"The one who is speaking"-Sermon for St. Julian's Feast Day, John 4:23-26:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Anyone recognize that quote? Well the words are from a soliloquy written by William Shakespeare and spoken by Juliet in his play “Romeo and Juliet”. Juliet’s heart is aching, for the one she loves is separated from her because of a name. For Romeo, her beloved’s, family’s name is Montague…and the Montague’s are the mortal enemies of Juliet’s own family the Capulet’s. Thus, she is forbidden by her family from being in a relationship with Romeo, who she is entirely in love with, not based on his character…not based on his love and devotion to Juliet…not based on any reasonable virtue one might use to discern whether a person might be a good partner for a friend or family member. Instead, Juliet is separated from Romeo, and of course the reverse is true as well…Romeo is separated from Juliet by his family as well…based solely upon a name. And Juliet’s point in her soliloquy is that one’s name alone does not determine one’s value. Romeo’s fitness as a partner for Juliet and, even more so, who he really is as a living, breathing human being…is not and should not be determined by a name alone…but by a life lived. For, our value…what our name means…is really determined by everything that stands behind our name…the life actually lived…the choices actually made…the deeds actually done…the words actually used.
When I hear the word rose…I like Juliet think of a sweet otherworldly scent…I think of vibrant colors…and of thorns…and of gardens…and of growing, living things…and of my wife. These are the things that the word rose means to me…and all would be true whatever we call it. For its essence, not the four letters that make up its name, give what we call a rose…meaning. And, if I say my own name to you…Miles…an image…some semblance of what shape and form I physically take may come to your mind…but that is just the beginning…that’s just who Miles is at the most surface of levels. I hope what follows are memories of time shared together…words of encouragement offered…maybe even words not appreciated or helpful or even hurtful offered…but that time and attention and conversation overcame…allowing between us a story of redemption and reconnection. Perhaps you think of a priest or of church or of a father or of a longhorn or of a friend or of laughter or of tears…of something, for good or for ill, that determines the essence of who Miles is as one unique person, among all the rest of us, created in God’s own likeness and image. And, my point is, as the early 20###sup/sup### century writer and scholar Logan Pearsall Smith, writes, “Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our past behavior.”
Now, today is St. Julian’s Feast Day…the day in the church year when we give thanks to God for and reflect on the life of our Patron Saint…Julian. The one for whom we in this family of faith are named. And, I know I have mentioned this before but we don’t actually know Julian’s given name. She is named and known as Julian for the church in which she lived as an anchoress for about the last 30 years of her life. Anchoress or anchorite is a religious title for someone quite literally anchored to a particular church…for Julian did not just attend St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England on Sundays. She lived in a room, what is called in religious language a cell, attached to the side of the church…and she never left that room…though she is said to have shared it with a constant companion of the furry, four-legged variety…a cat. Thus, it was in St. Julian’s Church that our Julian lived and loved and wrote and prayed alongside those who worshipped in that church…her family of faith…and the many who visited her from far and wide to receive her wisdom, counsel and prayers…for she was known as a holy woman even in her own day.
But, again, her given name we do not know. And, I think there is something altogether wonderful about that. For, some 700 years after she lived and breathed upon this earth, her name does not bring to mind what family she haled from…what caste she was born in to…nobility or peasantry…who she may or may not have been married to. Instead, we know the one we call Julian by the life she chose to live and the words she chose to use. We know, as she wrote in her own words, that Julian believed with all her heart that just as we can hold a hazel nut in our hands…that God holds the whole world in God’s hands. And, that just as a hazel nut seems such a small thing that can be easily lost, destroyed, or gobbled up…the world, which is truly a small thing in comparison to the enormity of the universe, can also feel so fragile, so vulnerable, especially in times of pandemic and war and economic uncertainty and social unrest and climate change. But, in God’s loving hands, our Julian reminds us that the world shall more than just survive…but in the fullness of time be redeemed into the garden of delight as was intended for it at the beginning…and all of us will be there. For, God made the world…loves the world and all that is in it…and keeps the whole world forever in God’s everlasting hands of love. Rooted deeply in this conviction, Julian then shares with us her triumphant refrain…all shall be well, all shall be well, in all manner of things, all shall be well.
So, when you say to me the name Julian…I think of hope rooted in a faith in God’s never-failing love for the world God made and loves from everlasting to everlasting. I think of our nurturing Mother Jesus who bids us to find comfort and renewal as we rest in his bosom. I think of the crucified God who knows and stands with us in our pain. I think of the power of words, as she wrote about all of this in her great spiritual work “Revelations of Divine Love”. I think of a life of sacrificial service to all without distinction, as she welcomed prince and pauper alike at her window to offer counsel and prayer. I think of one who became so synonymous with the Body of Christ alive and active on the earth as it is in heaven, that her name, the one we know her by, became one with the church…Julian…her own and now ours.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the great generosity of this community at our Deep Roots Victory Celebration…and we were celebrating not just a commitment of dollars…as vital as they are…but all the time and talent and love and care and ministry offered by so many in this St. Julian’s church…that has brought us to the place where we will build together the next St. Julian’s church. And, though we know that the church will blessedly continue to be named St. Julian of Norwich…my question is, as we come to a new neighborhood, as we expand our capacity for good and for God, as we create space to grow and thrive, what will that name mean moving forward…what will its essence be…what will it call to mind…not just for us…but for all those who are around us…who know us and need us. The word rose would not call to mind such loveliness for us if not for the essence of the thing itself. Our names are like labels printed plainly on bottles that contain the essence of how we choose to live and love…the words we choose to use and hold back…who we choose to include and speak up for…how we roll up our sleeves and serve.
And, as we think about what our name, St. Julian’s, means today and tomorrow as we build together our undiscovered future, and, even what our own names, like Miles, mean at their very essence…for St. Julian’s will always be a sum of its parts…and those parts are us…we do well, as we do this day, to reflect upon the one we call Julian. For, like the name Julian conjures up for me, I for one hope that as my name comes to another’s mind…as our church St. Julian’s name comes to another’s mind…that words like hope and friendship and kindness and openness and acceptance…come to those minds. And, I hope that memories surface of care given and received, of support offered, of prayers provided, of laughter and tears shared, of a listening ear that was available when needed most…come to those minds. That the very essence of who we are…the essence we have shaped and bottled up all together with our own words and deeds, rooted entirely in God’s love alone, will determine what’s in a name…in our name…both the names we have been individually given and the name we chosen to bare and share together…St. Julian’s.
Friends, make no mistake, names have meaning…names have power…the bottled up essence of lives lived, deeds done, and words shared…the power to tear down or build up…the power to separate or bring people together…so what’s in a name…what’s in our name…what shall our name conjure up in the minds of others…both today and in the future that we are building together. Amen.