spirit of the heartland

Spirit of theHeartland

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Easter
The Rev. Johanna Morrigan

Acts 6:1-9;7:2a,51-10
Psalm 23
I Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

"What's in a Name?"

Children's Sermon:
Adapted from: Come Sit With Me Once More; Sermons for Children by Don-Paul Benjamin and Ron Miner

Display a bouquet of flowers. Invite each child to select a flower. Ask each child what color their flower is. Ask each child if they know what kind of flower theirs is.

Each of these flowers is really special and beautiful isn't it?

And each one of you is special and beautiful too. In fact you all are so special that you each have a name of your very own.

Now, as special as flowers are, they don't each have a name of their very own. A flower can be knows as a daisy or a rose or an iris - but did you ever meet a flower named Nina or Chanin or Maway (or other names of children present)?

We all have special names just for us. Let's say our names. I'll start: "My name is Johanna." "Now you all say my name." Now you say your name and we will all repeat it. (For each child)

So far we've been having all the fun up here. How about we let the rest of the congregation join in?

When I count to three, I want each of you WALK up to someone sitting in one of the pews and give them your flower and say your name. Then I want you all to come right back up here to see what happens.

(After children are back) - instruct the people with flowers - Now I want each of you with a flower to pass it on to someone else and say your name when you do - just like the children did - until everyone has had a turn. All of these beautiful flowers and our beautiful names will travel all over the church. It's like we are one great big beautiful bouquet.

Ask one or two of the children to collect the flowers and bring them back up front - and put them in the vase - they can take their flower with them after the service if they wish.

Before you go back to your seats, let's pray:
Dear God, thank you for all the wonderful, beautiful names by which we can come to know each other. Thank you for the opportunity to share our names and ourselves with others. We pray in your holy name. Amen.


Shakespeare claimed that a "rose by any other name would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet II.ii.43). It's an idea that would have made no sense to the people of the ancient world. In that world, a name wasn't just some convenient collection of sounds that identified a person, a place or a thing. A name expressed something of the very essence of whomever or whatever was named.. To know a person's name was to know something of the fundamental nature of that person. Even more it was to know something of the destiny God meant for that person - the person's name was intended to call forth the gifts that a person held - gifts given by God to be used in the service of God.

Sometimes a person's name changed as God's intentions for that person changed or perhaps became clear. For example, Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter, meaning "Rock" - referring to the foundational role Peter would play in the building of the church.

The name "Deborah" means "honeybee" - and carries with it the idea that bees are busy and very industrious creatures. That certainly seems to reflect the character of the biblical Deborah who was a judge and a prophetess, a wife and a mother, a warrior and a singer. God had indeed blessed her with many gifts - and her name reflected that.

Most of us are familiar with a tradition or a culture where a person's name is changed for some reason or other. Sometimes it is a way of acknowledging passage into adulthood; it might reflect a new status for the individual - for example when the new Pope is selected, he will take a new name. In our Native American traditions, someone may be given a new name to reflect an act of courage or to reflect the emergence and recognition of a talent or gift that is of value to the people. When they are confirmed, Roman Catholic children choose a new name to reflect their status as full members of the body of Christ.

So perhaps a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But you know - if we called them skunk cabbages - I find it hard to imagine that we would enjoy them in quite the same way.

Just like if Kori were called Frank - it just wouldn't be the same, because he's Kori.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows each of us by name. And we are called to recognize his voice the way sheep know the unique voice of their shepherd. Like the sheep, we are to know how to distinguish the voice of Jesus from that of false prophets and strangers. We are to hear the call to serve God in whatever unique way God has prepared for each of us.

Now sheep don't seem to have too much trouble with this task. I recall that as a child I would stand absolutely transfixed as my Grandfather would tell our sheepdog, Judy, to cut out a particular sheep (they all had names) and bring the sheep to him. Judy always know which sheep Grandpa wanted, and she would make a series of short barks which always got the attention of the particular sheep in question. It was like a magical language that I could never figure out. Somehow Judy had translated each sheep's name into a specific sequence of barks and sounds, and each sheep knew their particular call - so that when Judy got close to the flock, the sheep was already headed out toward her.

Just like the Shepherd calls his sheep, God calls us. "I have called you by name and you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1c)

A good many years ago, God started calling the people of the Spirit of the Heartland Churches to Total Ministry. It took some of us longer than others to hear that call. It was a call that meant every single one of us was being called by name to claim the Gifts God had given us - and to use those gifts in God's service. God wasn't just calling some of us - God was calling ALL of us. Total Ministry is the ministry of ALL the baptized - not just some of us.

We listened to that call. We spent a lot of time identifying some of the many gifts of our people. We created a ministry team and discerned not just sacramentalists, a deacon and preachers, but evangelists, intercessors, a pastoral care coordinator and a community life minister. We found Eucharistic Ministers and Lectors, rummage sale coordinators and Bible Study leaders. We discovered bulletin makers, ushers, and hospitality ministers, along with those who were gifted in pastoring to the needs of others. People discovered ways to reach out and minister to God's people in ways they'd never imagined. In doing all of that we found new life and the Spirit moved among us. I think God has been pleased.

But God isn't done - not by a long shot! God is STILL calling us - calling each one of us by name. God has at least one ministry for every single person sitting in this church, and the church will only continue to grow and thrive as each one of us answers God's call.

What are your gifts? What has God blessed you with so that you might bless others? Perhaps it's the ability to listen and comfort others or to feed the hungry; perhaps it's a gift of organization or of teaching. It might be the gift of cleaning and making things shine anew; or maybe it's the gift of prayer or vision or prophecy or the gift of wonder - the ability to see the world with joy and delight. Perhaps you are gifted with the sight to recognize Christ where the rest of us fail to see him - and you are called to invite Christ into our midst.

It's so tempting to think - "We're fine. We have our ministry team. We don't need to do anything else. The Team can take care of things." It's so tempting to think, "God has called who God needs so God doesn't need anything else from me."

But that's just not how God works. As soon as you think you've gotten everything all taken care of, God starts up again. There's always more to be done. And God needs every single one of us - to listen, to hear our name when it is called, to be open to the possibility that God's call for us may have changed, to be open to the movement of the Spirit within ourselves that challenges us to reach out again and again and yet again in service to God's people in our communities and throughout the world..

God created each one of us with those gifts which God most needs to bring God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

God is calling me and God is calling you.

Shh... Listen... Can you hear your name being called?


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