Huntsville. I was in his sermon.

I will not lie either. Most of you are in my sermon directly. For those who were hoping I would give it away, you are out of luck. You are going to have to wait a few more minutes.

Have you ever looked into you name? Why do you have that name? Is it an old family name that’s passed from one generation of the past to a new one, whether they like it or not.

There are also many families with traditions surrounding the naming of a child. When I was a kid, the little boy next door who was at least six or eight years younger than me. I got an invitation to Freddy’s birthday party. It invited me to join in celebrating the birthday of Freddy Smith XVIII. I can’t imagine having all those Roman numerals as part of my name. That is 18 generations and had to cover 200-300 years.

That isn’t the only “tradition.” I have a preacher friend whose family tradition is, the oldest male child gets the father’s first name and the mother’s maiden name. Instead of Keith, my name would have been, Johnnie Seale Broyles.

I go by my middle name. My name is James, after my dad’s oldest brother and Keith because my mother liked the name.

Wayne, is Michael Wayne, named after my mom’s oldest brother and my hero as a kid, the man I have more respect for than any other man alive. Cindy and I liked “Wayne.”

Christopher is named after my father John. and Cindy and I liked the name “Christopher.” I’m not sure of my motives but it would appear they are done. Wayne has three boys, and all go by their first names. Christopher has three girls and there are no traditions for girls’ names in our family.

In some cultures, a name is everything. Getting a name was a right of passage. A name meant something, related to who you are. For the Algonquin a common name Aranck means Stars. For the Dakota Nation, Tokala means fox. Our word “Sacred” translates to Wahkan in the language of the Sioux.

Of course these are a few of many from the various tribes around the United States. Meaning Similar traditions happen in Africa and Central and South America.

When I started working on this message I learned that many people here in the United States want their child’s name to have meaning beyond what it might mean to their families. At one point I searched Google for and discovered there were in excess of 1.9 billion results for baby names and meanings. That many results indicates a demand for such services.

When Cindy, our boys, and I got to the Wesley that night, Max’s sermon told us many, including yours truly, the meaning of our names. When there is more than one possible meaning, he usually took the one that was most embarrassing. The only one I remember was my own. There are six meanings for “Keith”. “Brave and Courageous, “Keeper of the Forest,” From the battlefield,” “Man of the woods,” “Wood,” “Wind.” Max used Wind. Pointing out that as a preacher I am full of hot air.

That made me think about some of your names. Does anyone know the meaning of their name? Well, I have a list of them I thought I would share with you. For those that already know, see if what you know matches what I found.                           

We don’t have to look far to know the meaning of Peter. Jesus gives us the meaning when he gives Peter the name. Jesus says, “You are Peter…” or “You are Petra” meaning rock or rock man. Jesus goes a bit further with what Simon would do as Peter but we are going to leave that on the table for another couple of weeks.

Santa Cruz, California, in the 1970s, was a very different sort of place. What made it different was a group of people who lived there in great numbers.

They were hippies — or, you might say, has-been hippies. The Summer of Love had long since faded into a psychedelic sunset. San Francisco’s infamous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood had gentrified. The “flower children” who’d once inhabited its “crash pads” now held down regular jobs. Many of these has-been hippies had moved out to Santa Cruz, where the rents were cheaper.

This population of former flower children had a certain impact when their children hit the public schools. One of the things the teachers found difficult was the names of the kindergarten students.

Those classes had their share of Michaels and Lisas and Margarets, but there was also Sunbeam, Time Warp and Meadow. One teacher thought she’d seen about everything when it came to names, until the first day of school came round, and she met a boy named Fruit Stand.

The teacher felt sorry for little Fruit Stand, having to go through life with a name like that, but she decided there was nothing else to do but make the best of it. All through that first day of school it was: “Fruit Stand, can you bring me the chalk?” and “Fruit Stand, are you ready for your nap?” But this little boy seemed oddly distant. He participated in all the classroom activities, but he didn’t seem very happy.

