I try to understand, I really do.
I read and re-read
about cool new information
coming to us from the study of Black Holes.
It was a New York Times article
about Einstein’s own argument with himself
about gravity verses quantum mechanics,
or something like that.
But now, from the study of Black Holes,
it is beginning to look like
gravity and relativity exist together
or are even the same thing.
What that means, somehow and
for reasons I cannot fathom,
is it may turn out we are nothing but
halograms — feathery images
like on our credit cards.
If true then there is no difference between
here and there
cause and effect
inside and outside
or then and now.
Schrodinger’s cat can be both dead or alive
at the same time
and in the same place.*
”Black Holes May Hide Mind-Bending Secretes About Our Universe” by Dennis Overbye, NYT 10/10/22
Throw the Trinity
and Resurrection in there
and we’ve got a real spooky universe
in which nothing we touch
is as it seems.
If I am being honest with you,
I do not understand
a great deal of Christian theological claims
any more than I understand
a lot physics.
They are related of course,
because both theology and physics
attempt to understand
the world as we know it —
or think we know it.
Actually, they attempt to explain
the unseen world at the end
of our fingertips and vision.
But I am a preacher
and I much prefer Anne Sexton’s attempt
to draw a circle around
a particular kind of experience —
the pleasant surprise of joy
evoked by a God-shot of gratitude.
Anne is all in the flesh of the moment.
Even if we are only holograms
and this is actually “then”
rather than now,
it is the flesh of the moment
and having skin in the game
that tells us we are alive
and that God is in the moment with us.
”…in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing…
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
Now there is a theology I can understand.
And it is the invitation I want to offer
as we stand here on this first step
of the new year.
Take it or leave it,
it is up to you,
but an incarnational religion —
which is what we are —
seeks to experience
and looks to make better
wrapped in a bag of flesh
and among other enfleshed creatures.
Incarnation means “in the body”
as I said on Advent 4,
it isn’t only Jesus that is incarnate —
we all all.
We are in a body,
and in a body with God
and we walk or limp or crawl
through this life
with God in the body
with us — Emmanuel.
And it is in those moments
when we suddenly,
more often than not out of nowhere,
in this body with us,
that we are jolted with joy.
And it happens, more often than not,
as we sort and live through
the ordinary crumbs of experience
living out our
mostly ordinary lives.
And that is why names are important.
We name people, creatures, and things
because it places us
in relationship to them.
Black Holes and holograms aside,
is really and truly
understood the power of names
and they gave one another
names that meant something.
You know, like Emanuel – “God with us.”
My dog is named Rabia,
after Rabia of Basra
a fifth century Sufi mysic.
That Rabia was named “Rabia”
because in Arabic, Rabia means fourth,
and she was the fourth daughter.
My Rabia is my fourth dog.
was named because it was Trinity
in a different place.
Before we worshiped and lived here
as a community,
Trinity was only known
as the building at 520 S. Main Street.
So when we started worshiping here,
while still owning the building up there,
we distinguished this place
as Trinity Place.
The name mattered
and it stuck.
Names can be like that, powerful
and pointing to properties and characteristics
we may not even have intended.
My name is Robert Cameron Miller,
named after my dad,
who was Robert,
and with a Scottish name in the middle
that points to my heritage.
When I was a young boy,
even though my family called me Cam,
my father’s peers and friends
would call me “little Bob.”
When I went away to camp one summer,
I said my name was “Bob”
and that’s what they called me.
I liked the idea of being
a little version of my dad,
but his name never quite fit me.
Besides, Robert Miller
is about as generic as John Smith
and there seem to be a lot of Robert Miller’s
with a long history credit and legal problems.
We can long for names
that don’t fit,
and go by names other people give us
that do not fit.
It is important
that we get the right name —
the one that fits
for whatever reason
the power of that name holds for us.
The name “Jesus” is Latin
for the Greek name, Iesous
“Jesus” instead of Iesous,
became the norm of Christianity
because Christianity became Romanized,
and Latin, of course,
was the language of the empire.
So the meaning of the name “Jesus”
now includes the colonial nature
of a religion swallowed by an empire.
But neither the Greek, Iesous,
nor the Latin name, Jesus,
was his name.
Jesus had a Hebrew name —
not a Greek or Latin name.
His Hebrew name was Joshua.
But since there was no “J” sound
in ancient Hebrew,
it was Yeshua (Y’shua).
Like all names,
and especially all ancient names,
Yeshua had a meaning.
It meant, “God saves,”
or more precisely: “Jehovah is salvation.”
It is impossible for us to know
what the name Yeshua
meant to Jesus.
A lot of people in his generation
had that name.
A lot of people,
before and alongside him,
were named, “God saves.”
A lot of people before, with,
and after him, believed that, in fact, God does save.
So we do not know
what his name meant to him,
but we do know that the meaning of his name
came to define how people would remember him.
Now, because we are a highly secular culture,
there are a lot of people who think
that Jesus’ last name was, “Christ.”
But Jesus did not have a last name,
any more than millions of people
in some cultures around the world today
have last names.
Yeshua bar Joseph, was his name.
Or more accurately, Yeshua bar Yosef;
that is, Yeshua “son of” Yosef.
We can see why the scandal
of Joseph not being the father of Yeshua,
in a Patriarchal society,
would be so tramatic.
He would be “bar nothing.”
Son of no one.
Instead, he became “bar God” —
son of God.
long after his death on the cross,
began to receive a title
alongside his actual name:
or Hebrew for Messiah.
But we also know that the title, Messias,
got changed like the name Yeshua did.
It became the Greek form, Christos or Christ.
Messias means, in Hebrew, literally,
When we say Yeshua Messias,
or Jesus Christ,
we mean them as synonymous.
In our world,
to say Jesus
is to say Christ
and to say Christ
is to mean Jesus.
That is because the Roman Empire
spread, inspired, converted and coerced
that version of Christianity
all across the globe
until you and I,
and most of the modern world,
took for granted that Jesus means Christ
and vis versa.
Even those who do not believe
Jesus means Christ,
know that those two words
are synonymous for Christians.
or Jesus Christ
is one heck of a powerful name
because it is loaded to the brim
Even those Christians who reject Jesus
or as God
or as son of God
still have to contend with the power
of his name.
What is the meaning of his name…for us?
This is New Year’s Day,
a powerful day in and of itself.
The first day of the new year
is loaded with meaning,
and I think a propitious moment
to ponder these things.
What is the meaning of your name?
Does your name
or what people call you, fit?
What is the meaning of the name, Jesus?
Does the meaning you give that name
fit the relationship you desire
with that wisdom, or that man, or that God?
I invite and encourage us
to ponder these things:
our own name and his,
what they mean
whether the meanings fit
and what we want them to be…
As old as many of us are,
it is not too late to ponder these things.
I like to imagine that if we do,
we may just find ourselves incarnate:
A moment of joy
in which we experience
God in the body
with us: Emmanuel.
For the last time until next December, Merry Christmas.
Cam, I think you would enjoy the writing of a former theology classmate, Karl Plank. He is currently a professor of religious studies at Davidson College, and a prolific writer.
Cam Miller says
Thanks for the tip!