Today is Valentine’s Day, 2019 – a day that is known for a number of events that have happened on this date in history. For example, in 278 A.D., St. Valentine, a holy priest in Rome during the days of Emperor Claudius the Cruel, was executed. The short version of the story is that Claudius was having trouble recruiting men to serve in the military and it was thought that they were reluctant to leave their girlfriends and wives to fight. So, Claudius outlawed marriage but St. Valentine continued to perform ceremonies. Eventually, Valentine was executed as a deterrent to others and it is said that the day of his execution he wrote a note to his jailer’s daughter, signing it “From Your Valentine.” Needless to say, you can figure out how our popular saying got started.
And then, in 1929, Al Capone ordered a hit on seven members of the “Bugs” Moran gang. It was one of the most famous executions in crime history and took place in a Chicago garage as four of Capone’s men dressed up impersonating policemen and killed the Moran gang members with machine guns. It was never proven that Capone issued the order but there was little doubt that he was the mastermind behind the massacre.
But today is notable for another reason. That’s because I received an unexpected Valentine this morning! To understand the significance of this, a little backstory is in order. Many years ago, when we were teenagers, Janet and I started to play tennis together at the Beverly Racquet Club where we both belonged as members. Janet and I were playing doubles with her parents and after one of the points, I referred to her as “Jannie.” She politely, but firmly, let me know that nobody called her that except her father and went on to say that she would appreciate me calling her “Janet” – no nicknames, please. And throughout the years, that is the way it stayed. Well, that is, for at least the first twenty five years of our marriage.
Then, with her eventual permission, every once in a while, “Jannie” slipped out of my mouth – not to annoy her, but as a term of endearment. She let me know that it was okay, but she reaffirmed that she wasn’t a “Jan” or a “Jane” or anything other than Janet – however, she was named Judith on her first birth certificate… That didn’t stay long and several days later, her name was changed to “Janet” even though it didn’t get officially changed until we tried to get her a passport many years after we were married!
By the way, I have never had a nickname – my paternal grandmother didn’t believe in nicknames so my parents thought long and hard to name me something that was easy and couldn’t be shortened. That’s how I became a Scott instead of a Stephen or Stewart, or even Gordon, the other names that were in the running before I was born. Apparently, after my birth, my parents got tired of thinking up one syllable names as my two brothers are Douglas and Kenneth; and my grandmother never shortened either one of them during her entire life.
I hope that you see that names are important in our family. They mean a lot! So imagine my surprise this morning when I opened my Valentine’s Day card from Janet. She found a great one to give me. But even better than the card was the signature – by now, you may have guessed it – for the first time in the more than 60 years that we have known each other – from our earliest childhood – Janet signed the card as “Jannie!” I couldn’t believe it – I have never ever seen that name written down – and Janet admitted that she had to stop and think about how she wanted to spell it. With a “y” at the end, or an “ie”? Two “n’s” or one? So now it’s official – after more than 45 years of marriage, I finally have a Valentine from “Jannie”. I couldn’t help but remember her Dad today after reading the card. I don’t think he would mind… after all, I have waited scores of years for this…
God is known for changing the names of people as well. The Scripture is full of people who have gone through name changes as they enter into a more intimate relationship with God. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel and, in the New Testament, Saul became Paul after he stopped killing Christians. Also, Simon became Peter, the apostle who delivered the first sermon in the Acts 2 church and became the first pope.
Our verse for tonight highlights the fact that each of us will receive a new name. John, the apostle who wrote Revelation, tells us, in Revelation 2:17, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” It is believed that the white stone is symbolic of being victorious and it is thought that the white stone is some sort of acknowledgment of our ability to enter heaven to spend eternity with Jesus.
My encouragement this evening is that we should all realize that God thinks of everything when it concerns us – even down to the hairs on our heads and our names. My prayer is that we will honor the name of God the Father, Jesus, His Son and the Holy Spirit. After all, names are important and it is up to us to respect each of God’s people here on earth. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…