What’s in a Name?

When you log into Facebook, and it reminds you that today is your Baptismal birthday, I have to admit, that’s kind of cool. It’s little strange, given that Facebook wasn’t around then, but still, it’s kind of cool. 

This has me thinking today about the importance of names and the idea of being claimed. Those of you who know me well, know that I prefer going by my full first name, Timothy. Today, in celebration of my baptismal birthday, I would like to share a few reasons why this matters for me.

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Baptized by my grandpa on Easter Sunday, and in this picture, with two young and amazing parents.

My baptized and given name
On this day a few decades ago, I was baptized on Easter Sunday and officially marked and claimed as a Child of God. I was sealed with the cross of Christ forever. I was named Timothy when I was born, and a couple months later, I was baptized as Timothy.

I was named after the companion, disciple, assistant, and perhaps correspondent to the Apostle Paul. I also like the supposed meaning for the name of Timothy, which is “honoring God.”

I wanted to be different
This name also matters to me because growing up, there were a number of Tim’s in my classes. Most of them were my friends.

The show “Home Improvement,” with Tim Allen playing “Tim the Tool Man Taylor,” was on TV every week when I was in elementary school, and the idea of being called “Tim,” like the sometimes odd and goofball “Tim the Tool Man,” was not quite what I wanted to be known for. And, to be perfectly honest, if you remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you might also remember “Tiny Tim.” Being that I was always one of the shortest kids in my class, I didn’t want to be known as “Tiny Tim.” I wanted to be different.

I wanted to be different, so I did the best I could to claim that, by going by Timothy.

The realities of other names
It really wasn’t until the fourth grade when this effort of mine was challenged, and one of my favorite teachers started always calling me “Tim.” Perhaps I was just too quiet to fight it publicly or correct it? But my silent form of protest was to always write my name on my homework as “Timothy,” and to always sign my name as “Timothy.”

People near and far have called me one thing or another, too many names to willingly list. When called these different names I may or may not verbally respond, but when asked about my name preference, I always say my name is Timothy (but I am used to being called other things).

There may be other titles I am called, such as “friend,” “deacon,” “Child of God,” “brother,” “son,” “husband,” etc., and these are all well and good. But when you get past the title, my name will always be Timothy.

Names and identities matter
So why am I writing about this today on my baptismal birthday? I am not writing to make anyone feel bad who has called me something else. I get it, I have called plenty of people names they probably don’t want to be called too.

I am writing about this today because I believe names and identities matter. Timothy was the name I was given, and frankly, I am pretty fond of it. And it is for this reason, that I try whenever possible to ask someone what they prefer to be called. I have been on the other side, and have been called all sorts of odd names- some logical and some not.

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What is your name? And why does it matter to you?

If you have ever wondered, that’s what’s in a name for me.

What’s in your name that matters to you? Why is it important to you? How is it part of your identity and story?

Image Credit: Hello My Name is

He is Risen… Now What?

The tomb has been opened. “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” has been sung. The lilies have bloomed, the Easter jokes have been told… all of this is good news. Now what?

Easter is a 50-day season of joy, but I am not talking about the liturgical “now what” question. I am wondering on a deeper level, God in Christ has done the work for us, for once and for all. But now what? How do we respond? What do we do? What are we going to do? 

This has been the focus of my stewardship preaching lately throughout Lent, raising the question of response. What is our joyful response to the good news of God? What is our joyful response to the pure gifts of God, for us?

God has changed everything with Easter. But are we, ourselves changed? Are we so caught up in joy and gratitude for what God has done and continues to do, that we are changed and so moved by God, that we are unable to sit still and keep the story of God to ourselves? Are we so moved to share God’s love through words and actions- the very ways that we live our lives?

Before I get on my soap box again, here are at least three thoughts:

  • The ELCA has a rostered minister shortage- both pastors and deacons. This shortage is projected to continue to grow. We could let this be bad news, or we could view this joyfully as an opportunity to be more intentional about telling this story as part of our joyful response. We could use this an opportunity to do things differently, to innovate and experiment; because to do otherwise isn’t really an option anymore. We could use this an opportunity to wonder actively, what might God be up to here?
  • Despite what might be happening societally or politically, our call as baptized Christians remains the same. How do we affirm this, and lift up these stories of faith in action in our midst? [You will notice more of these types of stories in upcoming reports, articles, magazines, newsletters, and social media posts from me and the Nebraska Synod.]
  • We live in a beautiful yet broken world. We are all gifted and called with various vocations, roles, passions, stories, questions, ideas, and relationships. How can we more intentionally than ever lift up everyone’s unique stories as sacred and holy calls from God to various stations, vocations, and roles? When we can help people see that their daily lives are in fact very much where God shows up in and through them, there is a depth and intentionality that forms a deeper sense of faith, stewardship, and discipleship. I want to be a part of this work, don’t you?

