Sermons

Secret Names

Sermon for Sunday, June 15, 2014 || Trinity Sunday, Year A || Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a

secretnamesAs most of you know, Leah and I are expecting twins in just a couple of weeks. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am so excited. And terrified. And excited. Whenever I think of the immensity of the change that is about to take place in our lives, I get this “deer in the headlights” look on my face for a minute. But then I remember to breath, and I remember that we’re going to have a lot of help and support, and I remember what Jesus says at the end of today’s Gospel reading: “I am with you always.” And all that helps.

But I’m getting off topic. You all know we’re expecting twins. You know we’re hoping for six more weeks of gestational time, and you know we’re having a boy and a girl. But there’s one thing Leah and I have been keeping to ourselves – one thing we barely whisper even to each other. We’ve been keeping their names a secret.

(Now, before you get all excited, I’m not going to tell you their names today. You’ll have to wait until they’re born.)

As I sat down to ponder this Trinity Sunday sermon, I found myself wondering why we’ve been keeping their names secret. We don’t even use them when we’re alone. We still call them “Baby Girl” and “Baby Boy,” which took over a few months ago from their original codenames “Alpha” and “Bravo.”

All of this was on my mind while reading the creation story from Genesis that we heard a few minutes ago, and something struck me that I’ve never noticed before. Did you catch how many things God names in the first three days of creation? God calls the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” God calls the dome “Sky,” the dry land “Earth,” and the gathered waters “Seas.” Likewise, in the second creation story, which follows what we read this morning, God invites the first human to name all the living creatures of the earth.

Thus, as Genesis tells the story, one of the things God creates is the act of naming. And God passes this act to the first human and by extension to us. Have you ever stopped to think how important names are? The simple act of naming causes us to value things in new and greater ways.

Think of it like this. I don’t know anything about trees, but you do. We go for a hike in the woods. I see a bunch of trees. But you see an Oak and a Chestnut and a Birch. You appreciate the curves of the boughs and the shape of the leaves. You know which root goes with which tree and which bird prefers to nest on which branch. I still just see a bunch of trees. But then you teach me the name of the Chestnut and how to recognize it. And suddenly, I see Chestnut trees all around me. I appreciate them in a new way because I can see them and name them.

Naming something brings out that something’s intrinsic value: value it always had, but which we don’t necessarily appreciate until we name it.

So what’s all this have to do with the Trinity? I’m glad you asked. Our understanding of God springs directly from our desire to name God. Yes, we have the word “God,” but in our experience those three letters do not do justice to the sublime coherence of grace and love and communion that we feel when we stumble into God’s presence.

So let’s train our imaginations to look back before God said, “Let there be light”; back before there was a creation for God to call God’s own. We believe that “God is love,” as the First Letter of John puts it, but if there was no creation to fill the role of the Beloved, then how could this be? Well, if there was nothing else to love, then God loved God. But we can’t stop there because true love always manifests as a relationship. And so in our futile attempt to find the right word to name God, we latch on to relational language and name God “Father.” We could just as easily use the word, “Mother,” as well. This sets up one side of a loving relationship, that of parent to child.

But the relationship is incomplete without the second person. And so we also name God “Son” to acknowledge the complete relationship between loving parent and beloved child. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus says that God “loved me before the foundation of the world.” This love between parent and child is so palpable that the love itself is the third member of the Trinity, which we name the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Paul tells the church in Rome that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

This loving relationship between parent and child existed before anything else. Nothing existed that could substitute for or diminish the relationship. The love was pure, perfect, unsullied by deficiencies such as lust or anger or apathy or dominance. In fact, the perfection of the relationship meant that, while there was a Trinity of persons, a Unity of being was the ultimate reality. This Unity of being was the home in which the three persons dwelt: the Parent, the Child, and the Love between them.

When we name God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we show our willingness – our desire – to resonate to a deeper degree with God’s movement in our lives. Just like learning the name of the Chestnut tree and suddenly seeing them everywhere, when we name God with the relational words of the Trinity, we set ourselves up to notice God moving in our lives in myriad ways: as the Father, the Son, the Spirit; as the Parent, Child, and Love between them – Love that brings us into the relationship and ushers us back home.

As I contemplate the secret names of our nascent children, as I lift those five syllables daily to the heart of God, I remember the importance of names. Names reveal the intrinsic value of things. Names pulls us deeper and deeper into relationship. Names help us notice things our eyes have never seen before. This is why we have three names for One God. This is why God has given us the gift of revealing God’s personhood as a thrice-named Trinity.

As I pray the names of our unborn children silently to God, I continue to wonder why we are keeping them secret. And I think the reason is this: we are saving their names for the new and joyous relationship that will begin at birth. Right now, they are ultrasound photo and pulsing heartbeat and kick on the belly and empty car seat waiting to be filled. And they are hope. I feel so much love gathering up inside of me – more love than my heart can hold because my heart is too small right now. I think this is a piece of the kind of love God felt in that moment before creation when there was only a Parent, a Child, and the Love between them. This new love is overflowing the banks of my heart, flooding me, waiting for the rapidly approaching day when I will hold my children in my arms, smell the tops of their heads, kiss their tiny fingers, and whisper their names.

And the moment I do, my heart will grow. These two new creations, these two incarnations of the love of God will hear their names. And pieces of my heart will exit my chest, enter theirs, and beat in tandem with their new hearts.

* ART: Detail from “Trinity” by Andrei Rublev (c. 1410)

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