Saturday, July 18, 2015

What's in a Name?

Sundays after Pentecost Proper 12 [17] Year B

Some of you may have heard me tell this story before and I ask you to be gracious towards me.

I was talking with Galal about how people got their names in Sudan.  In the basic system a child is given a name when they are born and then their second name is the name of the Father, and the third name is that of their grandfather.  So Galal is Galal Angalo Bashir, but his son is Nathaniel Galal Angalo and his daughter is Najila Galal Angalo.  And of course, we all know that women do not change their name when they marry – but they do carry their father’s name and their grandfather’s name.

I asked Galal if it could ever be, did he think, that a girl child would have her mother’s name and her grandmother’s name.  I was thinking that would be a nice modern and feminist twist on things.  Galal looked at me incredulous that anyone would even think of such a thing and simply said to me “That wouldn’t work.”

Of course in Sudanese culture that patriarchal line is important in determining who you belong to and Galal tells of his grandmother encouraging him and his brothers to be able to remember the names of their ancestors for ten to fifteen generations.  I had to look at it in a book but I could go:

John, Bruce, Will, Zeph, Will, John, John, Edward and Abraham

That’s only going back 8 generations and it takes my family time back to the early 1700s.

It cannot be denied that for many generations in our culture, when she got married, a woman took her husband’s surname – indeed not so long ago, Jan over there would have been known as Mrs Alan Salter.

So given this tradition we share of claiming our identity through our fathers and sometimes our husbands, what do you make of this opening sentence from Ephesians we read today (3:14-15):
For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives their name.

For me, these words affirm the idea found in other texts that we are known by God in ways that precede our physical life and which will continue when this life ends.

It affirms those words of Jesus in a number of places that we are children of our Father in heaven.
Happy are those who work for peace:
         God will call them his children.  (Matthew 5:9)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in Heaven.  (Matthew 5:44-45)

But perhaps the most significant thing about this is the sense of God’s intimate involvement with us all – so intimate that it is from him that we have all received our name.

And that got me thinking.  What does it really mean that God is our Father?  

Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel he has a collection of little sayings that Jesus used probably many times and in many different places than just where this is found.  Jesus says:
You must not call anyone here on earth “Father” because you have only one Father in heaven.  (Matthew 23:9)

What I think he is saying is not that you should not call your priest “Father” but that you can call him Pastor, or even just John; rather he is saying that even your more intimate relationships on earth, like to your Father, are to take second place to your relationship to your Father in Heaven who has given you your name.

Indeed, Jesus clearly tries to distance himself from his earthly family when they come after him one time, wanting to speak with him:
 "Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?" 
 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, "Look!  Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother, my sister, and my mother."  (Matthew 12:48-50)

Our primary relationship is with God who is our Father in Heaven.  Next comes our relationship with each other as brothers and sisters because we all share the same Father in Heaven.

Do you think this is hard?

I think it can be, because sometimes it looks like it means we have to neglect the relationship with our earthly family in favour of our relationship with God and our siblings in God.  Some of you may know stories of a person or another who chose this way and with tragic consequences for their real family for whom they had both a natural and proper responsibility to care for.

Fortunately this is not a case of either / or.  But our relationship with God is still our primary one and one that we should nurture every day.  We will go through times, I am sure, when many many things compete with the time we need to give to our relationship with God.  But we are not to give up.  We are not to lose sight of our true Father who has given us our true name.

No comments:

Post a Comment