Mark 1.21-39 & 1 Corinthians 8. 1-13 “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8: 1b There was a fairly typical chapel in rural Devon. An aging congregation, who were faithful and committed to chapel life. They did their best to look after the large building. One day the property steward noticed signs of decay at the bottom of one of the pews. After an initial inspection it was confirmed that it had been caused by dry rot. Subsequent investigations revealed the extent of the problem. The dry rot affected a significant part of the floor and pews. The estimated repair bill was £30,000. A Church Council was called, the situation explained, and a way forward sought. This faithful congregation had been prudent, and they had happened to benefit from a number of legacies over the years. The balance in their various accounts was a little over £30,000. Initially the way forward seemed straight forward. They had the money, the repairs could be done, they could even do some redecorating at the same time and finish with a lovely renovated building. There was a sense of pride in their stewardship of resources and knowing they could pass through this difficulty. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Then someone asked whether this was the best use of the money. What would they do with a lovely building but no money to fund mission or outreach? They asked what the vision for a renewed building was? As they talked they began to consider the congregation a few miles down the road. Its building was sound. It was in a better location, a natural hub. They wondered whether they could worship there. Could they serve their village from there as part of a wider presence in the area? They had worked together on various things before, what if they came together and used the £30,000 to enable work with the community? Then they realised it wouldn’t just be £30,000, but more as if they weren’t fixing the building they could sell it. The sense of excitement grew about what might be possible. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” This a true story, as I remember it, from 5 years ago of a church my friend was minister at. They did take the courageous decision not to repair their beloved building, even though they knew they had the money in the bank, as they believed that their community and God’s Church in the area would be better served by not doing something they could have. I share this story because I think it sharpens the focus on one key aspect of both our readings today. The need to act in love for the sake of others. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is just beginning his public ministry. His calling is to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom has come near (v 14-15). It gets off to a good start. His teaching is authoritative. It astounds those in the synagogue. But it’s not just mere words. His words are performative – they accomplish what they announce – Jesus commands and the spirit obeys, falling silent and coming out of the man. And Jesus embodies the nearness of God’s Kingdom in his being and through his actions. He draws near to Simon’s sick mother-in-law, he touches her and holds her hand, and she is healed. And in hope, expectation, maybe even in faith, the people of Capernaum bring their sick to him. God’s Kingdom is seen amongst them, as Jesus is alongside them, and heals many of them. And news about him starts to spread around the region. Not a bad start. Yet surprisingly the next day, Jesus travels on. We could easily argue that Jesus should have stayed. There is much he could do, much he could capitalise on after this initial success. Yet after his early morning prayers, aware that there are more in the surrounding villages and towns who need to know God’s Kingdom has come close, he leaves. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” In his letter to the Corinthians about the food controversy – whether it was right to eat food that had been sold after being sacrificed to false idols – Paul could easily have settled the argument. Paul could just have outlined why it was OK to eat meat. And Paul, being Paul, does do that! But, says Paul, that’s not really the point; who’s right and who’s wrong. What’s more important than being right is love. What good is being right, if the effect of being right will lead to another stumbling in their faith? Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Consider the effects on those around you. Will it build others up? How will it affect the vulnerable? Put their needs before your own. For many churches, and in our Circuit, it’s this kind of principle that has guided our response during the latest lockdown. Although we could open our buildings and gather in a restricted way we chose not to. We chose not to as an act of love. To protect those who are vulnerable amongst our congregations. To support those in our NHS and other services who are tired by not adding to their burden. To not add stumbling blocks into the path of those who would wonder why we are gathering to worship when their business is closed or they are struggling to home-school their children. To prevent others from falling, out of love, we accept a different way. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” And this, it seems to me, is a fundamental feature of discipleship. In Christ we have tremendous freedom. In Christ we are set free to discover life as God intended. In Christ we are released from all the sin that binds, that restricts, that seeks to drag us down and torment us, just as Jesus set free the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit. But we are set free not to walk in our own way, but Christ’s way. The way of the cross. The way, as Paul reminds us, that means Christ gives up his life so that others may live. He dies for us that we might not be destroyed. This is the way, as Les reminded us last week, we are called to follow. A way that seeks in love to build the other up. But if this is fundamental to discipleship – walking the way of love that seeks to build others up – then it’s not just for a season. As we wrestle with what God is calling us as Church to be through the experience of pandemic and as restrictions ease, might this be a foundation? When we return to gathering together in one place not to ask what we want, but to be guided by love for others, and to ask what will build others up? How might this change the nature of our relationships? How might it transform our conversation and discussion at Church Councils, at home, and in the community? In love for those outside Capernaum Jesus leaves those he has taught and healed, and moves on. In love for those whose faith or theological reflection is weaker Paul will not eat meat. In love for God and those in their community the congregation in Devon leave their building behind. What might God, in love for others, be calling us to move on from, to refrain from, or to leave behind? Are we prepared to follow this sacrificial way so that all might know God’s Kingdom has come near?
