The Coffee Break

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What's in a Name?

“Do not fear: I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine."  Isaiah 43:1

I passed out blank paper and pencils and asked my students to choose several colors. Then, using the room’s white board to draw my own example, I asked them all to write their names in the middle of the paper, nice and big. 

Puzzled, they looked at each other and then at me. Surely this was not content for a college class? But as I wrote “Linda” in the middle of the space I’d made on the board, they followed suit. 

“This is the name the world knows you as,” I said. “But what other names or roles do you have?” With no further instruction, I turned back to the white board and began to cover the square I’d drawn with other words: Mother, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, aunt, writer, reader, knitter, professor.  Then I added nicknames I’d had through the years: Honeybear, Bubbles (don’t ask), Giggles, Lyn, Da (my brother’s childhood name for me).

Still curious and unsure of the purpose, the 31 adults in the class began to fill their own pages. Within ten minutes, they’d loosened up, using a multitude of colors, writing in cursive and print and bubble letters. 

Finally, I turned back to them. “We all have a lot of names and a lot of roles,” I told the class. “Now I want you to circle the name or the role that YOU choose to identify yourself. Who are you?”

Slowly, they all began to smile. Returning to college as an adult is not an easy task. They needed to see themselves as capable students, to break away from the naysayers who told them they could never earn a college degree. 

To be something other than what they had been.

On Sunday, Pastor Tim told the story of a woman in Joshua 2 who was known by one name: Harlot. I imagine her blank piece of paper might have held other words: slut, prostitute, whore and additional derisive terms. But she could have added other roles: daughter, sister, spinner of linen, protector of family, seeker of truth. Roles no one else in Jericho called her, but things she saw in herself. 

All of Jericho knew what Rahab did.  It was how she was known. Her house was built against the outer wall, the seedy side of town, and all her neighbors could see the many men that entered into the house. The travelers who came seeking “the harlot Rahab” told her stories of God’s miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea and the overthrow of Sihon and Og (Bible Gateway). And while her neighbors only saw a woman with loose morals, God saw someone whose faith could make her a heroine.

Can you imagine the scene? In Joshua 2, the spies come to Rahab. GIven her reputation, no one thinks it odd when strange men enter her house. The neighbors probably just shake their heads and wink at each other.  But she, astute woman, knows the stories she has heard from travelers about the God of Israel are true. She makes the decision to throw her lot in with the spies; she takes a risk to save herself and her family.

Pastor Tim summed it up this way:

  1. Rahab knew there was a problem. In her case, more than one. She was not only a prostitute, she did not believe in God. She regretted her past actions and desired to make it right. 
  2. Rahab responded to God’s salvation. She did not let her name or her reputation stop her.
  3. We are like Rahab. We might not have her exact sins on our piece of paper, but unflattering things about us are scrawled all over it.

In Matthew 1:5, we note another name Rahab can add to her paper: ancestress of Jesus. Rahab lived the rest of her life as the wife of a righteous man, Salmon, and was the mother of Boaz. She is one of only four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.

Quite a change from the name she was known as on the streets of Jericho.

After the initial “Introduction to college skills” class, most of my adult students went on to graduate. Some even asked for letters of recommendation to graduate programs. And many still keep in touch with me, years after they have gone onto other things.

They came to see themselves, not as others saw them, but as they saw themselves. Just as Rahab came to see herself as God saw her. 

It does not matter what happened before. All that matters is that God knows us and calls us by name.

He has redeemed us! (Isaiah 43:1)


Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Luke 10:27. He answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself."


The other day, my BFF Chris and I were bemoaning the fact that neighborhoods aren't what they used to be. Used to be, we said that neighbors helped each other out. You know, the guy with the snowblower did everyone's driveway without expecting more than a "Thanks" and you could borrow a long ladder from the fellow down the block to clean out your gutters without having to go on Takl and place a bid.  You knew your neighbors would watch your house while you were  on vacation and send a kid over to collect your mail. And if someone in your family was sick or in the hospital, your neighbors would provide you with casseroles and home made brownies. 


As an older woman with a disabled husband who's trying to figure out how to get my rosebushes trimmed,  I could sure use some neighbors like that.


But my conversation with Chris got me thinking. What happened to the day of the friendly and helpful neighbor? Linda Poon (2015) writing for the website CityLab, reports that a full third of Americans do not know the names of their neighbors. Yet only five decades ago--you know, those prehistoric days when the Flintstones and the Rubbles were spending every waking moment together--people interacted with their neighbors at least twice a week. It's true our hectic schedules--what Mac Dunkelman (The Vanishing Neighbor, 2014) calls "limited social capital"-- allow us less time for this sort of camaraderie, but is there more to it than that? And, more importantly, can we change it?


The Story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 is often told in Sunday Schools; we want our children to applaud the acts of the stranger in stopping to provide succor to the man beaten and left for dead. We tell the kiddos that the Samaritans were pretty much despised by the Jewish people without going into detail. To get an idea of how far the loathing went, think Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. How ironic, then, that the Samaritan--like Snape who was trying to protect Harry all along--turns out to be the hero.


But if that's all we see--the grumpy old Mr. Wilson coming to rescue Dennis Mitchell--we're missing the point. According to Marilyn Salmon, a Professor of New Testament Studies at the United Theological Seminary, we need to look at the story from the perspective of the robbed and beaten man, lying broken on the side of the road. 


He didn't care who offered him help. Priest, Levite, Samaritan. Heck, even Severus Snape would do.


And rather than casting ourselves in the role of the hero, let's realize that we ARE broken people, in desperate need of a hero to save us. And that hero is--ta da!--Jesus the Christ, who serves as an example of the most neighborly of neighbors. 


Remember the Samaritan left the injured man at the Inn and gave the Innkeeper two silver coins as a down payment on the man's care? While experts are a bit hazy on the exact amount, the two silver coins would have bought at least two weeks room and board! Getting involved is costly. Just look at the price that Jesus paid.


So if we can put ourselves in the place of the wounded and beaten stranger, we realize that we need to look not at the "otherness" like race, religion, and culture of those around us but the humanness. We're all broken. Every single one. 


It is a young lawyer who asks Jesus, "What must I do to receive eternal life?" The irony here is that the fellow already knows the answer. But Jesus recites Deuteronomy 6:5, the "great commandment", not to embarrass the man but to make a point or two: the way in which we walk with God and connect with others in our lives cannot be separated.


So instead of complaining about the good old days and wishing someone with a ladder would just show up and offer to clean out my gutters, I have decided to take a cue from Jesus and be as neighborly as possible, and that means being open to what their needs might be. When the lady next door told me it was hot in her house because she couldn't carry her room air conditioner up from the basement, I grabbed my tall son and we headed over with a screwdriver. It wasn't two pieces of silver but it was what broken people could do.


And isn't that all it takes?



Posted by Linda Cobourn with