“A New Name”
Isaiah 62:1-5 & Luke 8:26-31, 35-39 ~ Rev. Mary A. Duncan ~ January 20, 2019
What is your name? This is the first information that we want to know about someone. Names are very important. When a person or thing is named it is a determining factor concerning on how that person or thing is evaluated. Those of us who have had the privilege of naming a child know how important it is. You do not want to name a child like Kim Kardashian and Conway West did. When your last name is West you do not name your child North. North West. No, you do not want your child to be teased at school. Of course they probably have enough money to send a bodyguard to school with the child and the child will probably need one.
When I was born my father and mother were both in the hospital. My father had broken his leg and was on one floor and my mother was on another. At that time they were not allowed to visit back and forth. My father, who had named all my siblings after those from his side of the family, had told my mother that I was to be called Annette after a cousin of his. He did not mention a middle name. My mother’s middle name was Mary. She was Roman Catholic and the tradition in the Maritimes was that you named a girl Mary and a boy Joseph. So my mother decided to assert herself and call me Mary. She ran the names over in her mind, Annette Mary and Mary Annette. Well Mary Annette rolled off the tongue much smoother so she decided to call me Mary Annette. Needless to say, my father was furious and refused to let me be called Mary. He did not want any one to think a child of his was Catholic. My father did not like Roman Catholics. So I grew up as Annette.
As you might have gathered by now, my father was a very controlling and domineering man. He worked very little and drank far too much. He was abusive and we were verbally and physically abused. Consequently we did not have the best of relationship with our father. So when I left home, I decided that I was going to go by the name that my Mother gave me. I was going to be Mary and for me that was very important. It was a way of throwing off the oppression that I had endured for the first eighteen years of my life. It was a way of honouring my mother’s right to name me and it was a way of redefining myself. It was a way of separating myself from my father and my father’s ways. I had a new name and I could be my own person. I could be the person God created me to be.
Changing names is very biblical. Abram is changed to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel and so on. Names in biblical times offers clues to the character of the person named. A change in name can represent a change in character or a calling to a new way of being. In today’s reading from Isaiah 62:1-5, God is giving the people of Jerusalem a new name. Here the name change not only describes the character of the people but it also describes the change in God’s relationship with Israel and Israel’s future.
But let me put this in context for you. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.E. shattered Jerusalem, and the city remained essentially a ruin for the next one hundred years. For the exiles that were taken to Babylon and those who were born in Babylon never having seen the city, Jerusalem was merely a faded memory or a place of dreams. After years of living in Babylon, Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, granted freedom to the Israelites living in exile. And when Cyrus asked them what they wanted to do they told him they wanted to return to Jerusalem. And the king complied, not only allowing them to return, but helping them make the journey. Upon their return, though, they did not find the Jerusalem of their dreams, but a city of nightmares.
When the people have finally seen Jerusalem, their hearts are heavy at the horror of it. How can any one possibly imagine a future for this rubble? How can anyone imagine that God has a plan for these vestiges of a city with its blasted temple, destroyed palace, and a few hopeless inhabitants? They look around at the desolation. They look around at the destruction. Why did they come here? They had it better in Babylon! The beautiful city they had dreamed about is nothing but a pile of rocks. The beautiful city they dreamed of is forsaken, abandoned by God.
Of course, it is precisely at such times that prophets show up. It is in the face of hopeless realities that prophets offer their visions and dreams; which is the main reason why so few people ever pay attention to prophets – they are so unrealistic, so unreasonable, so absurd!
When the people were in Babylon the prophet Isaiah took one look at those exiles, many of whom had been in the pagan city their whole lives, probably having adopted Babylonian ways and Babylonian faith and announced to them that God still had big plans for them. “I have a greater task for you, my servant. Not only will you restore to greatness the people of Israel who have survived, but I will make you a light to the nations in order that my world may be saved.” (Isaiah 49:6) This unbelievable proclamation was made to these scruffy exiles, living in a Babylonian ghetto! They could probably not keep their own families together; how in the world were they ever going to be “a light to the nations”? Such talk was ludicrous!
So here we go again in Isaiah 62. Now these exiles have returned to Jerusalem and the prophet tells them, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will never rest until her vindication shines out like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch…You will no more be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be called Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight!” Absurd! Here are these people standing in the midst of total destruction, they have no place to live, no means of support, no equipment to rebuild and God calls them “My Delight!” and gives them a mission to light up the world! Ludicrous! But God never gives up on God’s people no matter how isolated and alone they feel! God never gives up on God’s people no matter how angry and outraged they are! God never gives up on God’s people no matter how hopeless and discouraged they are! God gives God’s people a new name, “My Delight!” and calls on them to let their light shine like the dawn so that all nations will see it! These are a desperate people yet God is calling them “My Delight” and calling them into a future, a future with God that will be so close and intimate that it will resemble a marriage. Amazing! Amazing! Furthermore, as those words were spoken to the people in Isaiah’s time, so God speaks them to us today.
There was a documentary on television a short time ago about Gilda Radner. Gilda Radner was an American comedian and actress who was the first of the seven original members cast for the NBC show Saturday Night Live. She was at height of her career and happy in her personal life when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was devastated and became depressed but then while she was in hospital receiving treatments she decided she still had something to do. She said, While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die - whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness. So she began to share her gifts with other patients. She made them laugh, sometimes until they hurt. She made the staff laugh and the whole unit of the hospital became lighter and happier in spite of their circumstances. Gilda died at the age of 43 but she carried that light until the very end.
Guilda has been given a new name – Laughter, Joy, Gladness!
God says, “No longer will you be called Forsaken. No longer will you be called Desolate. I have given you a new name “My Delight!”
This past year the government began circulating a new $10 dollar bill. And on this bill is a woman – the first time that a woman, other than the Queen, has been on our currency. I had not heard of this woman before so I decided to find out a bit about her. Viola Desmond was born of July 6, 1914. Her mother was white and her father was black. She had 10 siblings. Intermarriage was a rare occurrence at this time. Although racism was not officially entrenched in Canadian society, black persons in Canada and certainly in Nova Scotia were well aware of the unwritten code that constrained their lives.
Motivated by here parents example of hard work and community service, Viola aspired to succeed as an independent business woman. After a short period of teaching in two racially segregated schools for black students, she began a program of study at the only School of Beauty in Canada that would accept black students. It was in Montreal. After further study in the United States, she set up her own studio in Halifax catering to the black community. Next she set up her own beauty school and expanded her business across the province. Through her school she hoped to provide training that would support the growth of employment for young black women and she became a mentor to many of these young women.
In 1946 she was travelling to Sydney, N.S. on business when her car broke down in New Glasgow. While it was being fixed, she decided to go to a movie theatre that was near by. She bought her ticket and went in and sat down. Soon an usher appeared and informed her that she would have to move to the balcony because her ticket was for the balcony. So she apologized and went back to the ticket vendor and wanted to pay extra so she would be able to sit on the main floor. They refused to sell her the ticket and explained that it was the “custom” for black people to sit in the balcony. She went back and sat in the “white section” and refused to move. Soon the police showed up and dragged her from the movie theatre and threw her in jail where she was kept for 12 hours. She became a hero in the eyes of the black people of N.S. - a Canadian “Rosa Parks.” She died in 1965 at the age of 51 as the result of gastro-intestinal bleeding. Sixty-three years later, the province issued an apology and pardon to Viola Desmond, a Canadian civil rights pioneer. Her sister, Wanda Robson, accepted the apology on behalf of her sister. It is only right that she should appear on our currency! Viola has been given a new name – Courageous, Victorious, Heroine! God says, “No longer will you be called Forsaken. No longer will you be called Desolate. I have given you a new name, “My Delight!”
This is also God’s word for us. We are God’s delight! God’s delight! Just sit with that for a moment. It means acceptance. It means love and compassion. It means joy. It means gladness. God takes delight in us in spite of all our flaws and short-comings. God takes delight in us! Ludicrous!
Nevertheless, when we begin to realize that God delights in us, that God’s delight lives inside of us, we can begin to delight in ourselves even though we are flawed and imperfect. And when we begin to delight in ourselves knowing our shortcomings, we can begin to delight in others even though they are flawed and imperfect. The love of God in us then starts to rub off on others. And when we delight in ourselves and in others we can become a light in the world. We shall be that burning torch!
A long time ago, Isaiah the prophet said, “You shall be to me like a crown of gold in my hand. You shall be to me like a sparkling diamond on my fingers. I am going to give you a new name and your new name will be, “My Delight.” It is a special name that God whispers in your ear, so that you will not forget it. Believe it! Accept it! You are My Delight! That is your new name!