Sermon: What’s in a name?
Scripture: Isaiah 62.1-5
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: January 20, 2019, Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year C
One of the highlights of our Advent celebrations was to hear our incredible Choir at our Christmas Concert. Some 1,100 people were in here with their jaws on the floor from the sound coming from our friends behind me. I am not a musician so one of the highlights for me was to hear Robbin describe each of the musical pieces’ background and why the composer wrote it the way they did. When Robbin placed the music in its proper context, I was able to glean the subtleties from the music I would not have normally.
This is what I want to do with our text today. It’s beneficial to understand this piece of scripture in it larger historical context so that it makes more sense to us today. The long book of Isaiah is really a compilation of several different authors and stories. It is divided up into three major sections. Chapters 1-39 are words of judgement against the people of Israel for their lack of true adoration of God. These words are declared to let them know they will be taken into exile, mostly to Babylon but to all four corners of the compass as well. Chapters 40-55 comprise the second section of the book and the tenor changes from judgement to reconciliation. This voice in the Isaiah narrative is a loving, reassuring voice where God promises to bring the people back home to Jerusalem and Palestine. Chapters 56 – 66 are spoken to the people who have come home from exile. They have returned from Babylon and have reoccupied the holy city with all its destruction of the Temple and other buildings. This is written to a people who have been repatriated to their home once more but who now look around and see how much things have changed. There is so much work to do. The place is a mess. Where does one even start? The fields are overgrown, buildings are demolished, and the fabric of community has to be rebuilt.
I suppose they were feeling like the people returning home after a hurricane or a tornado has hammered through their town. Once visible landmarks are gone. Vegetation is uprooted. Water systems are destroyed, and communications systems are wiped out. The survivor rummages through a debris pile where their home once stood, and they pick up little pieces of photographs or mementos that remind them of what life used to look like. Yes, they’re home again but it’s very different from when they left. Their homecoming is laced with tears of memories long past and the good old days. They feel overwhelmed with all that must be done and the weight of it presses down upon them. It’s easy for them to feel depressed and despondent and perhaps are thinking to themselves, “This doesn’t feel like my home anymore. Do I still have what it takes to do this?”
Beloved, this is exactly how the people felt who first heard these words from our text this morning. They are set free and sent home but once they got home, nothing was the same anymore. It was home but everything had changed. They were overwhelmed. They were depressed. They were despondent. And to respond to their situation and feeling, we have our text from Isaiah 62.1-5. Hear the Good News of the Lord!
62.1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Beloved, reflect a moment to a time you have felt let down, forgotten, or neglected. When have there been times in your life you felt overwhelmed or despondent based on your circumstances? Have there been times in your life you have been forsaken or instances when you have felt emotionally, spiritually, and physically desolate?
Now let’s open the aperture a little wider. What about this spiritual community of First Pres? Do you still cling to the memories of “remember when?” Have you ever felt as though you were forsaken and desolate? If you’re honest, you will admit there have been those times.
The Jews that returned to Israel from Babylon were no doubt thrilled to be back home, but the hard realities of life slapped them in the face. There was work to do! There were projects to complete! There was a community to reestablish! They were faced with a choice: They could wallow in the mess of what the previous years provided, or they could come together and do something about cleaning things up and reestablish God’s rightful place in the Holy City.
Personally, it would mean they would have to learn new skills and habits. What worked for a generation in Babylon may not necessarily work for a new generation now back in the liberated city of God, Jerusalem. They would have to establish new relationships with new neighbors. They would have to learn to trust one another and their leaders. They would be required to establish new alliances with other nations and kings around them. Everything had changed while they were away for an entire generation. You see, there was only one thing, one constant from their past they could count on: God’s steadfastness. And how does prophet Isaiah remind the people of this? God has Isaiah remind the people of the power of a name.
Our text today has God declare to the remnant that’s left, “You are no longer going to be called Forsaken and Desolate; no, today, you and I are getting married and you get to take on my name: You are My Delight and Your Land is Married to me!
Isaiah speaks a promise God spoke to a former generation and declares it to a new one: You are My Delight and We are Married Now! The people returning from exile needed to hear those words again. They needed to hear their new God-given names. This was a new day for both them and for the Lord God!
When my youngest daughter Katie got married, she changed her name. The new relationship, the new phase of her life demanded a change and it needed to be different. So, she changed her name from Kate Wrisley to Kate Wrisley Shelby, no-hyphen. I love it! When she got married, she took her husband’s family name but only after adding it to hers. She’s a Wrisley and will always be a Wrisley. But she’s also a Shelby. She has a name that reminds her of the best from both families. This is what God is telling the Jews that have come home: You get a new name to remind you both who you are and Whose you are: You are my delight and now we’re married!
Last Sunday, your now completed pastoral team stood before you at the 11:00 a.m. service. I want to make sure everyone understands the significance of what happened. As one of you told me, “This is the first time in many, many years when our pastors don’t have any hyphenated titles like “interim pastor.” It’s a new day here at First Pres, Preacher!” I smiled and said, “Yes it is.”
This church has gone through a time when members felt forsaken and desolate. As a congregation, you have been in an exile of sorts. But you the remnant, hung tight and kept the faith. You did not give up on your faith, in this spiritual community or in our God. For years we have been grieving the generation that was once here before but have since left. We miss them and love them. But now it’s time to rebuild Jerusalem. Now it’s up to us, you, Nic, Pam and me to carry on the ministry of Christ in this place. Beloved, we as a church cannot afford to live into the future facing backwards. The time of exile is over! We are back in Jerusalem and have work to do. There are sacrifices to be made. There are attitudes towards giving back to God that cannot continue to be embraced…attitudes like, ‘someone else will support the ministry’ or ‘I’ve given my fair share; it’s someone else’s turn to do it.’
There are attitudes and ways we ran as a community back during the time of our exile that will no longer work today as we come back and rebuild Jerusalem…we are a new generation and our “Jerusalem,” our context has changed. As we settle back into a new course together, it will mean we either adapt to our changing contextual conditions and environment or we will die. Ministries that worked a decade ago may not be relevant today. Are we willing to trust God to show us new ministries?
Beloved, what it’s in a name? Everything! The best days of this church are ahead of her because God calls us by a new name; and what is that name First Pres is called? We are His Delight and Are Married to the Lord! And all of God’s people said, “Amen.”
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.