The reaction was swift and strong. It was the first Sunday after a presidential election and in our congregation’s prayers we prayed for the president and vice president-elect: “For Barack and Joseph . . .”
“How dare you!” were the first words out of her mouth at the door. “How dare you treat our elected leaders with such disrespect!” And she stormed out of the building.
Disrespect? How? Praying for newly-elected leaders? Praying for their protection and health? I was confused. It did not take long for me to learn the nature of my disrespect (my critic had not been shy in sharing her displeasure). The problem was this: I had used their first names rather than their titles in prayer.
The kerfuffle became a teachable moment about prayer. When we pray, we come before God not with the designations we wear in the world—president, pastor, brick layer, widow—but as children who are known by name. That is how I pray for you—by name. That is how I pray for our elected leaders—Donald, Mike, Mitch, Nancy. I would never address them that way in person or publicly, but to God? In God’s eyes, we are loved regardless of our station in the world, each of us known by name. And we kneel side-by-side in God’s presence by name—all of us sinners in need of mercy.
It’s all about names this Sunday, as we mark the Baptism of Our Lord. From God’s promise to Israel: “Do not fear. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43.1-7) to the Spirit’s announcement at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved,” (Luke 3.15-17, 21-22) each of us called by name.
But before we gather in the sanctuary for worship, we invite you to a conversation about the importance of names. And the name-less. We have invited John Bair, member of Ascension and psychologist, professor and researcher with the VA, to deepen our discussion of homelessness at our fourth Vitality Talk (9:30 a.m., coffee and donuts provided). John met with our Strategy Team earlier this week to help us refine our questions about ways we might better engage this issue. We were wildly impressed with the depth of his knowledge and experience, and stunned at the seeming intractability of homelessness in our country. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the complexities. But John is a wise and patient teacher. Seeing our distress, he stepped back, describing ways in which he and his colleagues at the VA work with the homeless veterans in their care: “First, we learn each other’s names.”
Learn each other’s names? Aren’t there more pressing matters? Mental health issues. Moral injury. Substance abuse. The lack of affordable housing. Social stigma.
Where did John learn that simple, life-changing lesson? In part, from years of professional experience, but also as a believer in God’s promise: “Do not fear. I have called you by name.” Please join the conversation Sunday—it will be well worth your time and attention.
Our children will enjoy Children’s Music at 9:30; Godly Play at 9:45. We will gather for Worship at 10 a.m. by the light of the Epiphany Star that still hangs over our font, under the Wise Men’s welcome we chalked last Sunday: 20 + C M B + 19, in the company of brothers and sisters whom God knows by name.
As I write, we still suffer under a partial government shutdown as our elected leaders search for an acceptable compromise to the current impasse. Perhaps when we meet Sunday, this will all have been resolved—at least, that is my prayer. Please join me in prayer for those who hold our country’s future in their hands—pray for them by name. Please join me in prayer for the 800,000 federal employees and their families—some of whom we know—who bear the burden of this standoff. Please join me in prayer for the thousands who are homeless—some of whom we know—and those, like John, who care for them.
A grade-school friend goes by the name “Abbey,” though her full name is Abigail Melissa Isabella. I find her full name beautiful and elegant, but she calls it her “yelling name”—the name her parents shout when they are displeased with her or need her attention.
Each of us has a name. And regardless of how the world addresses us—by our yelling name or some other title—to God and among God’s people we are precious, honored, loved, known by name.
See you Sunday.