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

This is most certainly true. Now the fun starts!

What are we going to do about it? 

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The cross, covered with flowers as a joyful response by Sunday School children at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle, Nebraska.

Reflect, think, pray, and be

On this week that we move from the shouts and songs of Hosannas, to an Upper Room and a garden, to a sham of a trial and shouts of “Crucify Him,” to the cross, the tomb, and then another garden around the tomb… Allison and I took a little time yesterday afternoon to revisit a beautiful place that is special to us.

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The Holy Family (in the glass) above the crucifix and altar.

With my mother-in-law in town, we wanted to take her to see one of the more beautiful sights we know of in the Cornhusker State. (Plus, we wanted to take her along to help Allison finally replace the same rain jacket she has had since I think middle school.) So, we took some time yesterday afternoon to visit the Holy Family Shrine near Gretna, Nebraska.

This shrine, a beautiful place for reflection, prayer, and worship, is designed with panoramic views of the valley between Omaha and Lincoln. It has trails to walk, but for me, the central part is the way the water flows.

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Where the flow of water begins

The waters of the rain are caught and start the flow of the baptismal water, by flowing through an adjoining building, and then through an outdoor garden, and then through the floor of the sanctuary itself to a larger pool under and in front of the altar area. To hear the running water, makes you remember your baptism. To hear the flowing water, reminds you of the peace that is possible through God’s presence.

It was in this space a year ago, that Allison and I took a few hours to do some serious reflection, conversation, and soul searching. As we imagined and prayed, as we wondered and shared where we were at, it was here ultimately, where Allison said, “Timothy, you are being called here.”

The Holy Spirit was present that day, just as the Holy Spirit is every day. But it was good to be there in that space. A space, where the garden outside helps you wonder about the Garden of Gethsemane.

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Admiring the beauty of the garden, and wondering about the Garden of Gethsemane.

We were there last year the week following Easter, and on that afternoon the sun shined, it rained, it hailed, sort of snowed, and then a rainbow appeared all in the matter of three hours. So, it was good to be back there yesterday, on the Tuesday of Holy Week to remember, to listen, and to be, on a majestic sunny and blue sky late afternoon.

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Admiring the way the water flows

It was good to invite Allison’s mom into this sacred space and let her see and feel for just a moment, where Allison and I were last year thanks to our friend and colleague Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Juliet Hampton, who knew just where to take us to give us space to reflect, think, pray, and be.

There are spaces that have this effect and impact everywhere. Growing up it was often in the woods or around the creek in my backyard, or other times at the piano, or at my home church with views of the bay and the Olympic Mountains. I am sure I will have many more such spaces. But for now, this is one special place in our hearts.

As the sun shined yesterday, as we remembered last year, we also had the chance to remember why we are here and to also remember the affirmation and commitment to our callings and vows which we remembered a few weeks ago at a Chrism Mass led by Bishop Brian Maas and Pastor Juliet in Omaha.

water
Take some time to listen to the flow of the water, and to wonder about what God might be up to.

As we journey through this week to the upper room and the garden; from the garden to the cross; as we move from the cross to the tomb; and then to the vigil and sunrise and the discovery of the tomb door’s opening, let us take the time to reflect, think, pray, and be.

This is the holiest of weeks. I hope and pray that you can give yourself the space to be fully present for the whole journey of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil or Easter Sunrise, and the festival and celebration of the resurrection with Easter.

I also hope that you have a space to go and remember why you are doing what you are doing, and to be able to take a moment to be still, and know that God is God, and God is with you.

Responding to a God who sees us and helps us see- A sermon on Luke 18:31-19:10

On Sunday April 2, 2017, I was invited to visit, preach, and meet with the council at First Lutheran Church in Wilber, Nebraska by Pastor Travis Panning. I had a wonderful morning with the congregation. Worship included parts of Marty Haugen’s “Now the Feast and Celebration” liturgy originally dedicated for the University Congregation at my alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University, which on a slightly drizzly Sunday morning made me remember the Pacific Northwest.

What follows is the majority of the manuscript I preached from, based on the Narrative Lectionary’s appointed text for the day this year for the fifth Sunday of Lent, Luke 18:31-19:10

Grace and peace from our God who sees us, opens our eyes, is with us, and is for us, Amen.

