Names are important. They are more than a means of identification. Names are part of knowing someone and being known by others. This is especially true in scripture. God gives Abram and Sarai new names, calling them Abraham and Sarah. It may seem a small change, but it identified them as not just heads of a family, but blessings to the whole world. Jacob is renamed Israel. Saul becomes Paul. In each case, they are known by God and their name is important.
Perhaps the most powerful place in scripture takes place in the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene is standing by the tomb, which has been opened. She is filled with grief. Now confusion reigns as she wonders where her Lord has been taken. Angels appear and ask:
“Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:13-16)
Until Jesus spoke her name, “Mary!” – she did not recognize him. That Jesus knew her name and pronounced it always reminds me that in baptism, the Church said my name on behalf of Jesus. Jesus knows my name.
To be known in a world where most everybody can feel like a nobody is important. It is especially important in the church. But knowing someone’s name in a congregation can be tough. We’re not a huge congregation. Yet, we are significantly larger than most. It makes it hard to be known and to know others. Building community happens in all sorts of ways but being known is a big factor.
After the first of the year, you will start to notice a change taking place when you come to worship. Rather than doing nametags occasionally, we will begin to ask everyone to wear a name tag every Sunday. The purpose is to deepen and build community. The purpose is to be known and to know others. We’re going to do this because:
You’ll be hearing more about this in the weeks ahead. And you may say, defiantly, “I’m not wearing one!” OK. No nametag police are being recruited. But it would sure help us with the mission of Sharing God’s Love if you did. You may say, “I don’t want people knowing who I am.” OK. But Jesus already does know you and we – together – are the Body of Christ, a beloved community that is commanded to “love one another.” That’s way easier when I know your name.
Being known by God is a special grace. Being known by God’s people is a manifestation of that grace.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor