This summer, I’m playing with the book of Mark every week! Check out my original post about why I’m studying Mark, and Mark 1:Authority, Mark 2: Avocado Toast, Mark 3: So You’ve Left Fundamentalism… and Mark 4: Our Patch of Earth. Yesterday I had the huge delight of preaching for a congregation of a friend of mine, so I’m posting a (heavily edited) version of my sermon from Mark 5 today.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
Can I tell you about how many times I get asked “what are you doing with your degree?”
Darlings, it is more times than there are grains of sand on the beach.
I have a short little speech that I can whip out at a moment’s notice now, something that goes like “I’m in the process of settling into a denomination that will ordain me” or “I’m between churches right now while I discern what the best ministry fit is for me.”
I think the reason the question can feel so weighty is that when people ask “what do you do,” (what is your work, what do you contribute to the world) they’re really asking who are you. What is your identity. What is your name.
And being asked, directly or indirectly, what is your name, can feel like the worst question.
Because we all have a lot of names, don’t we?
The oldest child. The beloved youngest. The successful one. The one that’s always late. The mother. The business failure. The white knight. The thoughtful one. The professor struggling with imposter syndrome. We gather up identities like loose change – some of them we pick up on our own, and some of them we let other people give to us. And sometimes we look at the names we have, and we don’t even know which ones we want. Am I really glad I gave up this job to be a “stay at home mom”? Am I really OK that I pursued trade school instead of law?
In all the identities that I’m constantly shuffling in between, where is the continuity? Am I the person who teaches yoga on Friday nights, the person who protests on Saturday mornings, or the administrative assistant who wears heels on Monday morning? Am I the Jokester or the Listener or the Attentive Husband or the Competent Business Manager?
We wear so many personalities and switch in and out between them, feeling more and more fragmented every day.
And it can start to feel sometimes like we don’t know what our core is.
We don’t know what is the thing that stays the same.
There is something scary about feeling like you are many. When we have many names, we tell many stories about ourselves, and we want to know – what is the Thing, what is the Story, what is the One Story that is Bigger than my Many Names. What is the one narrative that is larger than all of these many narratives? What is my story? What is my name? Who am I?
Am I one person? Am I whole?
Mark 5. The man comes running down the hill, chaotic, isolated, in pain, and Jesus asks him what is your name.
“Many. We are many. I’m Legion.” I am full of voices, and I don’t even know which one is the most me. I have no idea which one I can pinpoint as the real, solid, center of myself.
There are too many.
When you grow up Christian, or have been in the Church long enough, you feel instinctively that “Christianity” should be the answer to this problem of fragmented identity. So we throw ourselves into church, ministry, quiet times, religious books, volunteer work, evangelism, hoping that something there will give us a solid enough core that we know our name.
But our religiousness turns into just one one more personality to juggle.
One more thing to keep track of.
One more identity.
Instead of healing our fragmentation, it’s one more shattered piece of the mirror – we’ve just written “Jesus” on a piece of tape and stuck it on one of the shards.
Tired out, burnt up, church weary Christians – Jesus didn’t come to just give us one more name.
Jesus didn’t come to add to the chaos of our many identities.
We are many, and Jesus didn’t come to make us more.
Jesus came to make us whole.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine
What is our name?
I have summoned you by name. You are mine.
The only name that is strong enough to sit at the center of us, hold the whole weight of ourselves, is the name that Jesus gives us – “mine.”
When was the last time you talked to your deepest self?
Probably it’s been awhile.
That’s the you that Jesus is longing to sit with.
That’s the part of you that Jesus is interested in.
So Jesus asks our name.
Who are you, dear one? Where are you, dear one? Underneath layers of roles and rules and games and make-believe that you put on every morning, caking it on like too much makeup, where does your center reside?
Fear not, for I have redeemed you.
I have summoned you by name
You are mine.
Where does my center reside?
In the love of Christ.
What is my name?
That is a kind of belonging that is strong enough to hold all kinds of failures, and even all kinds of successes.
That is the kind of name is powerful enough to carry us through all kinds of false naming that people around us will do to us all day, every day, forever.
What a relief.
What a relief to be seen.
What a relief to be named.
What a relief to let some of the Many rest.
What a relief to have a name that is not fragmented.
What a relief to be whole.