The Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster is the pastor of East Woodstock Congregational Church, in CT.
Scripture: Mark 1:9-11 (NRSV)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Reflection: Proclaim Your Name
“What’s your name?” It seems to be the first question that children ask one another when they meet. They want this essential information about the stranger looking back at them. Who are you? How can I identify you? How can I get your attention if I want you to throw me the ball or pass me a crayon?
What is your name?
This can be a wonderful conversation-starter when meeting new people or engaging in small group conversations – “Tell me about your name.” Names so often have stories and histories attached to them. That simple request – “tell me about your name” – can lead to conversations about names passed down from ancestors, names changed because of marriage or divorce or even some self-discovery about one’s true identity, and names that carry a sense of calling or direction.
People are rarely neutral about their names. Some carry their names with a sense of pride as if it offers not only a background but also a firm foundation. Sometimes names evolve as a person matures – Ricky might become Richard while a childhood nickname might be discarded for something more “adult.”
Some people don’t like their names for a variety of reasons. I met a woman who kept her married name long after her divorce because her original family name belonged to her abusive father. “I feel like I am carrying someone else’s name and don’t really have my own,” she lamented. An interesting follow-up question might be, “If you could choose any name for yourself, what would it be?”
When I was in seminary I altered my identity by giving myself a middle name – Jane, after a long line of women with that name in my family tree. Unlike my brothers, I was not given a middle name at birth because my 1950’s-era parents assumed that I would marry, take my husband’s name, and then use my “maiden name” as my middle name. As I prepared for ministry and discovered more about the importance and meaning of names, I wanted to be sure that my name reflected who I was. At the time, I was not sure that I would ever marry and even if I did, was not convinced that I would adopt my future partner’s name. I wanted to define myself with my own name and my own self-chosen middle initial to express my identity.
A gift that God bestows on us is the gift of identity. God tells us who we are in God’s sight. Right at the very beginning of the Bible, God looks at this newly-formed and emerging creation and names it “good.” By the time humans are crafted, God looks tenderly at them and declares, “Very good.” What a difference it might make if we could look in the mirror and say, “You are named ‘very good’.” This is who you are – a person of value and worth, cherished in God’s sight.
When Jesus was baptized, marking the beginning of his ministry and the creation of his public identity, God’s voice rings out, “This is my beloved.”
That is our baptismal name, as well. That identity cannot be taken from us. The world does not often endorse this view. Our society labels us by skin color and sexuality and defines us by wealth, status, achievements and accomplishments. The world expects us to strive to achieve a particular name for ourselves. But we are already named. Our identity is certain. We are God’s beloved. Nothing – no action or opinion – can take that name from us. Nothing can separate us from our God-given identity.
What is your name? Try proclaiming this – I am a beloved child of God. I am “very good” in God’s sight.
God of many names, thank you for claiming me as your beloved child. Help me to treat everyone I meet as one of your beloved, as well. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at email@example.com
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the nearly 350,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For those suffering or grieving in Norway after a landslide killed 7 and left 3 missing
- For the people of Niger when internal violence left 100 dead, including many civilians over the weekend
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the new Conference staff who begin their ministries this week
- For new beginnings, new approaches, and new perspectives
This Week in History:
January 6, 2001 (20 years ago) Congress certifies the election of George W. Bush as President after months of contested election results. Vice President Al Gore, running against Bush, won the popular vote in November, but lost the electoral vote when a 5-4 Supreme Court decision halted a recount in Florida, effectively giving the state's 25 electoral votes to Bush who won the electoral votes 271 to 266.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”