1/20/2019 4:25:51 PM
One of challenging experiences I have teaching Confirmation Class is making the Ten Commandments meaningful to a bunch of 7th and 8th graders. We tend to read these gifts from God as a morality check-list, reducing them to ordinances that we try to keep. We might embrace the commandment "do not murder" but shrug our shoulders about the commandment to reserve the Sabbath for God alone. Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, showed us that every "don't" in the Ten Commandments is connected to a "do." God doesn't want us to only not lie about our neighbor (the 8th commandment); God wants us to use our words to help our neighbors thrive. One of the more difficult Commandments to teach is the second: do not take the Lord's name in vain. God, I think, is asking us to do more than just stop shouting "Jesus Christ" when we stub our toe. God wants us to pay attention to the power of names. And our reading from Isaiah 62:1-5 shows us just how powerful names can be.
The reading begins with the assumption that Jerusalem means something. Jerusalem, conquered by the Babylonians and its people forcefully deported, is now mocked and teased by the nations around them. In the ancient world, wars were viewed as political and cosmic affairs. A war between two nations was also a war between their gods. The destruction of Jerusalem showed that the gods of Babylon were more powerful than the God of Israel. The nations won. Jerusalem lost. In the view of the nations, God and Jerusalem were symbols of failure and defeat. Their names were meaningless and, now, the butt of jokes.
But when the rest of the world assumes God is no longer potent, that's when God renews God's unending promise to God's people. God will give them a new name, a new identity, and "a new chance at life" (Walter Brueggeman's Isaiah). God will act with a new resolve and Jerusalem's new name will be "My Delight is In Her." If the nations thought God had abandoned God's people, God's new name for them will show how God is now with them. Names have power. Names signal our relationships, commitments, and how we viewed ourselves in the world. The names we give ourselves and the names we give others shape our life. The names we give others will reveal exactly how we will treat them. And the names we own for ourselves will reveal exactly what's important to us. Yet, through our baptism and through our faith, we are given a new name that doesn't depend on what others say about us. This name comes from God and God alone. We are Beloved; we are sealed with Christ's cross; we have Jesus' name. And that name changes who we are, who we will be, and who we can be right now.