June 28, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Psalm 135: 1-3; 13-21
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Thou art thyself, though not a Montegue.
It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face,
nor any other part belonging to a man.
O be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.
Romeo doff thy name.
And for that name which is no part of thee
take all myself.
This is Juliet’s famous speed on her balcony in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet after her encounter with Romeo at a party. She boldly hopes in this monologue that love can win over family hatred, that names don’t really matter. While she proclaims her hope Romeo watches and listens below in the garden. “O be some other name! What’s in a name?”
What is in a name? Unfortunately for Romeo and Juliet, there is A Lot in a name. Names form identity, for better or worse. Names are linked with value. We much prefer to be called by name than to have someone shout, ‘hey you!’ And how awkward do we feel when we run into someone we know on the sidewalk or in the store and we cannot remember their name? Why? Names are important. Naming holds power.
Our psalmist this morning understands the importance of naming. “Praise the name of YHWH,” “Sing praises to God’s name because it is beautiful,” “YHWH, your name stands forever.” The little twist in the prayerful praise song is the YHWH—God’s name that is lifted up in this passage—is a name that isn’t really a name. It is more of a statement. Y-H-W-H, Yahweh is a declaration that can be translated numerous ways: “I am that I am,” “I will be who I will be,” “I will be who I have always been,” “I have been who I will always be,” and so on. At the burning bush, when Moses implored God for God’s name, God answers, “I’m me! I am! I exist!” God, YHWH, is too big for one word, one name, and yet naming God as our God is vitally important.
God has gifted us with a beautiful paradox that our psalmist illuminates with this song. Naming God as God, claiming God as our God is critically important. It helps us keep everything in perspective, in its proper order. Yet, there is no one name by which God is to be called. God is known by many names: God, YHWH, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Holy Beauty, Divine Goodness…Love. We are called to name the mystery, name the wonder that is beyond all names. These names, these attributes of God, help us keep a right focus, help us to stay centered on God and to see God at the center of all things. Singing praises to and naming God reminds us that God made us and all of the beauty of the earth around us. We didn’t make God. We don’t make God. There is power in naming, and naming God keeps that power where it belongs.
I need to be reminded of this—the power of naming. We need to be reminded of this often. Names are a gift, to be treasured and cherished. Naming is vitally important and must be attended to with intentionality. Naming holds power. If we want the world to resemble God’s dream, if we want equity and justice, if we want the world to turn (as we will sing in a few moments), then we must Say Their Names! We must say the names of all who the world tries to push down or shove to the side. We must say the names of all those the world seeks to dehumanize with a ‘hey you,’ or seeks to ignore completely, to tries to shut back in the closet. Naming holds power. Naming lifts up the one names, empowers, identifies, assigns value, and keeps us focused.
Our church council, with help from an awesome planning team, just created a beautiful, working document of our values to help us focus our work going forward. This values statement names that which is most important to us as a church family. And the first value stated holds a lot of naming within it. Striving for Beloved Community: St. Paul’s seeks to create a community that reflects the dream of God; wonderfully diverse and deeply united. We seek to create a place that welcomes as diversity of—and here comes the naming—race, ethnicity, citizenship, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental ability, faith background, economic status, appearance, marital condition, political persuasion, education, and life experience. We strive to do so in a way that protects the most vulnerable among us.
This naming of the wealth of diversity gives value, empowers, expresses care, and helps us focus on areas of need and the people who reside in those areas. Generalizations, such as “All Live Matter,” actually do the opposite of what the statement says. Such statements discount the needs of others and seek to silence those who in deep distress.
It is Pride Month! Pride is a celebratory time of naming the beauty, goodness and belovedness of our fabulous lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual plus family. It has been hard to celebrate this year; no parades, no festivals, not ever our interfaith service with beautiful music and powerful testimony. It almost feels like our out and proud queer voices are silenced amidst COVID-19 and racial violence. And yet, at least four trans women and men of color were horribly murdered in the last few weeks. Our current administration removed protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ people in the health care system on the anniversary of the Pulse Massacre in Orlando, FL and in the midst of Pride Month. There have been positives. The Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. But if SCOTUS has to rule that you can’t be discriminated against at work, it is proof that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of naming to do.
Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trangender-Queer-Questioning-Intersex-Asexual-Plus individuals ARE Beloved! Cherished! Adored! Vital! children of God created in God’s wondrous image. Say their names!
Praise the name of God, of YHWH! Sing praises to the Beautiful Names of our God. Our God does justice and is compassion, and calls us to do and be the same. Name God. Name those created in God’s holy image. There is such power and importance in a name.
As beautiful and moving as Juliet’s monologue is in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, she is wrong. “What’s in a name?” “O be some other name?” A name is identity, value, empowerment, compassion, justice. Speaking a name has the power to transform our lives, has the power to turn the world.
Tony McDade…Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells…Riah Milton…Jayne Thompson…Selena Rayes Hernadez
Say their names! Amen.