Sunday, October 22, 2017

God Calls Our Name

October 22, 2017 –– 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4–6 / Psalm 96 / 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5b / Matthew 22:15–21
God Calls Our Name

It’s so common that by now I should have adapted––but I haven’t. I make a phone call and a computer answers and I get annoyed. Even worse, I sometimes get a phone call, and it’s a machine. I always hang up (actually, I’ve stopped answering unless I recognize a name or number). There is something in us that wants personal contacts to be personal.

We live in a culture that reduces persons to numbers and bar codes and strange inscriptions imbedded in magnetic stripes on plastic cards we carry. So it’s wonderful when we can be part of something where other people know our name. I have a fairly decent memory for names (once I’ve truly learned to know someone). I frequently run into people from my pastoral days of 35 years ago, and I usually call them by name. Relationships are so important in the church.

When we know each other by name there is so much more that can open up. We begin to truly know each other, and with that comes the incredible act of praying for each other. In today’s second reading Paul told the Thessalonians: We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers…. Christian faith is personal, not only with one another, but with God.

The incredible thing is that God knows us by name! Jesus gave this wonderful contrast: Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29–31). If God knows the hairs of our head, he knows our name!

The first reading explicitly affirms this. God chose to use the Persian king, Cyrus, to open the way for the Jews to return to their land from captivity. Through the prophet Isaiah, God singles Cyrus out––even before he was born––and says: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…. I have called you by your name…. Cyrus was not an Israelite; God says though you knew me not. Cyrus did not know God, but God knew him––and God called Cyrus, in turn, to know him.

That is the story of salvation. John writes in his first letter: In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us (1Jn 4:10, 19). The Good News is that God loves us and calls us by name.

The Psalmist meditated on the intimacy we can have with God:
Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me (Psa 139: 1–5).

God knows us so totally…. and he loves us.

In 2005 I was diagnosed with cancer. I grew up in a time when the “C” word usually meant death was on the immediate horizon. I’m thankful that has changed in the past 50-60 years, but the emotional threat in my mind was all too real. Now, I had a committed Christian faith. I’d been in pastoral ministry at that time for around thirty years. But when a real threat is suddenly right in front of you, “faith” takes on a new perspective. Then I read (again, but as if for the first time) some later verses in that same psalm:
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down.
My days were shaped, before one came to be (Psa 139:15,16).

Before we were born, God knew every one of us. He knows our name. He knows what our days hold. He knows when the last chapter of our life on earth will end. Most of my life has been given to telling of God’s invitation to trust him for eternity. In the face of my cancer and the reality of these verses, it hit me: If I can trust God for my eternity, I can certainly trust him for my time in this life. Why? God loves me. He knows my name and everything about me. That is true for every one of us.

Early on Easter morning, before the glorious reality of the Lord’s resurrection had been realized by even his closest followers, Mary Magdalene was near the tomb and weeping because, as she said, they have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him (Jn 20:13). The story continues: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”* which means Teacher (Jn 20:14–16). Jesus called her name. Then she knew Jesus was there.

God called Cyrus by name. Jesus called Mary by name. The Lord is calling each one of us by our name today. Listen, and you will know he is near.

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