Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lord's Day Message: The Beginning of Identity


The Beginning of Identity

Luke 2:21-35
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.
22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Introduction – defining “a good name”
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
(Proverbs 22:1 ESV)

“Good news travels fast.  Bad news travels even faster and seems to hang in our collective consciousness longer.  The Tiger Woods sex scandal that began unraveling in November, 2009 may hang around for some time, with far reaching financial implications for his family, friends, business associates and the world of golf.  In addition to a tarnished reputation, Tigers’ cumulative financial losses may stick around a long time.
To understand the effects of the scandal in financial terms, lost revenue affects business partners, sponsors and broadcasters which to date are estimated at 48.8 million, and that is not counting his own personal loss of income as his ranking slips and endorsements wane. 

[In the world of brand names,] “Woods is one of the few human brands.”  Unfortunately his human behavior also led to his downfall.  Regrettably, the Woods’ scandal also occurred during an economic downturn.  Although revenues may have dropped during this period without the scandal going public, Woods is receiving negative press for these losses. 

After reviewing internal documents, a confidential source at CNBC reported that Woods’ management company, IMG, lost $4.6 million in commissions on Tigers’ endorsement deals. The $4.6 million loss on Tiger’s endorsements would mean that the golfer himself lost in between $23 million and $30 million in deals last year.

Although advertisers ING, Mercedes-Benz, Northwestern Mutual, RBC are sticking with Woods thus far, last year his departure from the game from November until April of this year reportedly cost $35 million in lost revenue sponsors.   Canceled title sponsors include Verizon as the title sponsor of the Masters in Hilton Head, S.C. and UBS for sponsorship of the Players Championship.  Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade also got cold feet.   However, the impact of these changes might not be felt for some time.  Hopefully we have all learned a lesson from Tiger.  The value of a good name is priceless.

Excerpted from Madame Noire, an upscale fashion magazine for African/American women, August 2010.

Besides pointing out the obvious economic disaster that has come upon Tiger Woods, the author uses the term “human brand” to describe how companies have capitalized on selling the very person of Woods himself.  This isn’t the first time this has happened to a sports figure.  Michael Jordan almost single handedly made Nike. 

Leave the sports world and you begin to see the real value of a good name.  Honorary “Colonel” Harland Sanders, Chef Ettore Boiarde, and travel editor Duncan Hines all had good names, not to mention Betty Crocker, the brunette housewife from middle America, who never actually existed.

A good name is not easy to come by.  There’s a lot about reputation and history in a good name.  Preserving a good name is even harder, as Tiger Woods found out.  But what we want to look at this morning is what it takes to have, not just a good name, but the best name.

The Best Name is A Name Given at Circumcision (conforms to the law)
In Judaism, in order to have a name at all, every male child has to be circumcised according to very strict guidelines.  The rite of circumcision (brit milah) is performed on the eighth day of a boy's life. 

Circumcision is commanded in Genesis 17 as an outward sign of a man's participation in Israel's covenant with God, as well as a sign that the Jewish people will perpetuate through him. The commandment is incumbent upon both father and child - fathers must see that their sons are circumcised, and uncircumcised grown men are obliged to perform the rite.

Those who are not circumcised suffer the penalty of kareit, which curiously enough means “excision,” no matter how otherwise observant a Jew they may otherwise be. Perhaps in part for this reason, circumcision is the mitzvah or command most likely to be observed by otherwise non-observant Jews.  To be excised means to be cut off from your spiritual source, cut off from Israel, and cut off from God.  So in circumcision, God is giving people a choice: either the foreskin is cut off or the whole person is cut off. 

Circumcision is so important that it may be performed on the Sabbath or a holiday, despite prohibitions of drawing blood on those days.   It is only after the boy is circumcised that he is given a name. 

And so, Luke 2:21 says, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”  But because of what we now know about circumcision we know that what the passage means is “On the eighth day, after he was circumcised, he was named Jesus.” 