January 24th 2021
The Word of the Lord came to ………
Call to Worship - Psalm 62: 5-8
Hymn StF 331 King of Kings, Majesty
Prayers: Praise and Confession
Hymn StF 272 Servant King
Reading: Jonah 3: 1-10
Godly Play (story of Jonah video)
Hymn StF 663 I The Lord of Sea and Sky
Reading: Mark 1: 14-20
Hymn StF 662 Have You Heard God’s Voice
Prayers of Intercession
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn StF 415 The Church of God in Every Age
In the book of Jonah and the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark we are told about God calling people into action, it is a call to respond to the love of God.
Many of us took part in a covenant service last week in which we were invited to renew our covenant with God. The liturgy in the covenant service calls us to respond to the love which God has poured out on us. So today, I’d like us to think about our response to God’s love for us as we reflect on these two passages of scripture.
I suggest that our response inevitably has its limitations – limitations that we may wish to reflect upon.
The book of Jonah may be seen as a ‘funny’ story – I don’t want to suggest to you that it is not a true story – it clearly is a story which contains truth. Some see the story as an Old Testament parable, others see it as a factual account of a reluctant prophet trying to hide from God. Jonah is swallowed by a whale and survives 3 days in the belly of that whale before being spewed out on dry land and reluctantly going on to facilitate the salvation of 120,000 sinners. Which is not a bad day’s work for a preacher!
Jonah is a reluctant prophet, but God is able to use him despite his limitations. There is, therefore, hope for us, despite our limitations.
It is often overlooked that the sailors on board the ship bound for Tarshish were heathens – they worshipped false gods, but when Jonah told them about Yahweh, the One True God who made heaven and earth, they were converted and praised God.
The passage leaves us in no doubt that Jonah is a messenger from God. 120,000 inhabitants of the City of Niniveh and all of those sailors were saved because Jonah, albeit reluctantly, brought the Word of the Lord to them.
Why was Jonah reluctant? Well, because the people of Nineveh were enemies of Jonah’s people, they had history – they took Jonah’s people into captivity – they were guilty of genocide against Jonah’s people.
But this lone, fearful, reluctant Prophet, probably smelling of fish gut, lacking in willingness, enthusiasm, grace, forgiveness and courage was used to great effect by God.
So there certainly must be hope for us yet in our endeavours to take the Word of the Lord to our communities.
We don’t know a lot more about Jonah – we’re not told of his history nor of what he did next.
There is reference to Jonah in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke – they draw parallels with Jonah spending 3 days in the belly of the whale with the Son of Man spending 3 days in the darkness of the earth, both Gospel writers refer to him as a ‘sign’.
Perhaps Jonah could be a sign to us that, as we respond to the Love of God, with all of our shortcomings and reservations, we too might be used to great effect by God, in spreading the Good News of the Kingdom.
Mark makes no mention of Jonah in his gospel.
In the first 2 verses of our Gospel reading Mark tells us that Jesus began his ministry, after spending 40 days and nights in the wilderness, by proclaiming the Good News.
What is the Good News? Mark tells us it is two-fold:
First: ‘The Kingdom of God has come near.’ Followed by an invitation to: ‘Repent and Believe’
As Jesus was on the shore of Galilea he met brothers Simon and Andrew working – just a regular days fishing for them – ‘for they were fishermen’ Mark tells us. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” was his simple invitation.
