Sunday, January 25, 2015


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 25, 2015

The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Acts 26:9-21
Psalm 67
Galatians 1:11-24
Matthew 10:16-22

            Human endurance is amazing, isn’t it?
            It’s so impressive what the human body can take – how fast some people can run, how high they can jump, how strong the human body can be.
            Human endurance is amazing.
            It’s probably why so many people love to watch sports.
            Recently we’ve had some pretty incredible examples of human endurance.
            I don’t know if you’ve followed this – if you’ve seen any of the incredible pictures of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two American climbers who spent 19 days climbing the 3,000 foot high Dawn Wall of El Capitan, a mountain in Yellowstone Park.
            Caldwell and Jorgensen free climbed this wall, meaning they didn’t use any climbing aids, just their own legs and arms. This was such a daunting challenge that many people thought it simply couldn’t be done, yet, through an amazing, almost superhuman display of endurance, these two climbers managed to reach the top of the mountain – did I mention after 19 days? - where they were greeted by family and friends.
            In a few weeks we’re all about to start witnessing another amazing feat of human endurance.
            In March an American astronaut named Scott Kelly along with a Russian cosmonaut will be sent to the International Space Station, where they will remain for one year. A few cosmonauts have managed to do endure a year in space but this will be the longest stay for an American.
            NASA will be studying the effects on Scott Kelly’s body during such a long time in near zero gravity and comparing it to what’s going on with his twin brother back here on earth, who also happens to be an astronaut.
            Scott Kelly says he will be performing a lot of experiments and also reading, emailing, journaling, checking social media, but even with modern technology and distractions, a year in space is a real test of human endurance.
            Now, we’re not going to climb El Capitan or spend a year in space but our endurance gets tested all the time doesn’t it?
            Sometimes there are the difficult people we need to endure.
            Sometimes we need to endure medical tests and procedures.
            Sometimes we endure the breaking of relationships and sometimes the death of people we love so much.
            And, if we do it right, it requires endurance to be a Christian.
            In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus paints a pretty scary picture of the Christian life – “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.
            Jesus warns us about the endurance needed to be his follower but promises that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
            Today we remember someone who knew all about Christian endurance. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, our patronal feast.
            After Jesus himself, Paul is probably the most important figure in Christian history. His letters make up a large chunk of the New Testament.
             And, I love St. Paul but, I admit, he’s a complicated character.
            He was a Pharisee, a member of that group that clashed with Jesus and his first followers.  We know from the Acts of the Apostles – and Paul admits - that he took part in the persecution of some early Christians.
            But, then Paul – or Saul as he was then known – had a powerful conversion experience where he encountered the Risen Christ. This mysterious experience transforms Saul, converting him into Paul the Apostle.
