What's in a name?
Closing Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Lutheran Church of the Cross
January 29, 2017

~ Download this homily

"All we have to do is touch that wall, and it comes tumbling down like dominoes, and the power of our Gospel will create new light, new peace, justice, kindness and a humble walking with our God like we’ve never seen before."

~ Bishop Gary Gordon

I like your church! It’s a square church, that’s round. Which is kind of interesting. It’s like the whole idea of putting a round peg in a square hole, and obviously, it’s been beautifully achieved. That may be a good image for the complexity of the work of ecumenism, because it does feel like that sometimes, doesn’t it? A round peg in a square hole.

But without forcing the round peg in a square hole, or vice versa, there has been much achieved. We’re here. We should celebrate that grace. We’ve been here for over 50 years with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It’s a wonderful grace.

What’s in a name? It’s a saying that we’re familiar with—What’s in a name? For Mary, weeping at the tomb, being called by name was an awakening, a recognition of the risen Lord. Jesus called her by name: Mary. It is our name that gives us identity, belonging, dignity. It confers our self upon our self. And this calling-by-name is the most tender moment in the Passion narrative, of the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Mary. Mary.” 

I’d like to consider with you the names of the Lutheran congregations here on the Island. Church of the Cross. That’s a nice name. It’s an identity. Grace Lutheran. A beautiful name, identity. Hope Lutheran. Identity. Good Shepherd. Identity.

I want to tell you a story about an ecumenical experience, for it is mostly by virtue of relationship that we get to love one another. An old pastor of mine told me, when I was just a child, “Gary, you can’t love whom you do not know.” We’ve been on this beautiful experience, this road of reconciling love for 50 years, and sometimes we are given opportunities where we really get to know each other because of time spent together. It doesn’t happen overnight. 

Once upon a time, I was in Edmonton, Alberta at the Edmonton Institution, a maximum security prison. I was there with two pastors: Terry Richardson, who is Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Nanaimo, and Rick Burk, Associate Pastor of Ottawa Trinity Church of the Nazarene. We were there, doing some work in the prison together, and we had to drive that afternoon to Drumheller. I guess it was three or four hours’ journey.

And it was February! I lived in Chilliwack, then. It was bitterly cold, but for my two counterparts, Rick Burk, Nazarene, and Terry Richardson, Lutheran, this was normal, because they were prairie boys.

So off we went. Four and a half hours, at least. I think that was the distance. Maybe it was five hours. It was a long time. It was the longest time in my whole life that I’d ever been with a protestant. 

It was wonderful! We talked about so many things. We shared our common concern for prisoners. We shared our common concerns for our society that likes to lock up people, or at least, to put them on the margins so they are out of the way. We shared our common concerns for the proclamation of the Gospel in a society that doesn’t seem interested. We shared our common anxieties about ministry. I can honestly say, in that drive from Edmonton to Drumheller, at minus-whatever degrees, we forged a brotherhood. We became brothers. They got to know me, and I got to know them. We discovered on that journey that our common concerns for witness were exactly the same, and it was beautiful.

We arrived in Drumheller, and found the motel where we were staying, because the next day we were going to go to Drumheller Institution, the prison, for the day. I opened the car door, then I stepped out … and I couldn’t feel my feet! I couldn’t stand up. My feet were frozen! These two guys were sitting in the front and they got all the hot air. They had warm air blasting right at them, but nothing came through to the back seat. It left me confused—my heart was warm with good feelings, with good conversation, but my feet were frozen.

But the blessing out of it—they were kind of apologetic that they had blocked all the heat—I got a glass of beer out of it. We kind of made a pact, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Sometimes it is true our feet are frozen. We’re a little stuck. But if we follow our hearts, if we allow our hearts to lead us, we will become unstuck. We may think that this wall, which has been built up over centuries, is difficult to tear down. But let me speak about the name of this Lutheran congregation here on Vancouver Island.

The Church of the Cross. It is from the Cross that we receive the words of Jesus that raise us up. Words of hope—Jesus turned to the convicted felon next to him, and uttered amazing words of hope. Today you will be with me in paradise. We’ve read those words so often. Can you imagine the hope that was given in that moment of Jesus’s suffering on the Cross, to this one person? Today you will be with me in paradise. Words of hope.

From the Cross, Jesus uttered something for every single person, for all of us, as he looked out upon the crowd, and upon me, and upon you, and spoke words of amazing grace. Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. Well, we have to admit, there are a lot of times when we don’t know what we’re doing. That’s how the walls got built. But the Lord’s words are words of grace. Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s beautiful.

And the very act of Christ on the Cross is his ultimate showing-forth to all of us that he is the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep. The Church of the Cross. The church of God’s grace, words of Jesus, giving hope, giving new life.

What’s in a name? There’s a lot in a name. And I leave you with this suggestion, this thought as we commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation: perhaps it is precisely in the Cross and from the Cross that we are able to bear the Cross. It is in suffering, and in accepting one another’s suffering, that there is a profound ability to tear down the walls. It is in this embrace of Mary in her tears that we can embrace each other in our tears, in our suffering. That will be the great witness, the common witness of Jesus Christ, who is risen. This is our Good News as Christians. Christ is risen.

In our world today, perhaps as in no other time, when we see such ecological and human suffering around the world, we are invited to announce this Good News. He is risen. He is alive. It begins, I think, rather personally, and one person at a time, by hearing our own name from the risen Christ. Gary. Mark. Margaret. Mary.

And it begins in recognizing and unleashing the power of the Resurrection. This is a hope, this is a grace, this is the gift that we possess. It’s with us, it is within us, and we can claim this identity of the risen Christ, who is alive in his Body, the Church.

The wall … poof. All we have to do is touch that wall, and it comes tumbling down like dominoes, and the power of our Gospel will create new light, new peace, justice, kindness and a humble walking with our God like we’ve never seen before.


Last Updated

Jan 18, 2018


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