Sermon for 22nd October 2017

Sermon for 22nd October 2017


Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22



As some of you may know my youngest son got married at the beginning of September.  He married the beautiful Rachel and the day was a joy from beginning to end with family and friends celebrating this couple who met at school in the sixth form and have been through many ups and downs with health and jobs and moving to Manchester over their 8 years together.


Following the wedding ceremony in a hotel overlooking St Ives harbour we all moved to the reception venue which was at the top of St Ives in a cafe that overlooked the bay too.  The bride and groom led everybody through the town to the venue and on arrival welcomed their guests.  The greeting most heard was ‘congratulations Mr and Mrs Harper’ and for a while Rachel took this and smiled but after a while started telling people what I already knew - that actually she might not end up being Mrs Harper.  She had given much thought to it and decided that ideally she would like a double-barrelled name - Harper-Philips.


Graeme and Rachel hadn’t completely agreed at this point but it was also the thinking that if she double-barrelled her name then Graeme would too - after all they had made the same promises to love and cherish one another and both of their families were coming together as one.  Rachel’s mum gained a son as much as I gained a daughter.  Surely the names could be interchangeable - therefore all was settled.


EXCEPT…….Graeme’s dad was not happy at all…..his name was potentially being diluted.  The family name would not continue as it should - any children would inherit the double-barrelled version.  And so Graeme has stepped back from changing his name - for now.


For Rachel the reason for not letting go of her own surname is similar - it is her identity in many ways - particularly as it is her mother’s surname - not her father’s.  As with all children 1000 years or more ago you would take your mother’s name not your father’s as you knew exactly which mother you had come from and less so which father.  It was only as we embedded treating women as ‘property’ that belonged to a man that our children started to take the name of the person we ‘belonged’ too.  Rachel wants to a) belong to her mother’s family but also ‘belong’ to her husband’s family thus the desire to double-barrell her name.  


Today in our readings we here about the nature of belonging.  I Isaiah the prophet writes, ‘For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by name, I surname you, though you do not know me.’  I surname you.  This is God saying I call you by name and you belong to me.  I give you the family to which you will belong if only you would let yourself.  Too often however we don’t want to be surnamed - we want to walk in our identity.  We want to go our own way.  We don’t want to necessarily be seen to be belonging to God’s family.  We want our human identity rather than our God-given identity as children of our heavenly Father.  Usually that is due to the fact that belonging to the family of God calls us to have to be in particular ways and these ways are hard.


For if we belong to the family of God, if we are surnamed by Him then we have to be imitators of Christ as Paul writes to the Thessalonians.  And more than that we have to be imitators of Christ even when it seems to be the most derided, ridiculous thing to do.  Even when we are persecuted and trying to live life as a Christian - in the world but not of the world - is the most tiresome thing - we have to continue because we belong to the family of God through our baptism.  We are surnamed then by Him who created us, redeemed us and sustains us.


And in being imitators of Christ we show to those around us which family we belong to - as Paul wrote, ‘you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.’  In other words by showing who you belong to through your actions and just in the sense of actually having a family to belong to you show people something they cannot ordinarily have and something that so many people cry out for nowadays.


Let’s go back to the name thing and look at me, for example.  I started my life as a ‘Wilsdon’ - my dad’s name.  At the age of 16 I became ‘Lyes-Wilsdon’ when my maternal grandfather died and mum wanted to carry on her own family name.  At 17 I married and took the name ‘Harper’ which is the name my children also have.  At 31 I took the name Fitter and essentially took on the family name of Simon’s family.  So where does my identity lie?  In my father’s name, my grandfather’s, my first or my second husband’s?  Actually in none of these.  My identity lies in knowing myself to be a child of God through the death and resurrection of Christ.


Whatever my name remains or becomes in the future the one thing I am secure in is that I am called by name by God.  It is God who surnames me.   Perhaps then my name and all our names should end with Christ which means ‘anointed one.’  In baptism we are all anointed.  I will anoint Toby in oil with the sign of the cross at his baptism later today and he will bear that family mark until his death - whether he professes Christ as Lord or not when he grows. 


So the question for us this morning is a question that derides from Jesus’ statement in our Gospel reading - ‘give therefore to the emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.


Essentially, Jesus is saying to those who trick him - you belong to this world and so you need to pay the taxes owed but you belong also to God and you need to give him his due too.  You need, as Paul wrote, to be imitators of Christ.


But what on earth might that phrase mean - to be an imitator of Christ - what might that involve?


I suppose it is a little the same as I look at my grand-daughter and I see both her mother and her father in her.  Some people think the poor child looks exactly like I did as a baby.  Whatever and whoever she looks like she has the characteristics of those who surname her.


If our surname is ‘Christ’ then what do we need to imitate?




Asking awkward questions on behalf of those too ill/poor/lacking in self worth to do so


Treating young and old alike

Sharing hope even when there seems like none

Bringing healing

Not casting stones




Bringer of peace

Righteous anger


All of these things are the things of God that he asks of us if we are to be part of the family.  But there is something even greater - we can be part of the family and do nothing.  We are surnamed whether we like it or not because we are chosen by God to have our eyes open and our ears unstopped.  Therefore you can choose - everything about belonging to the family of God is an invitation.  You don’t have to accept but if you do then the gift comes with responsibility - not one that will earn yu a place in heaven - that has already been earned by Jesus on the cross but one that will earn us all, as a community and as a world a glimpse of the kingdom to which we all belong.


This week then as you go from here reflect on how you can be an imitator of Christ in any given situation.  How can people tell from what you do that your surname is ‘Christ’ that you are anointed by God for His kingdom and the work of it in this world and in the next.



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