            Paul spent the rest of his life traveling around the Mediterranean world, telling as many people as he could about the Good News of Jesus.
            It was very hard work indeed.
            Imagine talking about Jesus with people who had never heard of him. Where would you begin?
            For the rest of his life, Paul endured many hardships.
            Apparently he wasn’t the most attractive or most eloquent person, which made his work even more difficult.
            Often he would no sooner get a Christian community going and move on to the next place when he would hear that things had gone off the rails and his new Christians were doing exactly what he told them not to do.
            Paul faced ridicule, rejection, arrests and beatings, and a shipwreck.
            He clashed with other early Christian leaders, including Peter.
            And, according to tradition, Paul finally gave up his life for Christ when he was beheaded in Rome around the year 67.
            St. Paul endured to the end.
            And, Jesus tells us, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
            So, how about us?
            Are we here at St. Paul’s like St. Paul? Are we “Enduring Christians”?
            Of course, only we can answer that question for ourselves.
            But, in preparation for our parish meeting next week, I’ve been working on our annual report. And, I see a lot of endurance here at St. Paul’s.
            I think of those of you who endured the lean years here when the church was nowhere near filled – and neither was the offering plate – and yet you endured, believing in God, believing in this place, keeping things going, enduring to the end – enduring to another beginning.
            On an average Sunday last year there were 95 people in church, up from 69 the year before and 51 the year before that. This amazing number tells me that people have endured – coming to church week after week, coming when it was cold or hot or rainy or icy or when we couldn’t use the St. Dom’s lot or when we just didn’t feel like it – we endured because we are called to worship God and be here for each other.
            And then there are our weekday services.
            There are never huge crowds but week after week for about a year and a half now we have kept to our weekday worship schedule and no matter what we have never canceled a weekday service.
            We have endured and bathed this room in prayer.
            I think about our Thanksgiving community meal. Trish Szymanski and her band of volunteers spent so many hours chopping and butchering and boiling and roasting – cooking into the wee hours of the night so that people who might not otherwise have had Thanksgiving were fed in body and in spirit.
            Those volunteers endured all the way to the cleanup – endured to the end.
            And, just last Monday a group of us from St. Paul’s and other faith communities stood in the cold over at the Hub on MLK Drive, reading the words of Dr, King, singing hymns and praying for the justice and peace that was Dr. King’s dream – a dream that is still unfulfilled.
            We endured on Martin Luther King Drive.
            So, today is our feast day: the Conversion of St. Paul.
            Today we remember and celebrate St. Paul, this important and complicated character who was converted into someone who gave away his life for Christ, who endured to the end.
            And, now we also are called to endure to the end – which, of course, with God is not really an end but another beginning.
            With God’s help, right here at St. Paul’s, together, we can endure.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Pilgrimage Road is a Two-Way Street

