We’ve been talking about names for the past few weeks. We heard the story of the Creator bringing a human being into the world: his name, adam, Hebrew for human. And Adam was given the task of naming and caring for all of the plants and the animals in his garden paradise.
We heard about Abraham and Sarah, and how their hospitality towards strangers was rewarded by the birth of a child, an idea that the elderly Sarah couldn’t help but laugh at. They named the child Isaac, meaning “he will laugh.”
Then on to Isaac’s son, Jacob, “the deceiver, the cheat” who spent years running away from his brother Esau after betraying his father and stealing his brother’s birthright. Finally ready to face what he had done, Jacob returns to his home land to face his brother. There, in the middle of the night he wrestles with a divine messenger. God gives him a new direction for his life and with it a new name, Israel – “one who wrestles with God.”
Today’s story takes place generations later. As Moses receives a divine charge to free the Israelites from oppression and slavery he asks two questions: “who am I to make a difference?” And “Who are you that sends me?” And so another name is revealed: the name of God.
Well, kind of.
In Hebrew tradition, the name of God is too sacred to be spoken or even written down. If the name were written down, it could be destroyed or disposed of, which could be perceived as an insult to the Creator. So, the name of God isn’t actually written in the ancient texts, it’s only abbreviated. The Hebrew consonants yud-hei-vav-hei, (transliterated in English as YHWH) are written down but only the consonants; there are no vowels in the word. It’s my understanding that scholars have therefore had to make an educated guess to fill in the spaces. And because of that, the exact translation is difficult to figure out. So we end up with God saying that the Divine name is something like “I am who I am” or maybe “I am who I will be” or “I will become what I choose to become.”
So if we come to the story hoping to get definitive answers about our Creator, we may be disappointed. We hope for a full name and instead only get initials.
When I first saw the initials “UCC” in the news three days ago I was a bit confused, thinking that they referred to our denomination, the United Church of Christ. But I quickly realized that the UCC everyone was talking about was Umpqua Community College and the story was that, once again, a mass shooting had taken place at an American school.
My first reaction was, honestly, to skim past the story. Unfortunately, there are so many stories like this nowadays that they almost don’t register with me.
But then I got angry; angry at my own numbness and angry with being part of a society that keeps allowing this to happen. Angry and sad that we seem to care more about guns than people.
We have less than 5% of the world’s population but almost half of the civilian-owned guns. In fact, we hold the Guinness Book of World Records for the most guns – nearly 300 million guns, 90 guns for every 100 people. The runner-up is India, with 4 guns for every 100 people. There is a mass shooting (with 4 or more victims) almost every day in America. In just the last 3 years, we have had nearly 1000 mass shootings, killing over 1200 people and wounding over 3500. Guns kill an average of 36 people every day. We have a problem – over 11,000 murders a year and about twice that many suicides from guns.[i]
We need to do better. As Americans we need to do better. As Christians we need to do better. Too many times God has been calling on us to do something and too many times we’ve been too afraid to try.
We need to hear God’s call, just like Moses. This is our chance to stand on the rock where Moses stood and hear God say to us:
“I have seen how My people in the U.S. are being mistreated. I have heard their groaning when guns and violence torment and harass them;
The plea of our children has come before me, and I have observed the cruel treatment they have suffered by violent hands.”
“So go.” God says to us. God sent Moses as a messenger to the Pharoah. God is sending us as messengers to our leaders. We have a divine call telling us to gather God’s people and bring them to deliverance.
We need to stand up against gun lobby to tell the politicians that make our laws that we will no longer stand for the NRA and other groups acting like Pharaoh, oppressing our fellow children of God by pouring money into our government so that the gun manufacturers can get rich off of our fear and the blood of our children.
We need to call for common sense gun laws and increased healthcare for mental illness and for a society that address racial and income inequality.
We need to make our voices louder.
But that’s a scary notion. Like Moses we ask “Who are we to do that?” Why should we mix up our faith and our politics? Jesus tried to take on the Romans and look at what happened to him!
As we face God’s challenge, we can also find comfort in God’s words to Moses.
“Do not fear.” God will be with us every step of the way
“The Eternal, the God of our ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, [the God of Jesus Christ] is the One who sends us.”
When we gather at the communion table, we remember Jesus. We’re reminded of the gruesome nature of his death on the cross where Jesus’ body was broken. His crucifixion reveals to us our own violent nature. His body was broken to try and get us to stop breaking the bodies of others. His blood was poured out to show us a new way towards peace, a world where no more blood is spilled.
Maybe we’re still not sure about God’s name, but we can be sure of the names of the victims at Umpqua Community College.
Lucero Alcaraz, 19
Treven Taylor Anspach, 20
Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18
Quinn Glen Cooper, 18
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59
Lucas Eibel, 18
Jason Dale Johnson, 34
Lawrence Levine, 67
Sarena Dawn Moore, 44
Just 9 of the latest names out of the thousands that have died:
In the words of Nicole Hockley, who lost her son Dylan in the Sandy Hook massacre: “It’s time we reject the notion that we can’t do anything to prevent gun violence. These acts of violence are preventable, and there are actions we can take in our own homes and communities to protect our children.”
Do not fear. “The Eternal, the God of our ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, [the God of Jesus Christ] is the One who sends us.”