The Best Name is A Name Given by an Angel (given by order from God)

A Jewish boy in ancient times was always named by his father.  In fact, Jewish boys were partly named after their father.   Jews also have maintained the practice of naming their sons after either a living or dead relative.  This not only gives a sense of family continuity, but it is thought to spiritually bind the child to the covenant through connection with the “spirit” of the observant relative.  The interesting thing is that Jews historically rarely name their male children after their father. 

Both Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel offer us pieces of Jesus’ genealogy.   If we assume that the genealogy given in Luke is Mary’s genealogy and the one in Matthew is Joseph’s, it is at least 27 generations back before we find a Joshua, the Hebrew of the name Jesus.  So it seems like a real stretch to think that Joseph would go that far back in Mary’s genealogy to name his first-born son.  Of course, that assumes that Joseph was Jesus’ birth father.   Even under the extraordinary circumstances of John the Baptist’s birth, though Elizabeth is the first to say what John’s name is, all the onlookers still appeal to John’s father, Zechariah, for the final naming, and he had been rendered unable to speak throughout the pregnancy. 

The father always named the son.  In the normal course of things, Jesus might have been named “Joshua ben Joseph,” that is Jesus, son of Joseph, but there is no place in any ancient account where he is called that.  He is always simply Jesus, which means, “God is salvation.”

What is extraordinary is that Jesus was given his name by an angel by direct command from HIS father – by direct command from God.

The Best Name is a Name given before you were conceived

Psalm 139 tells us,   
For you formed my inward parts;
                        you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
            I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
            Wonderful are your works;
                        my soul knows it very well.
            My frame was not hidden from you,
            when I was being made in secret,
                        intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
            Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
            in your book were written, every one of them,
                        the days that were formed for me,
                        when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139:13-16 ESV)

Those of you who have been parents know how difficult it is to come up with just the right name for your child.  Jama and I discussed back and forth for weeks whether to call our daughter Hannah or Elizabeth.  The middle name was easier, as we knew we wanted to honor Jama’s mother and call her Rowena, a great old English name.  After some thought, I had decided that if we had a son we would name him Timothy, after Paul’s young disciple, and give him the middle name James, after Jama’s father.  Elizabeth means “House of God,” and Timothy means, “Honoring God,” two great prayers to pray over your unborn children. 

 Most parents discuss what they’ll name their child.  Sometimes they even discuss what to name a “proposed” child who hasn’t been conceived.  You know, “if we have another child, what might we name him or her?”  But the best name is one that is given to a child who has been promised by God.   THIS child was very definitely going to be born, and even before he was in Mary’s womb, God knew there was only one proper name for him, “God is Salvation.”

After Jesus birth and circumcision and naming, when his parents brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to God, the old man Simeon, who didn’t know who Mary and Joseph were or what the baby’s name was, picked Jesus up and said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”  There was only one name by which Jesus could ever have been called, and his Father gave him the name eternally before he was conceived.

The Best name can be your name

The best name is one that brings you into conformity with the Law of God.  The best name is one that is given to you directly by God.  The best name is one that is given you before you were conceived by God. 

Beloved, the beginning of identity is knowing who you are before God.  The best name in the world is Jesus, because your salvation is wrapped up in that name.  God is Salvation wants to bring you into conformity with the Law of God by giving you a name that conforms to God’s law.  God is Salvation knew you before you were conceived and has a name he wants to give you by divine command. 

When you walked in here this morning, you may have only been conscious of being whatever name your parents gave you, and that may have been a good name.  But Beloved, that name is insufficient.  That name alone is not good enough for you to know God.  You need a new name.  You need Jesus, “God is Salvation” to really understand who you are and whose you are. 

We’re in the middle of a series on beginnings on this New Year’s Day.  If you’ve never yet been sure of your identity, is there a better day than the first day of the year for you to begin a life with God as your Father?  The best name in the world can be your name too.  It is his delight to give it to you. 

AMEN.

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