Living In the Name Of...

 In whose name are you here?

If someone were to ask you that question, what would your answer be?

Are you here in the name of your ancestors, representing those family members who once walked this earth and sought to better themselves and their loved ones?

Are you here in the name of your kids, wanting to be the caring, supportive, consistent presence they need you to be?

Are you here in the name of this church community, doing your part to see this community and faith thrive?

Maybe you’re here in the name of Christ, wanting to be the body of Christ here and now.

Or maybe you’re here in the name of righteousness itself, knowing it is right to move beyond yourself alone and treat the world around you well.

Whatever the case may be, this phrase we see often in the Bible, “in the name of” points to the important truth that we do not live in isolation, as disconnected, little island-like selves. We represent not just ourselves as we show ourselves to the word and live our lives.

We represent all those things that made us who we are. Have you ever thought about that?

I’m here as this guy Don Erickson. You look and see me the individual named Don. But I am a sum of all those people who influenced my life, all the experiences that molded me, all the moments that led me here.

Past is prologue, it has been said. Standing here before you, I represent all that has made me who I am. So, I’m here in the name of my experiences and in the name of all those people who affected me and my life. I’m here in the name of all that has made me me.

As for being a Christian, yes, I live my life in the name of Christ and the church. I also carry the name of those who’ve taught me and mentored me and inspired me in my spiritual life.

I’ll be honest, my influences and inspirations, the stuff that was poured into me that made me me, it was not all Christian-based or even religious.

I don’t talk a lot about it but I wouldn’t be where I am, I wouldn’t be a pastor, if it wasn’t for a Buddhist monk named Thich Giac Hai.

In 1997, as a 25 year -old, I no longer shared the faith of my family. I had left the Evangelical faith behind me. It seemed too confining, too uncaring, too condemnatory. I was searching, trying to make sense of myself and the world, seeking an answer to my many spiritual questions.

I delved deep into Buddhism on my own, reading books and taking college classes. Buddhism made a lot of sense to me. It resonated with me.

I decided to experience Buddhism lived out. There was a Vietnamese Buddhist temple outside of Raleigh and that’s where I met Thich Giac Hai, a short monk with big ears and a warm smile. He was the first religious authority figure to actually encourage my questions, my seeking, my search. He affirmed my journey. He affirmed my personhood. His understanding of Buddhism and his teaching helped me understand that I was not some horrible, backslidden sinner. No, there was goodness and promise in me. Buddhism calls it Buddha-Nature. In Christian lingo, I carry the image of God in me. So do you. Actualizing that divine image, living the divine life, becoming like Christ, becoming enlightened by the light that is Christ, that is the point of the spiritual life.

Interestingly, Thich Giac Hai and Buddhism helped me, profoundly so, in my journey back to Christ. They helped me to see Jesus in a new, more holistic way. Without this insight, I wouldn’t have made it here.

So, I’m here in the name of Thich Giac Hai. I’m here in the name of the Buddhist teaching and practice.

The non-Christian influence on my Christian life doesn’t end there. Some of my dearest, closest friends are non-believers. They are not church folks, not Christians, not theists even. But they are the kindest, truest, coolest people I know.

Jesus in our gospel reading lifts up the righteous and welcomes the righteous. Righteousness and the righteous are included in the way of Jesus. Well, these non-believing, non-religious, agnostic friends are righteous and wonderful people.

We meet at the good, as Pope Francis once advised. They show to me the good. They encourage me to laugh, to be myself, to have fun! They believe in me, and I believe in them. And all these things are good!

Without this, without them, I wouldn’t be here who I am.

I’m here in the name of Carol, Jamie, John and Jenn, Will, and Gary.

And of course, I’m here in the name of my grandparents Joseph and Mary, and Bill and Edna whom I never met and all the other ancestors I never met. I’m here in the name of my parents Don and Sharon. I’m here in the name of my siblings Julie, Donna, Gina, Bill and Brett.

I’m here in the name of Holly and Corey.

I’m here in the name of Morgan Jones, Steve Etner, Randy Hammer, and Warren Clark, all pastors of mine. I’m here in the name of Clermont Bible Church, Grapeville Baptist Church, the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Church, First Congregational of Albany, the First United Church of Tampa, Riverside Baptist Church, the Community Church of North Orange and Tully, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, al churches I’ve been affiliated with.

I’m here in the name of the Congregational Church of Plainville and all of you who join me in building the beloved community here.

I’m here in the name of Christ, the one who never let me go, who waited for me like the father in the prodigal son parable, the light that guides my path, the end all-be all of my spiritual life, my greatest teacher and friend.

Who are you here in the name of?

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