What’s in a name? On Monday, my Facebook page exploded with lovely messages of birthday greetings from friends I’ve known through the various seasons of my life. It is one of the gifts of Facebook, it seems to me, the touch, however light, of those with whom I’ve journeyed along the way. While most people know me as Elizabeth, a few still call by nicknames used in childhood or in college. A very few greetings were to Liz, a person I’ve never been, and while I appreciated their birthday wishes, I know that that they don’t really know me.

Knowing one another’s name matters. We ask people to use nametags at church because too many of us don’t know each other’s name. It’s understandable; there are a lot of people to know, and yet church isn’t simply a building, a gathering of a collection of people for a time of worship or a place of inspiration. Church, first and foremost, is a living community: a place of belonging, a beautiful web of connection. The way we experience this profound gift is by practicing the core value at the heart of our faith: the act of hospitality.

The Rev. Mike Kinman, the new rector of All Saints in Pasadena, expressed it this way:

The deep truth behind welcoming the stranger is that the very act of welcoming makes the person not a stranger. And the first act of welcoming is the most powerful—sharing names. When we share names, we become human to each other. And that is the beginning of activating the healing power of love. (Meeting Jesus on the Margins)

A friend recently put it this way: we live in a society of strangers. All too often we don’t know the names of our neighbors, let alone those whose skin is a different hue, those who voted differently, those whose religious or cultural practices are not our own. We dump people into categories of race or political party or socio-economic status, promptly giving ourselves permission to dismiss them outright. This us vs. them impulse seems to be a deeply human one—we are all complicit, but it is not of God.

Can we acknowledge our participation in this “other-ing”? Rather than embracing the profound richness of the diversity of God’s creation—of our fellow human beings—we honor it in name only, without putting ourselves in places of opportunity to learn each other’s name and listen deeply to each other’s story. I know I struggle with this. But my desire to follow Jesus on this narrow path, the path that leads to life, compels me to continually try. This morning, Stephen and I joined others in the Northwest Suburbs committed to Bridging the Black-White Divide, and we heard the deep pain of those who lack the luxury of not seeing the devastating impact of this brokenness. And the world is full of brokenness, filled with people who are rejected, demeaned and objectified.

We are strangers to one another, until we are not. Knowing and being known is exactly what makes life rich and meaningful. Research tells us it is desperately needed and at the same time increasingly difficult to find. We yearn for belonging and connection, even as we struggle to experience it and have largely forgotten how to open ourselves to it. Church offers us an opportunity to move beyond our isolation into a larger communion. And we do so by engaging in concrete practices, such as making a commitment to learn one person’s name each time we come to church. As most of us know, it is hard enough just to do that, though the rewards are great.

But it doesn’t stop there. Church is to be a place where we practice this way of Jesus, moving out of our comfort zones on purpose, so that we might enlarge our capacity to practice this foundational act of hospitality well beyond these walls. What practices move you to share in the healing power of love through the sharing of names, of stories, of lives? How are you living kingdom of God in your daily life?

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth