Monday, 30 April 2012

What's in a name?

Way back in Exodus, in the Old testament this following exchange occurs between Moses and God. “The Moses said to God “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them The God of your Fathers has sent me to you” and they ask me “What is his name?” what shall I say to them? God said to Moses “I am who I am”. And he said “Say this to the people of Israel” I AM has sent me to you.
The Hebrew for I AM, and thus the Hebrew word for God is Yahweh. When this is understood all the I AM sayings that only appear in John’s gospel take on a double meaning.
I AM the light of the world
I AM the bread of life
And here this morning I AM the good shepherd
What’s in a name? Well quite a lot for the Jewish people. I AM can also mean “I will be what I will be” so God is not just “life” itself – the sourceless source of all things but his very name contains within it the notion of a  constant state of becoming – containing within himself unlimited potential for growth and transformation.  In the Hebrew world names are symbols containing and conveying the true nature of the thing named. 
This I think gives us an important insight when we read according to Luke writing in Acts that a man was healed by “the name of Jesus”. This is also apparent in the reading from 1 John which says “we should believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ”
So what does Jesus’ name symbolise? Well of course Jesus’ name is the Greek version of his actual name which is Joshua and Joshua means “God is salvation”
The only one who truly heals in the widest possible sense is God. And healing in the Hebrew world was more than just an absence of an illness, it conveys wholeness, completeness. Just as the Hebrew word for peace – shalom – does the same.
Peace (in the way we commonly use the word in English) and shalom are not exactly the same.
To get at what I mean let’s look at a concrete example. Technically there is currently peace between Iran and the USA and Israel in that they are not actually fighting. But there is hardly shalom. There is no meeting of minds, no love or respect - It is simply an absence of actual physical conflict. The angst, the tension, the seething resentments, the sparring, the name calling are still there bubbling and boiling away. Peace and the Hebrew concept of shalom are very different in quality.
In my experience the human condition is very similar. I am not physically at war or in conflict with any person or with God, so technically I have peace. But the peace that I and most people have is not so much shalom but more like the relationship between Iran and Israel.
I wonder how many of us recognise any of the following descriptions. A cauldron of seething resentments, and chips on my shoulders, a repository of hurts that I can’t let go of, of people that I find it hard to forgive, of prejudices built up over decades, harbouring private fears and hatreds and living in a state of undeclared war on adversaries both real and imagined.
Is our state of being like one of shalom or is it more akin to technical peace which exists between Israel and Iran?
Add to this brew an existential loneliness and perceived separation from life and the source of life and we have the recipe for the uneasy and restless human condition living in a state of dissatisfaction with life in general.
It is a recipe for the kind of life that lead Henry David Thoreau to write “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” We try and cover this desperation with ceaseless noise and distraction to stop us dwelling on the fact that we have no real peace.
We all crave completeness . Where to find it?  To find completeness, healing, peace in the name of Jesus we discover that it is only God who can heal and give peace. This is true because it is only in God that we find eternity and unity. Living on the surface of our life we experience only fragmentation, incompleteness, and dissatisfaction.
But before we look within ourselves our first port of call is the temptation to try and find this elusive completeness in material things, money or relationships. And they can work for a little while but not for long. We always crave more and more. The only permanent solution to our need for completeness, wholeness and peace, as the reading from Acts reminds us is to discover our innate connection to the source of all life, including our own  
God is salvation. And only in knowing God can we find healing and peace. 

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