1 Corinthians 1.1-9, John 1.29-42
Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter).Jesus gave Simon a new name. That's a very powerful thing to do.
Let's consider for a moment the effect of Jesus' renaming of Simon:
'You are to be called Cephas', he told him. Cephas means 'head.' - and this was prophetic; it launched Simon into a whole new life, because as we now know, he became the head of the Church in Jerusalem
Cephas is also translated 'Peter'. Peter means Rock. And Matthew (16.18) records Jesus as saying: 'And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.'
As we well know, when we remember his betrayal of Jesus and think about the tensions and squabbles between different leaders in the early church, Peter wasn't perfect - the New Testament books record all sorts of squabbles and fallings-out as he fought to shape the church the way he felt was right. But despite Peter's shortcomings the man was changed forever - and for the better - when Jesus gave him a new name.
Jesus knew how powerful it was to be given a new name - because that is what happened to him at his baptism.
At his baptism John the Baptist gave Jesus a new name. John called Jesus 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'
At his baptism God the Father - speaking from the sky - gave Jesus a new name.
At that moment God named Jesus 'my Son'... and later, retelling the story, John too used that new name to describe Jesus: he is 'the Son of God'.
Jesus was changed forever at his baptism. And the way he changed, and who he changed into, was all to do with the names he was given that day.
We know what this is about because we all give names to people; and we all are given names.
We start to become aware of this when we're at school - and everyone gets given names, bad names and good names. It's human nature for children to name other kids after something about the way they look or act or are: so children my size at school got 'tiny' or 'titch' or 'shorty' (these are the polite ones); if I'd worn glasses at school (which I didn't) I'd have got 'speccy' or 'four-eyes'...
But then there are the good names we're given. I wonder if you can remember the glow you felt when someone for the very first time told you, 'You're my best friend'. I wonder if you can remember the satisfaction when a teacher for the very first time said, 'You're a good pupil', 'You're a hard worker'.
When we move into adult life we get given new names. 'Husband', 'Wife', 'parent', 'tenant', 'householder', 'taxpayer' ... names which profoundly change the way we are, and the way we see ourselves.
One of the greatest tasks in a couple's life is naming their babies. That name is going to be with that child for life - unless it's so awful that they change it themselves as soon as they can - so it's a big thing for the parents to think of what to call their new child. Their new name will make a difference to their lives: if they get a silly name then they'll spend all their school years being embarrassed about it; if they get an unusual name then they will spend all their adult lives being annoyed because people spell it wrong or say it wrong; if they get named after a grandparent then perhaps they will always feel particularly close to that grandparent and maybe even turn out to be like them in some ways.
In our working lives we get given new names, which change the way we are and what we do. Our job titles say something about us: if you get named a 'team leader' then that shows that the company trusts you to look after the work of a few people, and it will also make you feel more responsible. Your new name changes the way you are in work.
This is true in church too. If you are given a new name of Sidesperson then you realise that you are being trusted to welcome people and help people who come into church services; if you are given the new name of Churchwarden it's a sign of the congregation's trust in you and your abilities to help keep the church running in good order. I've just been given a new name: a Team Vicar responsible for this and four other churches in this deanery, and that new name means that I'm being trusted to care for the people and support the ministry of the lay leaders in our local churches, encouraging you in your faith and mission in similar ways to how Paul encouraged the believers in Corinthians; and it also means that I will have to learn how to do that task faithfully and well.
In public life we know that the names we call others can change them and us, and society... for better or for worse.
We all know the power of naming and shaming - but what about the even greater power of naming and loving, naming and caring?
What a difference it makes when we learn to speak well of others, even those we find difficult, even those who are so different from us it unsettles us ... if we give them good names they start seeming more like human beings like us, and behaving more like human beings to us, who we can relate to, understand, and befriend.
You might think, that's easy to say but hard to do, especially on your own. That's very true. But Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that Jesus gives us a new name: not us as individuals, but as a group of people together:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:Jesus gives us a new name: he calls us to be saints ... and that changes us:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind - just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you - so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.Stop to think - in your time in this church have you discovered yourself doing things you'd never before imagined you could do, or understanding things which had always been a mystery to you before, have you found yourself being able to talk in new ways about God, yourself and others? If you have, then celebrate and give thanks. If you haven't, then I make it my intention in my time here to help you to have that experience, that encounter.
New things happen to God's people because Jesus gives us a new name: he calls us enriched, he calls us gifted ... enriching our lives and giving us spiritual gifts he strengthens us to live in a new way as a body of believers, as a group of his people:
He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.Let us spend time thinking about the new name which Jesus has given us. Thinkiong about it and celebrating it. And in the strength of that gift let us encourage each other to give new names to others, which empower and enrich their lives too.
This is a slightly rewritten version of my talk of 20 January 2008.