What's In A Name?

 

Lent 2B’21

28 February   2021

Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations:” In the Name of the One who calls us all the Beloved. Amen.  from Genesis 17

As Shakespeare’s Juliet asked Romeo, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What’s in a name? At birth, baptism, at circumcision, or at puberty each of us are given a name from our family of origin. Each name has a meaning, for example my name “Carey” is of Celtic origin and means “from the fortress.” Even those names that are incredibly odd have a particular meaning. One of the oddest names I have ever heard was my dad’s name – “Lero”, that’s “Lero” not “Leroy.” Even Microsoft’s spell check tries to correct it whenever you type it. I’ve never heard of any other human having this strange name. But I came across The Dictionary of Celtic Mythology one day and discovered my dad’s name was in there! “Lero” was the name of a Celtic god. Where on earth would my grandmother have ever come up with such a name?  It just so happens that my dad’s mother’s family had their origins from the Celtic island of Ireland.  If you’ve never looked up the meaning of your name, I would encourage you to do it on-line or in one of the many “Baby Names” books.

As we grow up some of us pick up nick-names from our parents or classmates. Do you recognize the name of Calvin Broadus? Me neither, but you might recognize his nickname – “Snoop Dog” the famous rap artist, his mother thought he resembled Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoon. What else is in a name for Calvin Broadus – millions of dollars! Name changes can sometimes pay off!

At marriage the last name of the bride or groom may change.  When a royal ascends the throne, their name can change from Elizabeth Windsor to Elizabeth Regina! In the religious world when one becomes either a monk or a nun they are given a new name based upon a saint. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official name changes from the Rev. Justin Welby to The Most Reverend, Justin Welby Cantuar (Latin for Canterbury). Name changes that can occur at these various points in life are highly significant and that mark changes in status, career, and in the story of our faith, it can hold great significance for our very identities and our life’s purpose.

What if I told you that God has known each of us for a very long time, and what if I had a 5000-year-old picture of you to prove it? Take a look on the front cover of the bulletin for today’s service. This is a rendering by Lilien {lilly-ann}of Abraham, the patriarch of the three largest world religions. Where are we in this drawing? We are the stars.

In the 22nd chapter of Genesis we find these words spoken from God to Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky…” Abraham looking up at the stars at the ripe-young age of 99 with a 90-year-old wife – Sarah. But before this cataclysmic moment they had different names. Abraham’s name that was given to him by his family was “Abram.” What’s in a name? “Abram” in Hebrew means “Exalted Father” certainly the hope of his earthly father that he would have a good life with a family. But “Abraham”, the name given by God means “Father of Multitudes.” He would be the patriarch of many nations and the common ancestor of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. And what about Sarah? Her name given to her by her family was “Sarai”, and means “princess” in Hebrew. A cute and affectionate little title for a little girl “ah our little princess!” Again, God saw, planned, and hoped much more for her, and God gave her a new name – “Sarah” which means: “My Princess” a name with a double meaning, Sarah would be God’s princess and the princess of her subjects, the multitude of nations, fulfilling God’s purpose for her life.

A 99-year-old man, and a 90-year-old woman – both long past child bearing days. There was no way this couple would ever have any children. 

There is only one explanation for a story like this – God! God would make a covenant with these two that would bless the entire world all the way the present day and to little old you and little old me! We are the stars that Abraham saw that night in the land of Ur.

Besides trusting that God would give them children, God also required of both Abraham and Sarah to load up their camels, leave all of their extended families behind and to head to an unknown land – Canaan – the Land of Promise. God was really painting them into a corner, it was as if God was saying, “When you are both in your 90’s I’m going to change your names, get you away from the support of your family and friends, lead you to a foreign land, and there you will bear a son called Isaac.”

But - and there is a big but at this point in the story, they both try and take matters into their own hands and help God out. They doubted that God could do this, Sarai even laughed when she first heard the plan. Later they decided that Abraham would lie with one of the servants “Hagar” and since she was much younger, they might just be able to have a child. As with us all when matters are taken into our own hands there are unintended consequences – the fruit of that decision is still with us in the Arab – Israeli conflict.

In spite of their doubts and bungling, they pushed through doubt to faith and there would be the child that God had promised to them – Isaac!   God saw, planned and hoped much more for Abram and Sarai than their earthly families ever could. According to Hudson Taylor, 19th cen. missionary to China There are three stages to every great work of God; first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”  Because this was humanly impossible - only God would be able to claim the credit

From now on, in spite of multiple nationalities and tribes there would be only be two categories of people, persons who live their lives by faith alone, and those who live their lives by their human resources alone. For the people of faith, they would embrace their true identities as the beloved children of God. For the others it would be life on their own, relying only upon their own wits, their own resources, and their own powers to conquer and control.

Throughout history there would be a people of God, people of faith as vast as the stars, a people whose identities would come as the gift of faith: In John’s gospel we read: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” [1]Through this divine plan that began over 5000 years ago – you and I are invited and enabled to live our lives by faith and to receive our new names – the Beloved of God!

You See Beloved, God sees you and God sees me, and God plans and God hopes much more for us than our earthly families ever could! Amen!



[1] John 1.12

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