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Reflection: Nicknames


Sunbury Presbyterian Church

“Nicknames”

Sunday, January 15, 2023

10:30 AM



Isaiah 49:1-7

1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”

5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength — 6 he says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”


We hear here the second of Second Isaiah’s four songs of the Suffering Servant (42: 1-4; 49:1-7; 50: 4-9; 52: 13-53). The Songs of the Suffering Servant sung to an Israel in exile a long time ago, captives in a foreign land, hoping beyond hope for their plight to be made right. They want to go home. Isaiah prophesies that the Suffering Servant is their hope.


But here’s the twist. All the people of Israel are the servant. To be chosen means to be chosen for a purpose, to bear the burden. The wounds expose what is at the heart of their oppressors, what is wrong. Being chosen wasn’t about bragging rights, it wasn’t about bombast or shouting privilege or demanding superiority in the streets. It meant quiet perseverance, steady trust in adversity. Parents appreciate this. To be a servant to your child is the greatest ongoing gift. Raising them, nurturing, feeding, instructing, disciplining, bearing the burden of this responsibility of the greatest love.


But here’s the twist. All the people of Israel are the servant. All those suffering oppression, sorrow, loss, heartache are the servant by which salvation will be established for all.

That was Isaiah’s brilliant insight that made him the first universal prophet. Before Isaiah’s vision from God, all nations had their own gods. Baal for the Babylonians. Ra for the Egyptians. Zeus for the Greeks. Yahweh for Israel. It was like football franchises. Who do you root for? Eagles, Steelers, Raiders? The top god would be the one who won the Superbowl.


What Isaiah discerned was there is but one universal God, sovereign over all nations.


“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”


Salvation not just for the sons of Israel, the tribes of Jacob, but for the other nations too, even the Gentiles. Salvation not just for themselves – like show-offs going ‘nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, we got ours so forget you’ -- but even for those who persecute them, even their enemies. They too need salvation.


What Jesus as a good Jew does is choose to become what Israel is supposed to be, this suffering servant.


John 1:29-42


29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him (for who he truly is); but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).


Nicknames.


Lamb of God is a nickname. Some suggest it refers to the Passover Lamb whose blood smeared saved the people from the Angel of Death to begin the exodus.


Some suggest it is the innocent Suffering Servant who is sacrificed, led to the slaughter, to expose the sins of the world by receiving the brutality humanity can conjure.


Some suggest it refers to the apocalyptic Lamb we read about in Revelation, drawn from the older writings that the lamb of sacrifice is transformed from a bull into a triumphant lamb defeating, crushing the evil powers of the world.


With the Bible? Likely all three are meant.


Nicknames. Do you have one? Who gave it to you?


Not everyone does have a nickname. As cool as a I am, I never did get a cool nickname. My sisters still calling me “Bobby” doesn’t count.


One of the best way to get into the gospel stories is by imagining you are one of the characters. Imagine you are Simon being given by Jesus giving your nickname. Rock, like Rocky. Its Jesus’ language, Aramaic, Cephas, meaning rock. The Greek translation gives us Peter, from petra – Greek for rock. Petroglyph. Petrify. Petroleum.


By the way, (with a bow to Dr. Who), what is the most precious stone in the entire world? Oh no, not those gems some ladies may be wearing, like my wife’s diamond ring, but this rock you find everywhere. Gravel and limestone, clay and water. Most precious stone on the face of the earth. Concrete.


Rocky. Cephas. Presumably a compliment, Jesus complimenting Simon’s steadfastness. Upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.


Maybe. But listening to this episode again might lead to another reason for this nickname. Maybe its not a compliment but a joke. Pulling Simon’s leg, teasing him, the way most nicknames get stuck on folks.


Jesus sees Andrew and probably John himself, the author, following him. They ask him where he is staying. Jesus invites them, saying, “Come and see.” Wow! They do. John tells us its 4 o’clock in the afternoon, literally, the tenth hour of the day since dawn. Scholarship suggests this is dusk of the Sabbath – so, because you cannot travel on the Sabbath, they spend the night, talking, praying, breaking bread together. Wow!


Andrew then, the next morning, goes back to his brother, Simon, telling him: “We have found the Messiah.”


But does Simon rush out to see for himself?


No.


Interesting, very interesting. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Simon’s not going to see for himself. He doesn’t go and see – he has to be brought. Simon’s a real stick in the mud. He has to be led. He has to be persuaded to change. Led and taken, much as Jesus says about him at the end of John’s gospel, to where he doesn’t want to go.


Which could be why Jesus gives him his nickname. Teasing him for being so stubborn. Stubborn as a rock. Unlike brother Andrew, he didn’t go to Jesus willingly. Ah, but once he meets him, he’s pretty reliable. Simon Petra may have been reluctant – all these reluctant saints that make up the church -- but it’s tough to say, “No,” when Jesus calls you, chooses you.

~~~


Tomorrow is an important day for me. I entered the professional ministry because of Martin Luther King, Jr. My home church was very involved in the Civil Rights movement. My original plan for life was to enter the Navy, become a pilot, become a lawyer like my grandfather, enter politics. My goal in life was to become a Senator.


Until.


Until I heard him preach and heard my pastor’s preach. And I realized the law and politics can try to prevent you from lynching your neighbor but cannot make you love your neighbor.


My goose was cooked from that moment on. God has a very funny hook.


~~~


In one of his regular sermons, he preached about the three-dimensional qualities of the complete (saved) life: our life’s length, breadth, height.


How our preoccupation with the length of our life is what we rarely get beyond, that is, our goals, ambitions, achievements, our own welfare.


Our life’s breadth, it’s social expanse, is when our life gets fuller because there are very few things more worthwhile than in doing something for someone else. Our relationships.


It is our life’s height that completes us; moving beyond humanity and reaching up to the God of the Universe whose purpose and will become ours.


And the cross looks like a plus sign


~~~


One of the ironic twists of Martin Luther King, Junior’s life was that he didn’t want to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. His aim was to follow his father’s footsteps and become a important preacher. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and trained to be a privileged Brahmin in the black community.


Until he too got led and drafted to become the spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Which itself was staged. Rosa Parks wasn’t just too tired to go to the back of the bus. It was deliberate, to get her arrested. It’s how you save, by exposing non-violently what’s wrong and offering a new vision.


Martin wanted to be an important pastor in a comfortable pulpit, important pulpit. Until he got chosen to use his gifts. Then came the police batons and hoses. Thrown in jail. Abused. Threatened. Criticized. Knifed. Finally, murdered.


Now, that’s a successful ministry.


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