Further along the shore he met brothers James and John – mending nets, so they were also fishermen. Jesus offers the same invitation to follow him.
All 4 men follow, we’re told. Their apparent eagerness to follow Jesus is a huge contrast to Jonah’s reluctance to follow the Word of the Lord.
Notice the word that Mark uses twice in these short verses: Immediately, Jesus called James and John; Immediately Simon and Andrew followed.
Simon and Andrew, Immediately left their nets, their livelihood and family, and James and John left their father Zebedee and all that was familiar and dear to them and followed Jesus into an uncertain future.
We know now what the future held for those 4 men setting out on an adventure with the Son of Man: it involved sacrifice, suffering, ridicule, fear, self-denial confusion and ultimately death as the ‘Christian journey’ for all 4 of these disciples, and their faithfulness to answering that call brought about their execution.
Where’s the Good News in that?
Well, it’s this: death is not the end. Life following Christ on earth led them to life eternal with Christ. Their lives were no longer their own, but Christ’s.
Last week, Rev Chris led us in our online Circuit Covenant Service.
I could name a number of ‘good Methodist’ folk who avoid attending an annual covenant service and, if they do attend wince when the minister says the words; as Rev Chris said them last week:
“Christ has many services to be done, some are easy, some are difficult, some bring honour, others bring reproach, some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, and others are contrary to both”
And they remain silent when asked to respond with the words committing their lives to Christ: “Your will, not mine be done in all things, wherever you may place me” - Which is not too different to the words in our Lord’s prayer: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Words we say frequently – (perhaps we say these words without dwelling on what we are asking?)
The prophet Jonah had a problem with God’s call on his life, but the naïve Simon, Andrew, James and John showed no such reservation at that point in their call. They immediately left security and familiarity and followed.
Later, however, when the cross loomed large they inevitably falter and probably wish a big fished would come and swallow them up, but they saw it through and give their lives in service to the Lord.
What was it that sustained them in their call?
Well, it’s the same things that will sustain you in your call and response. The assurance of God which we heard earlier from the Psalmist: It is God who is our: Hope, rock, salvation, fortress, deliverance, honour, our mighty rock our refuge and strength in times of trouble.
We have all lived through some very dark days over the past 10 months or so.
Yet I look at some of our church folk in this circuit and beyond where, despite not being able to meet and worship together have found their sense of mission increase and who have discerned new ways to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to the communities around them.
- Online worship and prayer meetings.
- Online story telling for young folk
- Delivery gifts
- Setting up and running a food bank despite the challenges of lockdown
- Collecting and delivering prescriptions and shopping
- Reaching out to the lonely and depressed, being a good neighbour in imaginative ways
- Setting up a ‘healing our community project’
- Planning exciting things for a time when we can meet and work together in the service of God, following Jesus’ call on out lives.
Now, perhaps more than ever, people need to hear the Good News of the Kingdom.
Just as the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, and the invitation to Follow Jesus came to Simon, Andrew, James and John, so the Word and the Call comes out to each of us today.
Hear afresh Jesus invitation. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” AMEN.
Readings Isa 43 18-19, 1Cor 12. 12, 13 &27, Mark 14. 22-25
Our President of Conference, Richard Teal has chosen the text of Isa 43 for the membership tickets this year, “do not remember the former things, for I am about to do a new thing”. I think he probably chose wisely, for many things are new these past twelve months. My hunch is that when we emerge from the pandemic the Church of God will be very different, indeed it is already different. Whilst many of the changes have been enforced on us, it might be that we can perceive some of the ways we have done things in the past have outgrown their usefulness and we must bend our minds to seeking new ways of doing those things, as well as discovering new things to do. We need to be radical at owning the new reality. We need to take more risks and not be bound by the past. We have found and must continue to find new ways of being Church. A new era is now upon us. Some of us will be wary of that, others thrilled. But there is a sense of embracing the new in every single one of us. I have already bought compost for sowing my vegetable seeds into and bought seeds to sow. Even now in January I am thinking ahead to the new growing season. This time last year I had never zoomed, never posted a u tube video, but I have engaged over the last year in zoom meetings, and in on-line worship for example. And today we are engaging in a Covenant Service removed from the church building, without Holy Communion. So for the first time in my life I share in a covenant service without the sacrament as part of that service. The Methodist Church has said we cannot have virtual communion because by definition it involves the one presiding taking bread and wine and placing them on the table in the presence of the people and saying prayers and invoking the Holy Spirit upon them. We cannot do that virtually, something not all Methodists including some ex President’s understand. That having been said I am still taking my text from the institution narrative of the Lord’s Supper. Because the Lord’s Supper is so central to my understanding of what Church is about. Amongst the recommended readings is Mark’s account of the institution narrative at the Last Supper. And it is from this I base my reflections today. Mark 14. 22-25 “this is my body….vs 24 ….this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in the kingdom of God” . The Methodist Worship Book says that “Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper in the central act of Christian worship in which the Church responds to our Lord’s command “Do this in remembrance of me”. I wonder what you make of that statement?
