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  • Pastor A.J. Houseman

"What's in a Name?" by Pastor A.J. Houseman

Names are a big deal. What we are called. And what we prefer to be called right? My full first name is Alexandra, (in case you didn’t know that yet!), the ONLY person that was ever allowed to call me that was my grandfather, my mother’s dad. My middle name is Jo. Jo is my mother’s middle name and JoAnn was my grandmother’s. My parents named me Alexandra Jo with the intention of calling me A.J.

There was the movie that came out in the 70s called “The Other Side of the Mountain”. It’s about a true story about Jill Kinmont, a professional ski racer who was headed to the Olympics. Then during a race she falls off the side of the mountain and becomes a paraplegic. And the rest of the movie is very tragic about how hard her life was in the 1950s as a paralyzed woman. Her fiance leaves her. It’s a sad story.

But another female ski racer friend of hers is named A.J. and it was the first time my parents had heard A.J. for a girl and they liked it.

It comes with some fun things, I get a lot of mail to Mr. Houseman and moments when I meet someone in person and it’s very clear they were expecting a man. But overall, my name is a distinct piece of who I am. It’s part of my family and feels like a part of my bold identity.

In the near future, my wife and I will be charged with naming another human, yeah it sounds like a terrifying task. Permanent. It feels like a big deal. And maybe we won’t even have a detailed and great a story as my parents do for my name. But the names that we choose have meanings. So how do we name a person?

There are many customs in different cultures around naming. In Hinduism there is a traditional ceremony known as Namakarana. This ceremony is held 12 days after someone is born. Where family and friends gather for a celebration feast and the parents announce the child’s name.

In Judaism, along with a bris for a male, this is done. And for a female, their naming ceremony coincides with the Torah reading at the first Shabbat following birth. Parents hold a feast and share the name, share its meaning, the family it was chosen from, and the strength given in that name.

There’s a children’s book that I hope my child enjoys hearing. It’s called “The Name Jar”. There is a little girl named Unhei, who recently immigrated to the United States from Korea with her family. She is new to an American classroom and the kids she meets on the bus have trouble saying her name.

She decides to pick a new American name to fit in and so people can talk to her better. So the kids get a jar and start to each submit names to it for Unhei to choose from. And ultimately, Unhei chooses her own name. It means Grace in Korean, and it was carefully selected by her mother and grandmother. The kids learn to pronounce it and are glad to have her keep her valued possession of her name.

Names share our culture, where we come from, from WHOM we come from. Many of our names are family names, many have meaning that we hold to. There are also names that we earn. Names that tell about us, who we are and maybe what we’ve achieved.

Things like: pastor or doctor. There’s also famous names throughout history about the deeds of great people. MOTHER Teresa. Alexander the Great, Leo VI the Wise.

In our gospel lesson for today, we meet Bartimaeus, who is the son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus literally means “son of Timaeus”. It’s part of his identity. Bart is blind and he comes to Jesus for healing. In this story Bart does something that no one else has done yet in the gospel of Mark.

Bart names Jesus “son of David”. This is before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and everyone has heard this about him. The whole of Jerusalem is shouting, “Blessed be the Son of David”.

A blind man, living on the street, who can’t even SEE him, knows this name. Recognizes it in Jesus. Names him.

So far, he is just “Jesus of Nazareth”, pretty standard at the time. Or “Jesus, son of Joseph”. Also pretty standard.

But for this man, in this place, to name his heritage. Name him as part of the line of the great kings, is recognizing something in Jesus that perhaps maybe even his disciples haven’t recognized yet.

To truly see someone and recognize and name who they are is touching a deep part of our very beings. Unhei’s name was precious to her, it was given by her mother and grandmother. It has meaning in her culture and her family. It’s part of who she is.

Often we talk about how Jesus can see this in someone. That Jesus is good at naming someone and recognizing their inner being. But we don’t always see how others recognize this in Jesus.

That this is the son of God, this is a descendant of King David. This is our savior.

We are a few short weeks away from Advent, a time of watching and expectantly waiting for the savior. But can we recognize and name Jesus when he is among us?

Seeing Jesus in the compassion of others. Seeing Jesus and calling out to him just like Bart. Each of us have our own relationship with the savior, name him for ourselves each a little differently. Who is this Jesus to you? How do you name him?

Often we talk about our communal aspect of relationship with God and the church. Through service, caring for others, and following Christ. But there is also a personal aspect to our faith. The one that no one else sees. The one that is just between us and God.

An intimate one. We have relationships like that with family, spouses, a best friend, perhaps. Do you have nicknames for each other? That only you know?

We are invited into this kind of relationship with Jesus. So I leave you with these questions to ponder in your faith and relationship. Who is this Jesus to you? How do you name Jesus? Friend, king, savior, healer, comforter? What does this naming of Jesus mean to you?

To Bart it meant sight, it meant salvation, and it meant a new life because of this Jesus, the Son of David. Who is this guy to you? Amen.


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