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 18, 2015

Year B: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

The Pilgrimage Road is a Two-Way Street
            Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage?
            People have been going on pilgrimages probably forever, journeying sometimes great distances alone or with others to visit places where the boundary between the human and the divine seems to be especially thin.
            In school, some of you probably read The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s late 14th Century account of pilgrims making their way through England to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the site where Thomas Becket was martyred.
            Today, Christian pilgrims still trek to Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal where the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared in modern times.
            Each year lots of Christians go to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, an arduous journey to the grave of St. James the Apostle.
            It’s not just Christians who make pilgrimages.
            Maybe the most famous pilgrimage is the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is expected to make at least once in his or her life. Nowadays about two million people make the trip each year.
            And then there are non-religious pilgrimages to places like Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
            I’ve gone on a couple of pilgrimages myself, including a couple of trips with some of the youth from my previous parish, Grace Madison.
            One year we drove to Canada where we visited churches in Montreal and Quebec City. We took a ride north-east from Quebec to a famous pilgrimage site, St. Anne de Beaupre, a shrine where crutches and wheelchairs hang on the walls, left behind by pilgrims who were apparently cured of their ailments at the sacred site.
            And then another pilgrimage was my favorite: we flew to San Francisco and then drove down the Pacific coast visiting mission churches founded by the Spanish in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
            I remember sitting in one of those mission churches with our Grace Church kids, typical American suburban teenagers who were taking in the history and the beauty or, more likely, texting each other or their friends back home when we heard a shuffling noise coming from behind us.
            We all looked and saw a very old woman making her way up the center aisle on her knees, clutching her rosary, making her own slow, prayerful pilgrimage to the altar.
            It was a powerful and moving moment.
            It seems that pilgrimages today are more popular than ever.
            A couple of months ago there was an article in The New York Times about the booming popularity of pilgrimages. About one-third of all tourists are pilgrims!
            Obviously this pilgrimage boom can be partly explained by the fact that today it’s easier and cheaper than ever to travel great distances.
            But the author of the article offered some deeper, less obvious reasons, too.
            We all know that people’s religious identity isn’t as fixed as it used to be. Lots of people switch their faiths – about half of all Americans do - or decide that they’re “spiritual but not religious.”
            As the author notes, “Everyone is on a journey.”
            The author interviewed Brian Kwan, a young photographer from Colorado Springs, who hiked the challenging 40-mile long Jesus trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee.
            Reflecting on his pilgrimage experience, Kwan said, “The moment you stop questioning is the moment you stop growing. You’re either walking in the direction of God or you’re walking away.”
            I really like that image of life as a pilgrimage towards God.
            “You’re either walking in the direction of God or you’re walking away.”
            We’re not the only ones on a journey.
            The pilgrimage road is a two-way street.
            In a real way God is on a pilgrimage, too.
            God is on a pilgrimage to us.
            In the words of today’s psalm, God is searching us - calling out to us, inviting us to be disciples, challenging us to be part of the great work of building the kingdom of God right here and now.
            The pilgrimage road is a two-way street.
            God is on a pilgrimage to us.
            In today’s Old Testament lesson we heard the story of God literally calling out to the boy Samuel, “Samuel! Samuel!” calling him to begin his work as a great prophet of Israel.
            God is on a pilgrimage to us.
            In today’s gospel lesson we hear Jesus on a kind of pilgrimage when he decides to go to Galilee and begins calling his disciples.
            Notice that Philip is not on a pilgrimage. He’s not seeking. Actually, we’re not told what he’s doing – probably just minding his own business.
            We’re told that Jesus “found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
            And just like the fishing brothers Simon and Andrew and James and John, when he hears the call, Philip seems to immediately drop what he’s doing to follow Jesus.
            But, first Philip goes to tell Nathanael who is skeptical but does journey toward Jesus – makes a little pilgrimage to Jesus - and also becomes a disciple.
            We are on a pilgrimage to God.
            And God is on a pilgrimage to us.
            This weekend we are remembering and honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
            By now, King has become an almost legendary figure so it’s easy to forget his beginnings in the civil rights movement.
            In 1955 when Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on a bus, in Montgomery, Alabama, King was 26 years old. He had previously planned to be an academic somewhere in the North where he and his young family would have had greater freedom. Instead he chose to take a Southern pulpit. When the bus boycott began, King had been pastor of the Dextor Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery for only one year.
            The young, brainy pastor was an unlikely choice to lead this dangerous boycott.
            But, God was on a pilgrimage to Martin King, meeting him while he was minding his own business in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, calling Martin to be an even greater, bolder, radically faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
            You know the rest of the story.
            It’s beautiful to think of our lives as a pilgrimage to God.
            Fortunately, going on a pilgrimage doesn’t require traveling vast distances.
            In a way, just like that old woman I saw in California, we make a little pilgrimage to God each time we come here, each time we make our way up the aisle to find Jesus in the bread and the wine.
            However…we’re not the only ones on a journey.
            The pilgrimage road is a two-way street.
            God is on a pilgrimage to us.
            God is searching us - calling out to us, inviting us to be disciples, challenging us – just like God called, invited and challenged Samuel, Philip, Nathanael, and Martin Luther King - to be part of the great work of building the kingdom of God right here and now.
            The pilgrimage road is a two-way street.
            We’re on a pilgrimage to God.
            And, God is on a pilgrimage to us.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 11, 2015