- Jesus says, “This is my body”. Jesus’ words obviously refer to the bread on the table in the upper room because he prefaces it with “take”. At every eucharist of the one, holy, catholic Church since these words of institution have been said over the bread, and often the bread has been offered to the people with the accompanying words “the body of Christ”, or some such, not “here is a piece of bread”. Guidelines in our present circumstance dictate they are distributed in silence. I found this quite odd last week as I distributed the bread. Whist there will be many shades of opinion between those who gather in this service today, and between us when we gather in physical buildings for Holy Communion about what we make of this practice, chances are we all assume everyone else thinks the same as we do, (whatever that may be) and that may not be the case. We may vary in what we understand by the presence of Christ and how he is with us in the bread and wine, in the gathering together or we may have never given much thought to such subjects, but we probably all agree we are participating in something special that demands our serious attention and that is to be approached with reverence. I don’t want us to fret about those differences today but I do want us to note the various other ways we also use the term “the body of Christ” , For example, when we use it like St Paul, to denote, not the blessed sacrament, but the blessed company of believers. For Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians “you are the body of Christ”, so we gather as sisters and brothers in his name. We are the Body of Christ as we gather virtually. We are very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ (to use a BCP phrase that made its way into the Methodist Church’s Book of Offices Service) . Of course, there are other disciples of Christ not with us today, those who cannot access on-line services but essentially we (the baptized band of disciples) are his body here in our local communities. As St Teresa of Avilla put it long ago “Christ has no hands on earth but ours”. We are to make manifest his love and concern in our ordinary everyday lives as we serve him in serving others in our communities. We are the body of Christ when we gather together and when we go out dispersed into the world. Not just on a Sunday but everyday of the week. We show we are Christ’s disciples, we are his body by the things we do and say and the attitudes ad qualities we exhibit.
“This is my blood of the new covenant” There are many covenants in Scripture, literally dozens with Abraham, Noah, David, Isaac, Jacob to name a few. But the covenant Jesus speaks of seems to look forward in time to his shedding of blood on Calvary. It might not be popular in our modern world or even in the modern Church but you can’t get away from it as Christians, that Christ died and shed his blood. The cross is the central event the story of our salvation. For as we might have sung at Christmas, if we had been allowed “now you need not fear the grave, Jesus Christ was born to save”. A covenant with God, initiated by God always takes sin seriously in all its forms, personal, social, societal, and we probably live in an age where taking sin seriously is less and less the case, than it was in previous times. Essentially the work of any covenant involving God, is at God’s initiative, not ours, we cannot win salvation by our own efforts. It is not a deal, a contract of equal parties. As human beings we know we need help. We are fallen and flawed. We need salvation. And any reminder of the fact that the covenant which is the ground of our hope is sealed with the blood of Christ should push us to take sin in our own lives, in the life of our society and the life of the whole world seriously. The Letter to the Hebrews goes to great lengths in making the point that every covenant worth anything is sealed in blood, demands commitment. Hebrews 9 speaks of Christ entering the Holy Place and obtaining redemption for us through the shedding of his own blood. It goes on to say without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. We offer of course an unbloody sacrifice in our worship today as we understand it, but Charles Wesley (good High Church Anglican that he was) was clear about the eternal benefits of the one perfect sacrifice, and the connection between that event and our sharing in the Lord’s Supper. In one of his many communion hymns (166) he writes “with solemn faith we offer up and spread before thy glorious eyes that only ground of all our hope, thy precious, bleeding sacrifice”.
