A sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name, January 1, 2012
“If Jesus is God’s only Son, then how are we all children of God?”
That was what one of the youth group members asked at our first gathering 2 years ago, which turned into a theological Q and A feast. We use words like “only” and “all” in the church sometimes even when they sound like they are mutually exclusive.
My answer at the time—Jesus is God’s son in a very particular and unique way, the rest of us are God’s children out of love—gets fleshed out this morning in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
We are children of God because God has adopted us as brothers and sisters of God’s only Son.
Which leads to a strange relationship between our earthly parents and our divine Parent; because they each stand in for one another in our minds and hearts sometimes. We see that in the Gospel this morning. Jesus, the son of God, goes with Mary and Joseph to be circumcised and named by them; even though he was really named by God via the angel Gabriel. The divine son is going through the very human ritual of circumcision, and his very human parents are the ones who bestow his God-given name upon him.
Our earthly-parent-given names are one of the ways our parents shape us—for better or worse. And our God-given name—that of Christian—shapes us, too. I am both Jennifer, daughter of Roberta and Walter, and Jennifer the Christian, child of God.
And Jeff Evans, our seminarian, reminded me this morning of other ways our names change—he was in Alabama two weeks ago meeting with the new rector of his sponsoring parish, who was a seminary classmate of mine. He and his family kept asking, “How’s Jenni Reddall?”—ten years ago I was Jenni Reddall, before my marriage, and before another seminary friend told me around the same time, “Jennifer, you are woman enough to own your whole name.” I found myself unable to disagree, and became known as Jennifer.
I have inherited traits from both my earthly and my divine parents, and they’re all kind of jumbled up together inside me. But both earthly and divine parents are still actively shaping me—as a woman, as a parent, as a priest. That continues as long as we live—Jonathan’s mother died over 30 years ago, but she still exerts a powerful influence on who he is today. I know both sets of parents love me, and desire good for me. That good which they desire isn’t always in agreement—what my parents want for me and what God desires for me are not always the same; and what my parents desire for me and what God desires for me are not always what I want for myself.
I had an Evangelical phase in high school. I went to a bunch of Happening weekends, which are like Cursillo for teenagers, for those who know the Cursillo movement. Basically, it was a spiritual retreat weekend run by teenagers for teenagers, with a lot of tears and hugs and guitar music. One of my favorite songs was “Abba, Father.”
Now I don’t play the guitar—I’ve deliberately not learned how to play the guitasr because priests who can play the guitar usually end up having to play the guitar… but I realized this week that “Abba, Father” only has two chords, so I spent the last 3 days practicing those chords on one of the Day School’s guitars so I can share it with you today. The new year is about trying new things, right?
I think what spoke to me was both the “Abba” language for God and the idea of God as a potter who was shaping me—that I wasn’t fully formed, but that God was molding me, shaping me, and forming me into the person God wanted me to be. Please join in, especially on the chorus, and especially if you know it.
Abba Abba Father.
You Are the Potter
And we are the Clay.
The Work of Your Hands.
Mold Us. Mold Us and Fashion Us.
Into the Image.
Of Jesus Your Son.
Of Jesus Your Son.
Father, may we be one in You,
May we be one in You,
As He is in You and You are in Him.
Glory and Praise to You.
Glory and Praise To YOu.