Finally, at the end of the day, it was time for the children to go to their buses. “Fruit Stand, do you know the name of your bus stop?” the teacher asked.

No answer. That wasn’t so strange, the teacher thought, because the boy hadn’t said much all day. One of those shy kids.

But no matter. The teacher had a trick up her sleeve. All the parents had been told ahead of time to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the boy’s tag. And there, neatly printed in block letters, was the word “Anthony.”

Names are important. They’re the labels we bear through life, the invitations we offer up to other people so they may know us better. Should somebody forget our name, or somehow misuse it, we feel hurt, even abused. That’s probably how little Anthony felt, after spending his entire first day of school as Fruit Stand.

There is one more name to deal with in this story. Jesus asks the Disciples who people say that I am. As we talked about last week, it is a pretty easy question to answer when you are surrounded by people with the same understanding as you. There answers were things like, Moses, Elijah, one of the prophets. Nobody said anything about what Jesus’ name actually meant. The two most common understandings are Yeshua and Joshua. The Yeshua understanding defines Jesus as, “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” That Jesus has roots in the name Joshua and means “Jehovah is generous” or “Jehovah saves.”

If anything, the research and all the other stuff I found that I’m not going into or we will be here all afternoon. I picked these specifically because we do know that God is generous to us and Jesus saves, that Jesus is salvation. Some of the other may or may not be accurate, but we know those meanings are true.

We all are in a position to answer Jesus’ question. We know who Peter is but more importantly, regardless of the many definitions we know about for Jesus’ name, we know Jesus came to save. We know Jesus is the way to salvation. We know those meanings are true.

One of the most endearing features of the animated film, Toy Story, is the way the cowboy toy, Woody, has a name written on the bottom of his foot. The name is “Andy” — the name of the boy who owns Woody and loves him. When the astronaut toy, Buzz Lightyear, is dejected at learning that he’s not a real spaceman, but only a toy, he’s a lost cause until he learns that he has the name “Andy” written on his foot, too. This knowledge empowers Buzz to put his depression behind him, then get up and do what needs to be done.

We have a name written on our hearts, in our baptism. The name is “Jesus.” If we learn to trust that name, to rely on it, to allow it to propel us into a living relationship with the One who is Lord of all, we will find our lives immeasurably fuller and richer.

From creation moving forward, what God wants from us is a relationship, an eternal relationship. Some scholars say the only reason for God to create at all was that God wanted to have a relationship. A relationship is what God wants from us now.

That starts with knowing the name. Names are important. What is your reaction when your mother called out both your first AND middle names, or even worse, your first, middle, AND last names? It got your attention didn’t it?

My last semester of seminary I witnessed something I found amazing. On the first day of my moral theology class the professor called the roll from his class roster. He made sure to tell us to raise our hands when he called our names. We all did, but didn’t think much about it then. That was on a Thursday. He didn’t see us again until after the Labor Day holiday. On that day, he began at the front of the room, pointing at each person one by one and calling our names. When we left class that day the discussion wasn’t about the lecture, it was about a man who knew the importance of names and somehow learned the names of over 45 students (there were about 45 in that class and I know he had at least one more class) over a long weekend. He did more to endear himself to his students than most professors did in a semester, all because he mastered the power of names.

I may not know your names yet. I am working on it. Our masks certainly don’t help.  But, even if I don’t know your name, I know one who does, one who wants a relationship with each of us. Do you know that one’s name?

Today, July 19, 2020, with this post, is my 900th post on the WordPress platform. To celebrate, five people, chosen at random who comment “Average Joe for 900,” here AND email me your contact information using my author email jkeithbroyles@gmail.com will receive a free copy of my book Average Joe with an Extraordinary Story. Entries (Comments AND emails) must be received by 6:00 PM CDT Friday, July 24, 2020. YOU MUST COMMENT AND email your contact information in order to win. Winners will be drawn at random from entries.

Be Blessed.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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