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We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

We All Have Two Names

Mark 1: 4-11

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Jan. 08, 2012

Loving God, you seal your claim upon us with word, water and Spirit. You empower us to respond in faith, even as we live in the mystery of being your beloved children. Amen.

 When I was young, I had two names, Jong Bok and Doo Whan.  It was due to a mistake of my father: while I was already known and called Doo Whan in my family and in the village, he had registered my name as Jong Bok.  There is a long story behind my father’s mistake.  At any rate, the problem arose when I went to school.  I was called Jong Bok at school but after school, every one called me Doo Whan.  Of course, I complained to my mother.  As a believer in Shamanism, she took her headache to a shaman in the village.  According to my mother, the shaman solved the problem by blessing the name Jong Bok through a religious ritual.  After that, my mother enthusiastically advocated this blessed name on my behalf.  It took a while until my new name was accepted in the village.

Today is the Baptism of Jesus Sunday. At baptism, Jesus is named as God’s beloved child.  Today, we are invited to reflect on the naming of Jesus and its meaning for us.  As the passage in Mark opens, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, preaching a gospel of repentance. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. As Jesus emerges from the water, the Spirit of God descends and a voice comes from heaven. Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of Mark.

According to the Revised Common Lectionary, which we follow, this year we are going to read the Gospel of Mark almost every Sunday. Let me introduce this Gospel briefly here.  The Gospel of Mark was written in Greek for a struggling group of Christians who lived in typical Greco-Roman households of the late first century CE, possibly in Rome.

The author was a third generation Christian who meditated on the story of Jesus and the call to discipleship in the difficult times around 70 CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Even though we traditionally call the author “Mark” and think of him as a companion to Peter and Paul, the Gospel was originally anonymous. It was named “according to Mark” in the late second or early third century because the Gospel offered a faithful meditation on the story of Jesus in the spirit of those who first followed Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel, written about 40 years after Jesus was thought to have been crucified and the shortest of the Gospels, has sixteen chapters. Its opening verse is a summary of the whole Gospel: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Christ the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). This describes Mark’s Gospel: its focus is on Jesus as God’s Good News, revealed in the first half, chapters 1—8, as the “Son of God” and in the second half, chapters 8—16, as “the Christ.”  The halfway point of the Gospel is noted by the central question which Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?”  This same question has been asked of every disciple throughout the ages, including ourselves.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is also an attempt to answer the question of who Jesus is.  Each of the Four Gospels includes a story of Jesus’ baptism. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark tells us that only Jesus sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend like a dove. Only Jesus hears the voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” No one else is recorded in Mark to have seen or heard anything.  His naming was not shared with others.  Perhaps this is why, throughout Mark’s Gospel, the disciples are slow to understand who Jesus is.

We are no one if we have no name.  Our name tells us who we are.  Sometimes our name defines who we are.  Naming is important in our lives.  Having said that, I read an interesting letter from Gary MacDonald, one of our United Church overseas personnel working for Amity, the service arm of the China Christian Council, in a school in a rural area of China.  This letter is available to read on the website of the United Church of Canada.  He shared a couple of stories he collected from assignments written by his students about the meaning of their names. 

 Here is one.

On the night of my birth, the elders in my family stand waiting outside the door. As I take my first breath in this world the midwife announces the birth of a girl.  Loud groans of disappointment accompany my first cry.  As the first child in a peasant farming family, all hopes were on the birth of a boy.  As I lie at my mother's breast, everyone is discussing what should be done with me. Most of the possibilities are not in my favour. The final decision rests with my grandfather, the elder of the family and a shaman.  After much thought he suggests that perhaps I might be kept even though I am a girl.  If I were to be given a special name, that might change the family fate. In fact, I do remain in this family and I am given a name — a very special name. As fate would have it, one year later a boy is born in that same bed with those same people waiting outside the door.  From that moment on, even though I am a girl, I have found favour in the family. My name is “Leading Forth Brother.”

 Here is another story:

We were always very poor.  None of us, my two sisters, my younger brother nor I had ever gone to school.  One evening I suddenly heard my parents discussing the possibility of sending one of us to school.  After the harvest there was enough money to buy clothes, pencils and notebooks for one child.  Which one of us would it be? My parents decided that my two sisters were now big enough to help in the fields.  My brother was too small.  Could it be true that I was the one who would go to school?  I could hardly believe my ears. My parents and grandparents sat around the table to come up with a name for the child who would be going to school.  Without a proper name I could not be registered.  I said my name, my beautiful name, over to myself again and again.  I had a name.  At nine years of age I would no longer be called Third Daughter.  I had a name!  A real name!  At that time, having a name was more exciting to me than even the thought of going to school. 

 When I was young it was a luxury to have two names.  However, I was told that my grandmothers on both sides did not have their own names.  They were named only by their family names followed by the names of their hometowns.  They were among the Korean women who, generation after generation, had never had their own names.  That has become history in Korea now.  I was astounded with the stories in Gary’s letter from China.  That history is still reality in other parts of the world.  I wonder how many children, especially girls or women around the world, do not yet have their own names. 

For Christians today, baptism is also a time to reconsider who – and whose – we are. At baptism, Jesus is named as God’s beloved child. Jesus’ ministry grows from this revelation. We, too, are named as God’s beloved children at our baptisms. God delights in us, also, and empowers us to be part of a community that helps to make God’s reign and vision a reality. 

God says to each of us, “You are my beloved child.”  Let us be assured that we have another name, “the beloved.”  Through our baptism, we enter into a relationship with God as special and different from all other relationships.  Believing in the power of our baptism, let us join together in a litany of “Affirmation of Baptism,” as printed on page 3 of the order of the service.

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