- Jesus’ words over the bread and the cup are suffixed by a reference to the kingdom. He is looking forward. Glorious though our various experiences of worship might be and each of us might have different memories that are the highlight for us, each of them are only a stage on the journey, though an important one I think, we must keep striving for the kingdom. I get the sense that Jesus is saying something like he will not rest until the kingdom has come. He will not mistake the stages on the way for the final destination. And an understanding of that illusive kingdom encompasses all our striving for community here in our neighbourhoods, our desires for that which binds us to the common good and seeks love of neighbour not just ourselves, encompasses our striving for greater fellowship and unity in God’s Church, and for justice and peace in all the world. The kingdom agenda was ever before Jesus as he exercised his ministry and it behoves his present-day disciples (you and me) to remember that and keep that vision of the kingdom before our eyes in all we do and plan. So may God help us as we renew the covenant today, as we share in the sacrament, as we gird up our loins to step out into 2021, may we look more carefully for the signs of God’s kingdom among us here in this community and rejoice more fervently and strive more faithfully to serve the cause of God’s kingdom again in the year ahead. To end with some words of the URC Thomas Caryl Micklem “Jesus, with all your Church, I Iong, to see your kingdom come”, May it be so for us too. Hymn 520 “Give to me Lord a thankful heart”
Reflection for Advent 4: psalm 89 verses1-4, 19-26, Romans 16 25-27 & Luke 1.26-38
In his poem the Ballad of the Breadman, Charles Causley speaks of Jesus as the bread man. He begins by painting a picture of Mary baking bread, and as she goes about this very ordinary domestic task, probably undertaken daily in her household, she is visited by the Angel Gabriel. He comes with a message that she is to have a child. This is to be the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. Earlier in Romans 16 we heard St Paul speak about the mystery of God that was revealed and disclosed in Jesus. We live in an age when we have had to live once again with mystery. The Covid 19 virus has been a mystery to us. We thought we were invincible, that we knew everything in a way that people in former ages did not view themselves so arrogantly. They knew life was a mystery and death was all around them in the midst of life. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is a mystery, God is “incomprehensibly made man” as Charles Wesley puts it. Perhaps this year we have been sorely reminded how mysterious life is and how little we know and understand. We are thankful for those who have laboured hard to trial a vaccine but we await how it will be rolled out. In the wisdom of God he chooses a very ordinary teenage girl from a back-water village called Nazareth to be the mother of his only Son.
And Causley speaks in his poem of how Jesus grows and develops into an adult exercising a ministry. Eventually Jesus’ ministry is portrayed in strongly sacramental terms as one who offers bread to the people, but they reject it and reject him. They are disinterested, not bothered in the slightest about him and his message and what he offers.
I have to confess that I have found not gathering with the people of God to celebrate the sacramenta of the Lord’s Super the most profound deprivation these last 9 months. For me this is the central act of Christian worship (it actually says that in the Conference authorised Methodist Worship Book). And in case you think that is new-fangled (though we have had that book 21 years) its predecessor, the Methodist Service Book, said “worship in its fulness includes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper”. I wonder sometimes what some people think worship in its fulness might include and involve.
I wonder if having been deprived of sacramental celebrations we might view them differently now we are back to some of the things we can do in worship.
Magnificat (StF 793 or Luke 1. 46-55)
Mary’s song the Magnificat is not a meek mild message from a submissive girl. It really goes to the heart of the upside down nature of God’s kingdom. Many reflections have been offered on Mary and her Magnificat. What became known in the 1960’s and 70’s as Liberation Theology in Latin America started to see Mary as a symbol of a revolutionary God who see the cry of the poor and oppressed and wants to liberate them. A story we had forgotten from the OT when Israel was in slavery and Moses was raised up to confront Pharaoh. I came across the poems of Pedro Casaldaliga recently who was a Brazilian bishop who died earlier this year. Like many others he began from his traditional Catholic spirituality but came to see Mary as a symbol of the struggle the poor and oppressed people were engaged with. I have thought for a long time that Mary is someone we forget at our peril. And we often have forgotten her. I love the story of the very zealous Protestant minister who died and went through the pearly gates. Jesus greets him and says he wants to introduce him to someone he believes that the pastor does not know. “Who is it? “ the pastor asks. “It’s my mother”, says Jesus!
