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What's In A Name?

Mark 8:31-38

The Rev. Jon Roberts

28 February


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” 34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”


Get Behind Me, Satan by James Tissot 1886-1894

What is in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. [1]

Is it possible that God would call us by another name that is just at sweet? Spoken by Juliet who dearly wished she could completely fall in love with her love, Romeo if it wasn’t for his last name of Montague. Of course, their love for each other eventually consumed them and led them to their unfortunate deaths.

What is in a name? According to the expert in names, Bruce Lansky, who has written several books on the subject, estimates that in the US, there are about 50,000 name changes each year. He was most interested in knowing why they do so. We know the reason why Juliet wanted to change her name, but what about for women today? Most of those requests from women, came once they were married. 80% of women who are married today, change their names. Maybe the other 20% keep their maiden name for professional reasons or perhaps they are still not sure their husband is a true Romeo. Other reasons to change one’s name include the hard to pronounce ones. Some change their name to avoid debt collectors while others may change their name because it is related to a bad person. In 2003, when the US was hunting down the villainous Saddam Hussein, thousands of Americans who shared the same last name rushed to the courthouse. [2]

God will let us choose our path. He may even let us change our name or better yet, He may choose to change our name. There are examples. Karol Joseph Wojtyla, Joseph Ratzinger, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Do you know them? Where are our Roman Catholics? The first was Pope John Paul II, the second was Pope Benedict XVI, and the last is Pope Francis. They had their name changed. It used to be very in vogue, that when you took Confirmation Class in the church, you would have an affinity for a learned saint, and take on their name so that you could aspire to live like them. There are name changes in the church. What is in a name, and sometimes we ask, could we not change them for the sake of love? There are several names in the lectionary text on this second Sunday in Lent who actually did have their names changed. Abram was changed to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel and Saul to Paul. Simon, who was fishing by the banks of Galilee, was changed to Peter. Each of these changes, were out of God’s promise to love those who learned to live by faith, but did they sound as sweet as the one they once had?

How sweet it is that we accept God’s love and mercy to abide in Him. When we turn to the New Testament account, there is a name that is difficult to say in church. It was one that our Savior gave to Peter. It is a name that if Jesus were to give that to us, we should all just crumble. Nobody wants to be named how Peter was named. The movement following Jesus was growing exponentially. Peter and the rest of the disciples were seeing this. What do you think was going through their minds? They thought they were really a part of something special. The lines waiting for teaching and healing were long, waiting for Jesus. The pews were filled, as we say in church. As a disciple, one closest to him, you had his ear. He knew them all by their name. Simon heard the plan that Jesus gave with great clarity. I will be arrested. I will be accused and wrongly persecuted. I will be crucified and raise up three days later. There was nothing to guess here. Peter says, “This is not going to happen.” Peter appears to keep this between him and Jesus, saying something like, “This is not going to happen.” He implied it was not going to happen, if he had anything to say anything about it, and then there is that name, as Jesus looks at the one most loyal and says, “Get behind me Satan.”[3] It had no sweet sound to it whatsoever.

Abraham and Sarah doubted for a long time they would have children, yet God, out of love, granted them their wish in their old age. They laughed because they were too old, but their steadfast faith allowed them to live into that promise. Jacob wrestled with God to be released from his guilt of stealing his brother’s birthright, and God, out of love, provided the opportunity. Paul, who previously persecuted Christians under the harsh and unforgiving Law, was shown the err of his pride and hypocrisy by Jesus’ love in a blinding light and was humbled. Simon, who became Peter, the Rock, learned what it meant to confess Jesus was Lord by watching how he loved his flock. Each person lived in a pattern. They lived by their standards, not God’s. This fits into the Gospel imperative where Jesus says, “If you want to gain your life you must lose it.” This means we have to give away control to our Lord. Jesus said this life is going to be hard and it must be a leap of faith. When we live into the promises of God with a steadfast faith, especially after we have gone astray from his ways, He makes sure our name lives on forever. [4]

This is much easier than it sounds as we like to call upon the Lord to do our bidding, rather than to stand in awe of Him and to simply lay witness to His glory. We may have to have a few rocks thrown at us, but God says, it will be OK. Even the rocks bow down to Him. What is in a name? When we go to heaven, will we have the same or will there be one far sweeter. Ponder the mystery of Christ for that which he calls us to be like a rose, well there is nothing sweeter than when it comes from the name of Jesus.

[1] William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2,
[2] Leslie Mann, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 8, 2017.
[3] Mark 8:31-38
[4] Collect for Lent II, Year B.
[5] Psalm 22:22

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