Sermons

Summary: Ordination of a woman named Gloria; glory not in your achievements but in helping others seek God; glory not in defending yourself against predators but in receiving God’s protection; and let yourself feel passion.

Over the years I have developed the habit of focusing on a person’s name whenever it is time to do a message that relates to that individual. For example, I have done funerals for people named James, using something from the New Testament letter of James. I did a funeral service once for a woman whose name was Eunice, and brought a message out of that encouraging word to Timothy about his mother Lois and his grandmother Eunice. I have even resorted to Latin on occasion, and preached a funeral message about one of our members whose name was “Amanda”, a Latin participle meaning beloved. Names have served me well in funerals, and some day I shall hover over my own casket to see which Joseph the preacher selects to send me home with – will I be the carpenter of Nazareth, who stood by while God did wonderful things with his wife? That sounds like a winner! Or will I be the one whose brothers put him in a big pit in the ground? Probably not; I usually dig my own bottomless pits when I’m preaching.

But I have used names, too, on those wonderful occasions when I have been asked to preach for an ordination or for an installation. Sometimes it is a bit of a stretch, I admit, but it’s fun nonetheless. When I preached for Vallerie King’s installation in Virginia, I worked with the lovely little story of Rhoda standing at the gates in the Book of Acts. You have to have watched the old Mary Tyler Moore show to get the connection between the name of the actress, Valerie Harper, and the character she played, Rhoda Morgenstern. A stretch, but fun. And the last ordination we did here, a few months ago, was for Yolanda Sampson, and the temptation to use the Biblical character Samson was just too great to pass up.

Let me warn you: I doubt that I shall get off this kick any time soon. In about one more month we expect to ordain a man named Victor, and that surely has lots of Biblical possibilities. And then we have another one named Jonathan who is about to start seminary; I may not have to come out of retirement to preach for Jonathan’s ordination if I warn him that the message might be about the son of Saul who died on the battlefield, much too young. You might not want to hear that!

Names are important. Names, in the thought world of the Bible, teach us about the character of the person named. Like our Native American cousins, Biblical people named their children for aspects of their character. Sometimes God changed those names, because God did something radical with those people. Names are clues to who we are and to who we can become.

And so we turn to Gloria. The Latin for “glory”. When I think of your name, Gloria, I think of that story about the small girl who said that she just absolutely loved the music at Christmas time. Why was that? Because, she said, the church choir sings my name over and over again! “Gloria, gloria, gloria.”

But I propose to you today that therein lies the issue. We in the church have been captured by a personality-oriented culture. We in the ministry tend to hear our own names called when the church is doing its work. We are no better than the cult of personality all around us, which so quickly points its fingers of either blame or credit at individuals, and does not understand what lies behind either failure or success. If the economy is going badly, we blame the President – remember the fate of the late, lamented, Jimmy Carter? If there are abuses in the prisons in Iraq, we blame the Secretary of Defense. If the schools are not performing well, go find a six hundred thousand dollar person to fix them. We have such a cult of personality.

And in the church, we are no different. If there is success, we speak quickly of Rick Warren’s Saddleback or T. D. Jakes’ Potter’s House, as if they were to get all the credit. And if there is failure, we ask what that pastor did, how lazy was he, how aloof was she? It’s the pastor’s fault. We hear our own names called in everything the church does.

But I propose to you today that a minister is not to call attention to herself, but to God. I propose to you that when we succeed, it is not our own success that we tout, but God’s. And that when we fail, still we look not to our own egocentric guilt, but we look to the power of God to redeem. Gloria, my sister, the song of the angels at Christmas is not, “Gloria in excelsis., Gloria in the highest.” It is “Gloria in excelsis – Deo”. To God, in God, with God, for God, through God. Gloria in excelsis Deo. Glory to God in the highest.

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