My oldest sister brought a lot of childhood family photos to our family gathering at Thanksgiving and let people take what they wanted. Most of them are group photos, since there are six children in my family. As the younger generations pored over the pictures, asking questions, we old folks talked of how often we were called the wrong names as children. My high school social studies teacher would pause, looking at me as I sat with raised hand, never quite Rolodexing as far down as Laura, having taught my older sisters – and literally unable to call me by name. I learned to speak once she’d been staring at me a few seconds. It was easier for both of us.
I like to be called by name – and I love to be able to call others by name. It’s the “belongingness” aspect that appeals so much. The prophet Isaiah quotes God as saying “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (43:1) A bit further on, Isaiah says that God remembers us as a woman remembers her nursing child, for God has “inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (49:16)
What a marvelous God we have, so versatile and knowing as to remember the specifics about each of us. What comfort and hope there is in that thought. My life, our lives matter in ways that we may never know, will never need to know. Doing one’s faithful best means that God will take our offerings and draw something good out of them. Every generation is important to God, not just those whose names make it into the Bible. Most of us are just ordinary folk – at best locally famous or infamous. Our lives aren’t the stuff of storybooks or legends but we want our lives to matter in some way.
I realize that I ask you to wear your nametags because I want to know your names, and, better yet, come to know you a bit, come to recognize the piece of God living inside of you. As I say out loud how much I wish we would all wear our name tags, that others will say to me – “I’m with you! I can’t remember names and I so wish people would help me out this way.” To wear a nametag is to embrace the other. To wear a nametag embraces our identity of being a welcoming community.
As I include in my daily prayers the pastor even now being prepared by God to come here to partner with you, I ponder that person’s delight in the years to come of knowing you by name, staying with you for years through the laughter and tears, the moments that will take your breath away, through all the matters that will cause your hearts to bind in Christian love like to that fellowship above. And I imagine your welcome to that person including the wearing of your name tag to provide welcome to this community. We would love to make you another nametag if yours has wandered away, your name has changed, or you need to keep one in each car! Whatever it takes. God has indeed called you by name. UPC wants to call you by name as well.
Blessings in this season of peace and joy,