There is a real difference between riddles and mysteries. Here is a puzzle: There is a 3-foot drop to your right, a fire engine behind you, a lion beside you, and a zebra in front of you. You are all traveling about 25 miles per hour. Where are you? That is a riddle.
The text for today is not a riddle, even though it is hard to understand. It is a mystery. No preacher can solve all the mysteries. That is why we are a people of faith--if we could solve them, then we would be a people of knowledge.
The mystery in this text is The Holy Trinity. I don't know how to explain it, but I do believe it. So what is this text trying to tell us? Let's see. I probably should not talk about names too much; after all, my name is Glenda Royeese Earnhart Stowe. I was in the third grade before I could spell it all. When my oldest son was born, I was very careful choosing names.
Adam Shane...that was the name I had chosen. I thought it was beautiful, and he could spell it before third grade. But it made his initials, well, with the last name Stowe and adding Adam Shane to it, I will let you figure out what his initials would be.
I love football, and it's very interesting to me that rarely do you see real short names on the backs of jerseys. Names can establish relationships. My son Matthew has a daughter named Mattie. They obviously have a real connection.
Nicknames are often endearments. Daddy instead of Father is a good example. I know a man whose nickname is Buddy and his grandchildren all call him Grandbuddy.
Names sometimes establish authority. You know the story, or maybe it is a song--an exchange between two people at sea over the radio waves. A voice says, "Change your course." And another voice comes back with, "No, I am a battleship. You change your course." And after several exchanges the voice from one side continues claiming authority, "I am the captain of the battleship." But the reply came back, "I am the lighthouse. Change your course. You are headed to danger."
Names help us identify our relationship with others--doctors, nurses, admirals, commanders, lighthouses, mamas, daddies. And nicknames--how you say a name often says it all--Honey, Doc, Sweetheart, and then, of course, there is Jesus...Christ...Messiah...Lord...God.
The scripture we read today is about relationship. Some things in the text are pretty convoluted. Is the reason they don't believe because they don't belong to the flock? In some denominations we cannot belong unless we believe. In the United Methodist Church, we belong and then we believe. It's one of the reasons we baptize children.
Some things in the text are very clear. It was the festival of Dedication. It was winter. Jesus was walking on the portico of Solomon. The acts, the miracles, the healings, the raising the dead, the casting out of demons--all done in the name of the Father, all done in the name of God.
Jesus had just clearly made a statement. He had just told them He is the Messiah, the son of God. He is one with God. He is the shepherd of the flock, and the flock is those who hear his voice and follow him.
It is about relationship. He knows them, each of them. He knows us best and loves us most.
This is not about reward and punishment. Some of us believe that we are going to heaven or to hell. Some of us believe that what we do determines whether we go to heaven or to hell. It's called a work righteousness.
Some of us believe that if we go to church and write a check we are in the fold. It is simply not true. This text tells us about the relationship. The relationship is about love...God's love for us and our love for him.
You cannot save yourself. We cannot confess enough. We cannot repent enough. There is not enough water to save us. You, me--we are saved by grace, the grace and the love of God.
Now in response to that grace, in response to that love that knows no limits, we do confess, we do repent, we are baptized. We commit ourselves to Christ and to his church--all in response to the love we have received.
Relationship...Our relationship with God Almighty and with his son. That is what this text is about. Do you love God more than life? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter where that takes you? Are you ready to feed his sheep and tend his lambs? Are you ready to think of yourself last instead of first? When is the last time you made a sacrifice for heaven's sake?
Relationships...Are you ready to give all you have and all you are and all you will ever be to the Lord who gave his life for you?
I don't understand those who fuss about coming to church and then complain when someone has a deathbed conversion and all they're saying is that it is not fair. Yet, there is no greater privilege than to come to God's house to worship with God's people.
Names...At our church once a year we do a blessing of the animals. My rule is if they don't have shoulders, they must be in a cage or a crate. I have blessed roosters, cats, dogs, mules, horses, donkeys, and many other of God's creatures. Most of them have been given very interesting names: Brutus, Iggy, Chipper, Jackson, Boscoe, and one named Didhebitecha. I watched them, especially the dogs. They just love us, and we love them.
My dog is a Cairn Terrier. I buy the best food, pay huge vet bills for annual checkups, use the expensive flea and tick killer and the heart worm medicine. Doogie sleeps anywhere he wants. I worry about him and make sure he gets walked on a regular basis and has plenty of exercise. I have a fenced-in yard just so he can run and chase squirrels. Yet at the first opportunity the gate is left open or the door is open for a little too long, he runs wide open away from me. I ask him, "Doogie, who would love you like I do? Why do you run from me?"
There are times in my life I run the same way Doogie does, but I am running from God.
I know that God loves me, that God provides for me, that God protects me from myself. I can hear him calling my name. I recognize his voice and yet I bolt off alone, heading for disaster.
Do you ever do that? God is calling your name. He knows you. You are part of his flock. You know his voice. It is all about relationship. Come on home.
Would you join me in prayer? Gracious God, we thank you this day for calling our name, for knowing us inside and out. We thank you for your grace and your mercy and your love. We ask you to be with us, not only this day but for forevermore. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.