Mary is a model for all Christian disciples. She carries the Christ child, she bears Christ. She is the first Christian believer. And she sings forth God’s radical message as relevant today as in any generation.
So Casaldaliga writes
“Our Mary of the Magnificat,
We want to sing with you.
Mary of our Liberation”
And in Magnificat of the poor he writes
“Your Mighty Arm
Shatters capital, missiles and misery,
Fills poor humanity with the good things of the Reign
And sends the accumulators away naked into the reign of darkness”
He sees Mary with Joseph and the Christ child fleeing as refugees as something she shares with many today
“There was no room in Bethlehem, there
Was no room in Egypt;
And there was no room in Madrid, for you
Joseph will be forced into unemployment
For many days…
And the child will grow up with no more schooling than the lessons of the sun and of your word”
“Peasant woman, working-class woman…
Teach us to read the Gospel of Jesus with sincerity
And to translate it into life
With all its revolutionary consequences”
So as we reflect on Mary’s role in God’s plan of salvation today, as God illicits from her a “yes” from deep within her heart, as she responds positively to the invitation to co-operate with God in this great plan of salvation, may we see her more clearly as a model for our discipleship of Christ, that we too may be Christ-bearers in our lives and live the radical disturbing nature of her Magnificat in our world as agents of God’s kingdom as she was.
John 1. Verses 6-8, 19-28 In the much repeated advert for Sipsmith’s gin the goose takes you round the distillery and says of the process worker dealing with the juniper, “no body knows his real name. I just call him juniper guy. The chap replies “My name’s Craig”. Names are important
On the third Sunday of Advent the Church invites the disciples of Christ to consider John the Baptist and his role in the story of salvation. He appears on the scene and many people seem rather baffled as to who he is. “Who are you?” they ask. “Are you Elijah ?” . “No” John answers. “ Are you one of the prophets?” he answers again “no”. “Then who are you?” the crowd ask. To be mistaken for Elijah sounds like John appeared to the people around him to be a bit like Elijah. And I don’t mean he looked like him because no one would know that. But his words and approach sounded rather like Elijah. He was obviously regarded as being like one of the earlier prophets. Indeed, though he denies it, he appears to be a prophet, standing in a tradition of prophetic figures. Who are you is a searching question.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….to make known your name” (Isa 64.1-2). What’s in a name? In past times, far more than nowadays, a person’s name was really important. It was chosen carefully. Remember the concern Moses expresses to know the name of the one who calls him to go to Pharoah. Tell him I AM has sent you. That name is mysterious in itself. And Jacob who wrestles with a mysterious figure to discover the name of his combatant and suffers a hip joint dislocation in the tussle. He is desperate to know the name of the one he wrestles with. Names were really important in ancient times. To know the name of someone meant you had some knowledge of them. Revealing your name to someone entailed a degree of vulnerability and intimacy. A person’s nature and identity was disclosed in some significant way by knowing their name. I remember once preaching at Skinningrove and speaking of my father and grandmother who had been born there. In an off the cuff comment I gave my grandmother’s maiden name of Corner and I could see the scales fall from one lady’s eyes. I commented on my great uncle John Corner who was a well known character who went by the nickname of Firey because like all the Corners he had ginger hair. Despite the fact that I look a bit like him with the Corner nose and that I have a ginger beard, she had not made the connection. I could see in her face a recognition (almost an epiphany) of who I was and how I fitted in to those she had known from times past. She saw me in a different light.
