What’s In a Name?

Pentecost 22 Traditional Sermon

Her name is Terri Roberts.  So … what’s in a name like Teri Roberts?  Well, not very much, I suppose … unless you are the Teri Roberts who is the mother of Charles Carl Roberts IV … the person who shot ten Amish girls at Nickel Mines ten years ago, killing five of them.

Two weeks ago when we observed the ten year anniversary of the Nickel Mines shooting, Terri Roberts was almost a household name … pitied by many, loathed by a few.  A lot of stories circulated about the amazing forgiveness the Amish community offered to Marie Roberts and her husband within hours of the shooting, along with the tremendous compassion they expressed for the entire Roberts family going forward.You didn’t hear much about Terri Roberts, but a remarkable story was unfolding.  Allow me to share the words of Lancaster Newspaper staff writer Ad Crable:

The first time Roberts visited Rosanna King, she could barely hold it together.  The 6-year-old had been shot in the head at close range and suffered severe brain damage.  She had been sent home from the hospital to die with her family, likely within days or weeks, her parents had been told.  Roberts found her in a wheelchair, unable to walk, talk or eat.  After watching the serene girl, who would never enjoy a life like that of other girls her age, Roberts struggled to make it through the visit.  But ten months after the shooting, with Rosanna still alive, Roberts held a picnic for the families of the five surviving girls in her Strasburg-area home.  At one point, Roberts mustered the courage to ask if she could hole the girl.  As she was placed in her lap, Roberts began a song she sings to her grandchildren.  To her, it seemed the girls eyes brightened and the smile was unmistakable.  Roberts yearned to do more for the angelic girl and her family still locked in sorrow. And so, for the next eight years, mostly weekly, she would make the 15-minute drive to the King home to spend time with Rosanna.  Sometimes she helped her with her physical therapy machine.  Sometimes she bathed her.  As a special treat she would feed her pureed raspberry sauce she had made.  Always she rocked her as she read and sang to her.  Rosanna turned 16 several weeks ago.  In recent weeks Roberts, who is dying from breast cancer, has not been able to see the girl she has come to consider one of her own grandchildren, and it pains her.  Asked why Rosanna is still with us, Roberts says, “I don’t know.  But by God’s grace she is still here on this earth for whatever purpose he has planned.”

 What’s in a name?  If your name is Rosanna King, the words that might come to mind are “miracle”, or “grace,” or “simplicity.”  If you are named Terri Roberts, then maybe the words in that come to mind might be “caring,” or “courage,” or “healing.”

The widow we hear about in our Gospel Lesson has no name … it’s a parable after all … a fictional story intended to offer a life lesson or a teaching about faith.  Think of the parables as Aesop’s Fables for the church crowd.  But … if this widow had a name, what that name might point to would be “persistence,” or “blessedness.”  For in the midst of a story about a corrupt and mean judge, this unnamed woman’s crying out “day and night” wins the day in the end.  Jesus primer on prayer suggests that there are no other skills required … just persistence, as modeled by a woman who simply wouldn’t give up.

We have three other special saints with us today, who also specialize in persistence.  And they in fact have names … Colton, Camryn & Noah … our three baptismal candidates (8AM – who will be washed in the life-giving waters of baptism at our second service) (10AM – who were washed in the life giving waters of baptism a short while ago).  Ask their moms and dads about their persistence when they are hungry … or they need a diaper change … or they want some attention … or just want to be held. … persistence indeed.  And in time, if they wish, they might each explore “what’s in a name” in their own lives.

Colton is most often translated from the English as “from a coal town” or simply  “charcoal.” This is one definition of charcoal that I found:  Charcoal is a lightweight, black residue, consisting of carbon and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and etation vegetation substances.  So maybe, Colton will be the kind of person who will be able to diffuse the energy in the room, settle down the volatility of angry people, and restore some peace to the world … or to his circles of friends … or to whatever gatherings in which he finds himself.

Camryn is typically translated from the Scottish for “bent nose,” and it brings to mind the phrase “getting your nose out of joint.”  In some ways, it is a perfect companion image to our Gospel lesson today, because the widow in our lesson certainly has her nose out of joint with this unjust judge, and thus badgers him until he makes things right.  So maybe Camryn will specialize in “making things right” and grow up to be a champion of social justice issues, or an advocate for those who cannot stand up for themselves, or simply the kind of friend one always wants at their side.

Noah comes from the ancient Hebrew language, and is typically translated as “rest” or “peace.”  In the story of the most famous Noah that we know, our ark-builder embodied peace in his faithfulness to God’s commands, his willingness to literally step into a storm and provide a safe haven for those God destined to be saved.  So maybe, Noah becomes a counselor, or a peace-negotiator, or a mediator … or simply that kind of person that you always want around because they take down the energy in the room.

In our feature lesson for today, this great story from the book of Genesis, we see what may be the archetypal image of “naming,” in the story of Jacob’s wrestling match at the Ford of Jabbok.  Whether Jacob’s opponent is a man, as the story describes him … or an angel as some like to fashion him … or God in human form, as Jacob names him, does not matter.  What drives the story is Jacob’s unrelenting desire to be blessed by his wrestling companion.  And the blessing is bestowed as the gift of a new name … Israel.  Hear again these words from our lesson:

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

What’s in a name?  For Jacob, now Israel, it is the acknowledgement that in the world in which we live, blessings do not arrive like pennies from heaven, or by luck of the draw, or by something just falling into your lap.  The real blessings of life are often the by-product of persistence … and not losing heart … and crying out day and night … and wrestling with the complexities of the world.  And if Jacob/Israel’s experience at Jabbok is a template for our own wrestling matches in life, then sometimes there are some scars that serve as reminders of the ordeals.  It is not coincidental that the people of God have taken the name of Israel for their communal identity.  For most would agree that no race within world history has experienced a more continuous and challenging struggle with the world than the Israelite people.  The ongoing wrestling match with the world and political powers that Israel has faced, going back to their days of slavery in Egypt is the poster child for how a people wrestle with the world.  And most Jews would remind you, that it is also what makes them believe they are the most blessed of peoples, too.  What’s in a name? – it is the reminder that their very existence is tied up this historic wrestling match at Jabbok with God, in either bodily or spiritual form.  And maybe it is a reminder to us that as we consider our identity as children of that same God of Israel, words like persistence … and determination … and fortitude … and continual hope … just plain old grit … are as much a part of the life of faith as the praise, gratitude, and joy that we are far more comfortable speaking about.

Terri Roberts read many books to Rosanna King in the almost nine years of weekly visits she made to Rosanna King.  One of those books was “Anne of Green Gables.”  And in that book, Roberts remembers coming across a description of the protagonist as having a look of silent hope.  And she in the article we opened with, she says,

“I remember looking down into Rosanna’s sweet face” (and saying) “You are that little girl with the look of silent hope.

What’s in a name? … for Rosanna King, the roots of her name are “fame,” “favor” and “grace.”  Most of us, if we had the chance to meet her, might find ourselves thinking of words like “pity” and “tragic” and “unfair.”  But maybe in Rosanna’s life, where her wrestling with the world has resulted in some level of isolation and disengagement from those around her … she has in place of that developed a deeper communion with God that is in fact characterized by words like “favor” and “grace.”

What is in your name? I wonder.  And by that I mean, what blessings do you see in your name, and how is has called you into life in this world.  Where has it lead to scars resulting from spiritual and relational persistence?  Why do you think you find yourself in the struggles with the world that regularly engage you?  And how might you see those blessings and scars and struggles as part of your holy calling as a child and disciple and apostle and steward and servant of God?  Amen.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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