My Name is Elizabeth

Anyone who has taken an Intro to the Old Testament class in seminary quickly learns that in Hebrew tradition the naming of someone is critically important. It shares the essence and character of a being. To be named is to be important and significant. To be named is to have lived. A name is not just a label for identification; it is an expression of the essential nature of a person. A name reveals someone’s character. So crucial is this concept that the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) lifts up to significant status the naming of God as in burning bush (Exodus 3). In Exodus 3:14, God replies to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” The Lord’s self-naming denotes the character of both being and action – the sovereign Lord God. While at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya, Rev. Jim Monroe (CEO of the hospital) shared a story that came out of his first mission trip to Maua Methodist Hospital which I share with you now with his permission. As Jim first toured the hospital, he came into a ward with six beds and multiple women sharing each bed. Moving into the ward, he was told the patients were dying of AIDS. Jim would stop, pray, and share what he could. Then, at one bed, when he paused, one of the three women sharing the bed got up. She was a very beautiful woman dressed in a hospital gown. The only thing that marred her physical beauty was that her face and arms were covered in sores. As she faced Rev. Monroe, very slowly she took off her gown and turned around so that he could not help but to fully see her. Then she leaned over and said something to him in a language which he did not understand. After sharing, with almost regal stateliness, she then put back on her gown and laid back down in the bed with the other two women, curled into the fetal position, and turned her back to him. Jim turned to the hospital worker who accompanied him and asked what she had said. She said, “Tell them my name is Elizabeth and that I lived.” The worker explained that she was an unmarried women, triply stigmatized in the community by (1) her lack of marriage, (2) her failure to bear a child and (3) her having AIDS. Jim shared with our silent listening group that it was this incident which convinced him of the importance of mission work in Maua and Kenya. As I have reflected on this moving story which sticks in my mind it speaks of something deeper. The Christian faith lives on the heartfelt conviction that every human being matters to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is for all, no matter how close to God or how far from God they/we might be. The name Elizabeth, interestingly enough, means “my God is an oath” or “God is satisfaction.” It is a treasured and indeed honored name that connects directly to the character of God. More personally, Elizabeth is also the middle name of our own precious daughter (Sarah Elizabeth Lowry Meek, and the mother of our granddaughter The Amazing Grace!). Elizabeth reminds me again of a truth we know well: Absolutely every person matters to God. It tells us again and again that we have a moral responsibility and duty to share Christ – his love, redeeming grace and offer of salvation to every human being we can reach. It emphasizes again a truth about the character of God who reaches out to the hungry, the homeless and the hurting. It calls us again and again to missional deeds of love, justice and mercy.  It teaches us, through the essence of naming, core values of the faith we hold and share. Elizabeth’s story rings in my heart: “Tell them my name is Elizabeth and that I lived.” I pray that we may continue as churches and a people of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and be dedicated to reaching out to all the Elizabeths of this world with the gospel of God’s grace and sharing Christ’s love in words and deeds under the lordship of Jesus Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.