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The welcome sign at First Lutheran in Wilber.

It is a great joy to be with you today. Thank you to Pastor Travis for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome here in Wilber. I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers that together with you, are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings on behalf of Bishop Maas, Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Megan Morrow, and the entire synod staff. I am excited to be with you and share some thoughts about our shared ministry together in the church, some ideas about stewardship, and to wonder with you about what God might be up to here.

Where We Are in the Narrative
I have to say I am a bit jealous. It’s not every week that I am in a congregation following the narrative lectionary, but I love this year in the Narrative. The last two weeks alone you have heard two of my favorite stewardship gospel stories. Luke 15, the three lost parables, all with good points of imagination about stewardship. And then last week, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, woah, you don’t get much more direct about life, death, salvation, and the call to be a steward than that. Fun texts. Tough texts, but central ones to Luke’s understanding of who God is, and the great reversal that comes with God and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.

Through these stories you have heard the past few weeks, and as we enter into today’s gospel, Jesus is inching closer and closer to Jerusalem.[1] In fact, Jesus couldn’t be more direct about what’s going to happen. He explains it again,

“we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished… he will be handed over… mocked and insulted and spat upon…” he will be flogged, killed, “and on the third day he will rise again.”[2]

But before Jesus can get to the gates of the city; before a donkey can be found, and the passion story commenced with shouts of Hosannas and then choruses of ‘Crucify Him,’ Jesus gets interrupted at least twice more on his way.[3] And that’s where we find ourselves today.

Jesus and the Blind Beggar
First, Jesus passes by a blind beggar. At the sound of the commotion, the man shouts twice, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”[4] This gets Jesus’ attention. Here’s a man who couldn’t see, but had faith, and provides God in Christ another opportunity to act. God has entrusted Jesus with the ability to give sight to a blind person, and Jesus does just that. Jesus sees the man, and talks with him, something that most people in that context would have not done. Much like we might avoid the person holding a cardboard sign at the street corner and drive past putting our head down or looking the other way. Jesus doesn’t do this. Jesus takes note, and Jesus acts.

Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”[5]

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One of the beautiful pieces I saw on the walls inside the church building. It makes me think about how God often times shows up in community and relationships. 

In this instance, God has again shown up. Jesus sees the man, and God in Christ acts and brings new life. What’s the man’s response? He joyfully follows Jesus as a new disciple. He glorifies God, and all those who witnessed God’s action, praised God. That’s the joyful response to the Good News and Promises of God. That’s how I hope we all act when God has come near, and we celebrate and remember all that God has done and continues to do for us.

Jesus and Zacchaeus
Jesus then continues on his way, ever so briefly through Jericho, and then there comes a wee little man. I can relate, I have never been that tall, and to see over a crowd, climbing a tree like we might have sung about in Sunday School doesn’t seem that farfetched. The interesting thing here is, unlike the blind beggar who calls out to Jesus for Jesus to see him, Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to see, and Jesus saw him and called him by name.

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Proof that my boss, Bishop Maas, is much taller than me.

I love this story, but perhaps not quite as much as my wife does. My wife Allison, is now a first call pastor at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. For her ordination last fall back home where we grew up in the Seattle area, Allison selected this story to have read as the gospel and the preaching text.[6] It’s one we have likely all heard many times. It’s one I always resonated with, because unlike my boss, the bishop, I have never been a tall guy, and in those class pictures growing up from kindergarten on through high school, I was always one of the kids in the front row. But this story, gives me hope, not just because of my short stature, but, because, each time we come to this story, I think there’s more depth to be found.

Zacchaeus is a rich or well-off person, but he has the opposite response to the rich man from the story you heard last week, about the rich man and Lazarus.[7] Maybe that’s why Zacchaeus is given a name in this story and the rich man was not? In fact, literally translated, Zacchaeus’ name means, “pure, clean, innocent.”[8]

Without being prompted, at least according to Luke’s version of the story, Zacchaeus declares to Jesus, to God who has come near to him and into his own home, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”[9] This is Zacchaeus’ response. He has been changed simply by the presence of God. He has been changed because God has come near, and seen him.

And for this Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”[10]

Salvation has come. God has come near. And Zacchaeus knows it.

Zacchaeus, “an agent of the state, a Jew turned oppressor of his own people,” longed for something more.[11] And God shows up. Whether or not Zacchaeus changes his profession and vocation or not after this experience, he is certainly changed forever. Even if he remains a tax collector, he will not be operating the same way he has before. This is Zacchaeus’ joyful response to the good news, promises, and presence of God.