Year B: The First Sunday after the Epiphany – the Baptism of Our Lord
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

            Today we are all about beginnings.
            In today’s Old Testament lesson, we literally began at the beginning with the start of the Bible, the account of God creating the heavens and the earth and seeing that it was good, very good indeed.
            And in today’s gospel lesson, as we always do on the First Sunday after the Epiphany, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism.
            Baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
            The fact that John the Baptist baptized Jesus must have been very well remembered among the early Christians, so well-known that all four of the gospels include the story, though with some interesting differences.
            This year we heard the account of Jesus’ baptism found in the Gospel of Mark.
            Most scholars think that Mark is the earliest of the four gospels to be written, sometime around the year 70, thirty or so years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, written at a time when there would have been at least few people still alive who had known Jesus in the flesh and maybe even had been there that day at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized.
            Mark’s gospel is definitely the shortest and most barebones of the four gospels. Mark isn’t interested in giving us a lot of extra details that aren’t central to his story of Jesus the Son of God.
            And at the beginning of the gospel, Mark just jumps right in.
            It’s like Mark can’t wait to begin telling the story!
            There are no stories of Jesus’ birth that we find in Matthew and Luke.
            There is no beautiful and profound prologue like we find in John.
            Instead, Mark begins with one sentence of introduction: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
            Then there’s a little intro of John the Baptist and then we pick up with today’s lesson, Chapter 1, verse 4: the baptism of Jesus.
            For Mark, although Jesus is clearly an adult at the time of his baptism, the story of Jesus begins with his baptism.
            The beginning.
            The way Mark tells the story, the baptism of Jesus is an intensely personal experience.
            John does the baptizing, of course, but we’re told that just as Jesus “was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
            Just like us, Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
            And then we’re told that Jesus heard a voice from heaven say to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            There’s no mention of other people hearing this heavenly voice. Maybe others heard it, maybe not.
            But, it seems to me, that this was a personal – intensely personal - communication between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
            “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            By the way, those words are actually a combination of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.
            “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            With those words, God the Father announces Jesus’ special, unique, identity.
            But, maybe even more important than that, that day in the River Jordan, in the water of baptism, with those words, God the Father really says to Jesus the Son, “I love you.”
            “I love you.”
            Jesus’ ministry begins in baptism and begins with love.
            Right after his baptism, Jesus spends his forty days and nights of testing and temptation in the wilderness and then begins his public ministry, calling people to repentance, teaching and healing, proclaiming the Good News.
            And eventually his public ministry that began in the waters of baptism and began with love will get Jesus into big trouble, will get him arrested and will get him killed.
            And, we know that there were some difficult moments for Jesus along the way.
            His message was never was as widely or well received as he must have hoped.
            His closest followers seemed to have had a lot of trouble understanding his main points.
            He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane as he anticipated his fate and begged God to let this bitter cup pass.
             One of his disciples betrayed him, one of his closest friends denied him three times and just about everybody abandoned him in his greatest moment of need, as he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”
            Yet, even in those moments of terrible despair, I believe that Jesus remembered the waters of baptism and the voice from heaven declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
            I hope that Jesus remembered that in the water of baptism God said, “I love you.”
            In a real sense, just like for Jesus, our lives begin in the water of baptism where God says to us, “I love you.”
            Of course, we all face many challenges and troubles in our lives: life often doesn’t work out quite the way we expected or hoped; we’re not as smart or as talented or as good looking as we might want; we don’t get the job or we lose the job or the job is boring or too hard or doesn’t pay enough; our relationships get broken or never even take root; we hurt people and other people hurt us; we get sick; we lose the ones we love…I could go on and I’m sure you could make your own list.
            Life is hard.
            So, it seems to me, that one of the best reasons to come to church week after week is to remember the beginning.
            When we come here we are reminded of the God of love who began it all by dreaming up and willing into existence this beautiful world and the incomprehensibly vast cosmos beyond.
            When we come here we are reminded that in a real sense our lives began in the water of baptism – that’s why the font is by the church entrance.
            When we come here we are reminded that in the water of baptism God says to us, to each and every one us, no matter what we do or don’t do, no matter what goes right or what goes wrong, God says to us, I love you.
            God says to us, “I love you.”
            And, with God’s help, we begin.
            We begin again.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Changed By Christmas

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 4, 2015

The Second Sunday after Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Changed By Christmas

