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More than a name

Our annual summer children’s program was last week. This year, we called it Rock U and the theme was stories connected to, well, rock. That might not sound super interesting, but we used it to connect to our relationship with the earth and God, building (especially ourselves), story telling and rock music (there was a band) and we managed to get in a little Lion King, Bob the Builder and Emmet from the Lego Movie. And there are a lot of cool crafts you can do with rocks.

One of the days we retold the story of how Peter got his name. In Matthew 16:15-19, Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is and then who they, the disciples, say he is. Simon answers that he is the messiah and Jesus renames him Peter, which means “rock,” because he is the rock on which he will build. Our version had a little more detail…

We wanted to connect the story to the idea that we are all building our selves on the rock which is love, being created in the image of God, finding God in ourselves and living into the goodness of life. So Simon was feeling a little insecure, being just a fisherman, and like he didn’t always understand things as clearly or quickly as the others seemed to. But when the time comes to answer Jesus’ question “who do you think I am,” he just somehow knows the right answer and can’t help but blurt it out. Jesus, knowing that Simon was feeling insecure, congratulates him on his courage for speaking up and points out that, while he’s not perfect (no one is), he knows what’s true and will stand by it. We had Jesus relate this moment to the parable of the wise man who builds on rock, the foolish man on sand. Simon is definitely rock, so Jesus says he’s going to give him a nickname: Rocky.

Right now you’re doing what many of the kids did in the moment of hearing the story: wait, that’s not right, it’s Peter. Yes, it is, but bear with me.

Jesus wants to call him Rocky. But here’s how the ending went:

“Simon looked at Jesus, a little alarmed, ‘I don’t know, Jesus,’ he said, ‘that’s not a very, I don’t know, Hebrew sounding name. I mean, I like it, of course, but what if someone decides to write this story down and put it in, say, a book of important stories about you that people will read far into the future? Shouldn’t it be something a little more fancy or serious.

“‘Okay, okay,’ said Jesus, ‘I see your point.’ Though he secretly didn’t and fully intended to keep calling him Rocky as a nickname. ‘How about a name that means ‘rock’ that’s a little fancier: I will call you Peter.’”

Peter’s okay with that, of course. But, while the key part of the story was the “rock” image, what it means and how that might be conveyed to children, I think it does open up an avenue we don’t explore nearly enough.

The Bible is holy and sacred. Yes. And, for many that holiness and sacredness may best be reflected in the dignity and beauty of the King James Version or, perhaps, a more accurate translation that more closely respects the most ancient texts we have available. For understanding, some people may prefer a more contemporary language version like The Message, but still we insist that it maintain the dignity of a sacred and holy text.

Except it shouldn’t be style and language that make them holy and sacred. It should be heart and spirit. The gospels are stories of a very down to earth Jesus who did his best to connect with people where and how they were. His followers were ordinary, everyday people who were inspired to do extraordinary things by the relationship they had with Jesus. In fact, Jesus, while being a respectful Jew, goes out of his way to question the holy and sacred rituals that had become meaningless for anything other than show. He questions the pharisees and the leaders of the Temple and reminds people to not be like them, not to be all for show, but instead to be for what’s heartfelt and soulful. He reached out to the sinners, the broken and hurting. He sat with the marginalized and the ordinary, not the holy and the “holier than thou.” Maybe, every now and then, it’s a good idea to get down there with Jesus and tell the story a little less holy and a little more real, a little less like it’s the words that make it sacred and more like it’s how we live the word that does that.

Maybe, if then were now, he might have called Simon “Rocky.” Or maybe even The Rock. It worked for Dwayne Johnson.

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