What is Our Joyful Response?
Which begs the question, what is your response? What is our response to the good news of a God who has come near for us?

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Easter eggs as a sign of changed lives, or grace in action, at First Lutheran in Wilber, a sign of a joyful response.

In today’s story God shows up and sees- first a blind man begging on the side of the street, then a short tax collector high up in the tree just trying to get a glimpse of who this guy is, who is said to be a friend of sinners and tax collectors like himself. God comes offering salvation for these two, just as God offers salvation for each of us, and all of God’s children.

These are gifts of God for the people of God.

As the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and as a Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I have the joy of getting to share stories like this. I have been on the ground since early last fall here in Nebraska, and I have heard many stories of congregations and individuals who have responded to the good news of God in creative, faithful, and unique ways like starting care closets that have over taken entire church basements, or even turning unused space at church into a woodshop for a carpentry ministry for the local community. The responses I have seen and heard have everything to do with stewardship.

Stewardship as Joyful Response
Stewardship really is the joyful response to all that God has done and continues to do. The blind man and Zacchaeus were impacted so greatly, they couldn’t help but be changed and want to share about this God with others. When God shows up in our lives, what is our response? How do we live out our lives as stewards of God’s love and mysteries?

One of the ways is through stepping up like Zacchaeus, sharing a portion of what God has financially entrusted to our care, so that God’s work can be done through us. The poor can be cared for. When congregations give mission share, for example, they help the larger church care for the poor by supporting the work of the many serving arms of the church like Mosaic and Lutheran Family Services here in Nebraska among others, but also Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service internationally.

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Signs of faith in action in the fellowship hall at First Lutheran in Wilber.

Through offering and mission share, the church is able to prepare and raise up new leaders and pastors, as well as to support new, transforming, and renewing ministries and congregations exploring what God is up to, and being open to the calling and leading of the Holy Spirit’s presence and change.

But stewardship is more than just money. Money is a part of it. But stewardship has to do with everything that we have been entrusted with- our lives, relationships, hopes, and dreams; our ideas, our questions, our vocations; our treasure, finances and money; our passions, our talents, and time; our stories, and the beautiful creation that surrounds us which we are called and created to tend, nurture, and steward.

Our joyful response is how we live our life, impacted (or not) by all that God has done and continues to do. The way we live our life, the choices we make, the things we do or don’t do, are part of our response to God’s gift of life for each of us. They are our response to the call to come and see- that the blind man and Zacchaeus both followed.

So, again I ask, what is your joyful response? How has God shown up in your life, and what impact has that made on who you are?

God Shows Up Bringing Salvation to Us and Through us
Whether we are aware of it or not, God shows up sometimes not just to us, but through us. God uses us, all that we have and all that we are, to do God’s work to build up the kingdom, to seek out the marginalized and overlooked. God uses us to bring people together, to create community, and to bring life, hope, and sometimes even salvation.[12] God does this for us, and sometimes even through us.

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A view of the cross and beautiful sanctuary at First Lutheran in Wilber.

The whole point of Luke’s gospel is made clear today in the last verse, a fitting verse to hear the Sunday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Jesus proclaims,

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”[13]

The blind man and Zacchaeus were two of them, and so are we.

God seeks us out, finds us, comes alongside, calls us, and saves us because God loves us. And this is a pure gift we can’t do anything about but be grateful for, be changed by, and be called to follow and do likewise to share the good news of God, and to steward that which God has entrusted to us to help bring abundant life, sight, food, love, peace, and mercy as our God provides for all people.

In whatever ways you have been changed, and however you respond to God’s gifts, thank you for being you- a beautiful and beloved Child of God, who God sees and knows, and who helps others know that God sees, knows, and loves them too. And thanks be to God, for our God who sees us, knows us, finds us, is with us, and loves us. Amen.

_________________________________________________

Citations, References, Footnotes, and Sources:

[1] Luke 18:31-18:34, NRSV.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Barbara Lundblad, “Commentary on Luke 18:31-19:10,” Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3013.

[4] Luke 18:38-39, NRSV.

[5] Luke 18:42, NRSV.

[6] Allison’s ordination sermon was preached by friend and professor Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis.

[7] Luke 16:19-31.

[8] Richard W. Swanson, Lutheran Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), page 1737.

[9] Luke 19:8, NRSV.

[10] Luke 19:9, NRSV.

[11] Barbara Lundblad, “Commentary on Luke 18:31-19:10,” Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3013.

[12] Karoline Lewis, “Salvation Today,” 23 October 2016, Craft of Preaching, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4745.

[13] Luke 19:10, NRSV.