Had I been given both of my grandmothers’ first names, I would have been Nellie Margie. Thanks Mom and Dad for looking ahead into my future and bestowing your mothers’ middle names to me so that I am Janie Layne.
When I was growing up, my friends wanted to be “Beth” or “Liz” instead of “Elizabeth.” But not me. I loved my name. I understood that it was a piece of my heritage, and I never dreamed to be called anything differently. In my mind — and my heart — to change my name would be to deny my grandmothers. And I wouldn’t dare entertain that idea.
However, I would have also loved my name had I been born a boy. I would have received both of my grandfathers’ names. Stephen Forest. Ah! What a bold, strong, honest name!
I attended St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Stillwater, OK, on Sunday. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 16:13-20. This passage tells of Jesus coming to Caesarea Philippi and asking His disciples who the crowds say that He is. Their response was that He was a prophet from long ago or perhaps John the Baptist. Then Jesus asks Simon the son of Jonah, and he responds that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus turns to Simon and says, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Fr. Jim focused on the understanding that at the moment Simon acknowledged and voiced WHO Jesus was, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. While others saw the superficial, Simon Peter saw the truth. He knew the stories of his heritage, the stories of the prophets, the Old Testament leaders of God’s Chosen People. But, Simon knew the Psalms, and he knew the prophesies of those great leaders of God’s People. Because he wanted to see and he wanted to truly know, God gave Simon understanding into who this Man was standing before him. And He was no ordinary Man but was the Son of God.
In turn, Jesus recognized Simon’s desire to believe. In that instant Simon was given a new name. This name would be a “marker” of his new life with Jesus.
So what does this mean for me? My name did not change when I believed. I was not given a new name when I was baptized.
While my name is still the same now as it was when I was twelve, I am not the same. We are not the same when we choose a life with Christ, when we seek to understand and believe. We are made a new creation. The old passes away. A shift from where we have come transitions into where we are going.
We should not look back. We should not seek to return to the old. Those old ways and those old words.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it also IS just that easy. While we may carry the name of our heritage, as I carry the names of my family, we are called by a new name into a new life. Peter was given the keys to open and shut the gates to the kingdom. What might God Almighty gift us with the power to do as we seek to understand and love and serve Him?