            Merry Christmas!
            The world has moved on from Christmas. Forget the Valentine’s Day candy, I’m sure by now Walgreen’s has the chocolate Easter bunnies on the shelves!
            But, here in church, for a few more days at least, it’s still Christmas.
            The church is still decorated for Christmas and we’re still singing Christmas hymns, celebrating the birth of Jesus, rejoicing that in and through Jesus God has entered the world in a new and unique way.
            So, merry Christmas!
            As you might guess, the church staff and I have begun to reflect on Christmas here at St. Paul’s – what worked and what didn’t work – things that we might want to try next year.
            But, no matter what we do or don’t do over the so-called “holiday season,” Christmas really changes us.
            We are changed by Christmas.
            For some of us that change might be a somewhat lighter wallet or a somewhat longer credit card bill.
            For some of us that change might be real pleasure at a gift we have received and the love that it represents.
            For some of us that change might be exhaustion – worn out from shopping and decorating and cooking and, everybody’s favorite, cleaning up.
            For some of us that change might be joy at spending time with family or friends – or maybe just relief at having some time off from work.
            For some of us that change might be a real sadness. As many of you know only too well, Christmas can be very difficult for people who have suffered loss or who are sick. Christmas can be challenging for people who live far from family and friends. Christmas can be depressing for people who are alone.
            It’s hard when the world says we should have a “holly, jolly Christmas” when really all we want to do is stay in bed.
            But, still, Christmas changes us.
            Maybe some of us were changed by our Christmas celebrations here at St. Paul’s.
            I know I was changed by the beautiful Christmas pageant presented by the children of St. Paul’s and Incarnation. I bet I’m not alone in that.
            Maybe some of us were changed by the chance to really reflect on the great mystery of God becoming incarnate – becoming a flesh and blood human being – in Jesus Christ.
            God becomes one of us – joining us here in our messy often terrible and often beautiful world.
            Christmas changes us.
            And now I’m going to step out onto theological thin ice, and suggest that Christmas changes God, too.
            Although there are a few examples in the Old Testament where God changes God’s mind, I’d be on firmer theological ground if I said that God is unchanging and unchangeable.
            But, I have to believe that in some sense God was changed by the experience of joining us here in our messy world – of having a flesh and blood human body and experiencing the pleasures of a good meal and laughter and the everyday pains of a stubbed toe or a toothache and the extraordinary pain of being nailed to a tree.
            And, I have to believe that in some sense God was changed by Christmas – the first Christmas - the experience of being born – born not in a luxurious palace to a royal couple but in a cave or a stable to a couple of nobodies, placed in an animal trough, with nobody – or, almost nobody – noticing or caring about the blessed event.
            And, I have to believe that in some sense God was changed by those first days after the first Christmas that we heard about in today’s gospel lesson.
            Just about from the start the powers that be are out to get Jesus.
            We’re told that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream warning him to take Mary and the child Jesus and flee to Egypt because Herod was on the rampage, looking to kill the newborn king.
            So Joseph and Mary and Joseph are on the run – refugees in a strange land – fleeing an oppressive government – fearing for their lives.
            We know, of course, that Mary and Joseph and Jesus survive this terrifying experience, though the children of Bethlehem – the “Holy Innocents” – will not be as fortunate, slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to kill the newborn king.
            But, although Herod failed, we know that eventually the powers of the world will indeed catch Jesus and kill him, thinking they were done with him once and for all.
            Changed by Christmas.
            In some sense, I believe that God was changed by Christmas.
            Throughout the Old Testament, especially through the prophets, God expresses a special love for poor and suffering people.
            Yet, somehow, after Christmas, now God really knows in a new flesh and blood way what it feels like to be poor, to be helpless, to be cold, to be hunted, to be on the run, and to be frightened.
            Maybe, after Christmas, God’s love for the poor and vulnerable is somehow even greater than it was before.
            Well, I may be wrong about God being changed by Christmas, but my prayer is that Christmas changes us in ways deeper than just how much money we’ve spent or the gifts we’ve received or even the sadness we might feel.
            My prayer is that Christmas – the story of God coming among us as poor – will change us to be more compassionate to the people all around us who are poor in material things and poor in spirit.
            My prayer is that Christmas – the story of God coming among us and hunted by the powers that be – will make us more loving towards all the people all around us who are on the run from oppression, abuse, and fear.
            So, merry Christmas.
            The world has moved on from Christmas. Forget the Valentine’s Day candy, I’m sure by now Walgreen’s has the chocolate Easter bunnies on the shelves!
            But, here in church, for a few more days at least, it’s still Christmas.
            One way or another, Christmas changes us.
            May Christmas change us to have greater love for the poorest and most vulnerable people who are all around us. Amen.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Putting on the Name of Jesus

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
January 1, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Name
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:15-21