More common in past times than now, children were often called after previous generations of their family; so, it is not uncommon for the child to take their father or mother’s name as their middle name, as I was given. Christopher Charles Humble sons of Charles Humble. Sometimes it can be more convoluted than that and we might be called by the same name, after a relative from further back in history. Let me tell you a story of a musical event I went to once in York where choir members from various choirs attended. At that time I used to sing in a madrigal group. I was introduced to someone as the choirmaster of Kirkbymoorside Parish Church. I told him that my great great grandfather was buried in his churchyard and he asked “what was his name?” I replied “Christopher Humble” . “And what is your name?” he enquired. With a twinkle in my eye I replied “Christopher Humble”! The first Christopher Humble was born in 1829 and he was actually called after his grandfather The Revd Christopher Roberts, born 1760 who was in fact the son of Christopher Roberts. So Christopher goes back more than 200 years as a line of descent. This is an example of the fact that In some family’s the names keep repeating themselves for generations.
For example, both my grandfathers were named after their great grandfathers, because their mothers held these men in very high esteem. My paternal grandfather was named Richard Leonard Humble after his uncle and great grandfather Richard Humble and Leonard after his mother’s mother’s father Leonard Thompson who brought up his grandchildren. So the name Leonard lived on in my grandad for 180 years but longer than that because Leonard Thompson of Great Edstone York NR was the son of Leonard Thompson stretching back about 200 years!
More or less the same thing happens with my maternal grandfather who was named John Sowerby Hart father his mothers mother’s father John Sowerby. And the name went even further back because John Sowerby was the son of John Sowerby born 1750??. The name lived on because my uncle was named after his father as John Sowerby Hart and he died in 2007, thus the name lived for well over 250 years.
Sometimes choosing a name is tactical move. My mother’s cousin was name William Mead Harrison because the Meads were the original owners as yeoman farmers of Hill House Farm in Lealholm and the last Mead died without children so my grandmother’s uncle inherited the farm, William Harrison. He died without children and his nephew another William Harrison inherited the farm. His son was named William Mead Harrison to keep the family name going, possibly to stake a claim that the farm had a continuity stretching back to the Meads, which his grandmother was. He died in 2014 about 140 years after the last Mead died. The farm is still in the Harrison family now.
Sometimes children are named after footballers. The young mother in Naples who named her baby eg Deigo Armado Maradona Junior gave us a bit of a clue as to paternity! Sometimes children are named after the whole team if they are very successful! or other famous people or even battles. I smiled as a noticed a gravestone in Loftus cemetery recently from the nineteenth century when the child was called Horatio Nelson followed by the family surname. I wonder what teasing the boy received at school and whether he liked going to sea!
The one for whom we watch and wait in the season of Advent is of course Jesus Christ. His name was announced by an angel according to Luke 1.31 who tells Mary that he is to be named Jesus. She did not get to choose the name herself! And so, when he is named on the eighth day at his circumcision according to Luke 2.21, he is called Jesus and reference is made again to this name being given by the angel Gabriel. When John the Baptist was born there is a dispute about what he is to be called because Elizabeth says “his name is to be John” and the people are struck by consternation because no one in the family goes by this name, it is breaking with tradition. Zechariah who has been struck dumb is called for and he writes “his name is John” Luke 1. 59-66 and this naming unlocks his father’s tongue and caused amazement to be spread abroad.
In an age when being a number, a statistic is often how people feel about the systems that control our lives, people knowing our names and calling us by name is important. The Methodist Church’s membership guide is entitled “Called by name” refering back to Isaiah 43.
In a more significant sense, anyone baptised in the name of Trinity, is enrolled into a company of disciples of Christ. In a very real sense, we bear his name. So, as we journey through these days of Advent may we fulfil our high calling as followers of Christ, bearers of his name, witnesses to his life and light in our daily lives.
Isaiah desires that God will tear open the heavens and come down. This is exactly what we proclaim happens in the mystery of the incarnation that we are preparing to celebrate “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” Jn 1.14. God comes down to be among us in the form of a human being as a vulnerable baby. As Christians we are named after Jesus Christ our Saviour because we were baptised in his name and enrolled as his disciples. We belong to Christ, called by his name, commissioned to serve him in our lives. His name is the name we are charged to glorify not our own. So, I wonder what sort of a name we are known by or what sort of name our church community/organisation has within the local neighbourhood? As “Craig” in the Sipsmith’s advert reminds us names are important.