Putting on the Name of Jesus

            Happy New Year!
            I’d like to begin with a story. A few years ago I was in San Francisco on a kind of vacation-retreat.
            And, as you might guess, part of my retreat involved going to church. As I’m sure Laurie will agree, for us that’s a treat. To just go to church. Sit in the pew. Look around. Pray. Pay attention to the sermon. Or not.
            Well, when I was out there I decided I would attend daily Eucharist at one of the most prominent churches in the city, which will remain nameless.
            The first day, after the service, I must have been feeling unusually warm and outgoing so I decided I would introduce myself to the priest who was the celebrant and preacher at the little daily Eucharist.
            So, when it was my turn in the short receiving line, I reached out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Tom Murphy. I’m a priest visiting from the Diocese of Newark. Thanks for the service.”
            The priest shook my hand and said something like, “Welcome. Hope you enjoy your stay.”
            As I walked away I realized that I had told him my name but he hadn’t told me his name.
            I didn’t think too much about it until the next day when I returned for the service, led by a different priest.
            Once again after the service, when it was my turn in the receiving line, this time more as a little test, I reached out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Tom Murphy. I’m a priest visiting from the Diocese of Newark. Thanks for the service.”
            Again, the same thing. The second priest smiled, said a few words but no name.
            This time it really bugged me and on the third day I was determined and so after I introduced myself to yet a third priest who didn’t tell me his name, I finally just asked, “And what’s your name?”
            Has this ever happened to you?
            I try to remember that experience when people introduce themselves to me here at St. Paul’s – to not assume that people know my name because it’s listed in the bulletin.
            Setting aside good manners, the experience in San Francisco bugged me. I had shared my name and they hadn’t. It irritated because our names are important, aren’t they?
            Often our names carry a lot of meaning – lots of times they were carefully chosen by our parents maybe to honor a beloved family member or friend, or to express the excitement they felt at bringing new life into the world, the joy of creation.
            And, especially today, our names certainly carry a lot of power, don’t they?
            Just having my name and knowing one fact about me – priest from the Diocese of Newark – would have given those San Francisco priests the opportunity to learn all kinds of things about me through the miracle and curse of Google, Facebook, and the rest.
            Finally, our names are wrapped up very tightly with our sense of self.
            Even with a very common name like mine (believe me, there are a million Tom Murphys out there) it’s hard for me and I’m guessing everybody who knows me to imagine a “me” apart from that name. 
            That’s why it’s so jarring when people change their names.
            We kind of take our names for granted but they carry a lot of meaning and contain a lot of power.
            That’s true today and it was at least as true in the biblical world.
            So, that’s why it was a really, really big deal when God revealed the divine name to Moses: “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will Be What I Will Be.”
            And that’s why it’s so important when the priests of ancient Israel blessed the people in the name of the Lord as we heard in today’s lesson from the Book of Numbers.
            The blessing is even described as putting on the name of the Lord.
            God says, “So the priests shall put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”
            Putting on the name of the Lord gives us God’s blessing, gives us some of God’s power.
            Which brings us finally to Jesus.
            The Holy Name of Jesus.
            Luke tells us that when the angel first appeared to Mary he told her that she would name her child Jesus. And, just in case we’ve forgotten, Luke reminds us in the story of the circumcision.
            “And he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
            Jesus – Joshua – meaning, “Yahweh is salvation.”
            And from the earliest days, followers of Jesus have believed that the name of Jesus is worthy of reverence and carries great power.
            In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul is probably quoting a very early hymn when he writes, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
            And, we acknowledge this great power each time we are bold enough to pray in the name of Jesus, each time we do our work in the name of Jesus.
            When we put on the name of Jesus we receive his blessing. We receive some of his power.
            So, especially as we start a new year, ytou and I are invited – privileged - to put on the holy and powerful name of Jesus and continue the work of Jesus in the world.
            We are invited to put on the holy name of Jesus and feed the hungry who form ever-longer lines at our food pantries and community meals.
            We are privileged to put on the powerful name of Jesus when we pray for the people of all backgrounds whose blood is shed on our city streets – and when we take stand against all forms of violence and work for peace.
            We are invited to put on the holy name of Jesus and welcome absolutely everybody into our churches – to welcome every stranger as if she or he were Jesus himself.
            And we are privileged to put on the holy name of Jesus and continue spreading the Good News that God loves us enough to be born, to live, to die and rise again among us – the best news of all that God pours out overflowing grace on everybody, even you and me.
            Names are important – they’re meaningful and powerful and wrapped up in our sense of self.
            Unlike those priests in California, God is willing to share God’s name with us.
            More than that, in and through Jesus, God shares God’s very Self with us.
            And we are invited – we are privileged – to put on the holy and powerful name of Jesus and continue the work of Christ right here and now in Jersey City.