When there is a popular TV show or movie, the names of characters can end up as children’s names. 2020 it turns out was no exception (well, 2020 was no exception to many things). So we have children now running around with names like Sansa from Game of Thrones and Katniss from The Hunger Games. Those are OK. They reflect our heroes, but other parents… other parents bring out my less than charitable side, because they’ve hung an albatross of a moniker around their children’s necks. For example, can you imagine the life of the children whose names are Facebook, Moxie Crimefighter, Hashtag, or Yoga? Or, if there were twins, you could do like a couple in New Zealand and name them Fish and Chips (the government actually stepped in on that one and said, “No.”) All I can figure is that these names must have been conceived while under the influence of Vodka (also a child’s name) and can best be described as Smellie (yes, another child’s name and one who will require massive amounts of therapy to overcome poor self-esteem.) These parents should have heard the command of English poet and priest, George Herbert, “Admit no vain or idle names.”
Why would parents do such a thing? I think it comes down to not placing any significance on a name: “a rose by any other name is still a rose” and a child by any other name—even if that name is Nutella—is still a child. However, Eugene Peterson, wonderful theologian and author of Run with Horses, understands the name with far greater significance. He writes, a “name addresses the uniquely human creature…. The meaning of a name is not in the dictionary, not in the unconscious, not in the size of the lettering. It is in relationship—with God.” He says that when he is baptizing a child and asks the Godparents, “‘What is the Christian name of this child?’ I am not only asking, ‘Who is this child I am holding?’ but also, ‘What do you want this child to become? What are your visions for this life?’” “Anything other than our name—title, job description, number, role—is less than a name.” (p.27-32) In other words, a person’s name defines a relationship with God and purpose in life. That relationship and that purpose then, can be understood as the will of God, which perhaps helps us understand why God changed peoples name. Take for example our first lesson from today: Abram and Sarai.
God came to Abram and made the Covenant with him—“your descendants shall be more than the stars in the skies”—and so God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means, “high father” and Abraham means, “father of a multitude.” God gave him a new name and changed the purpose of his life. In doing so, God defined his will for Abraham: one who is to fulfill the covenant. As Abraham could not do this alone, God changed the name / purpose of his wife. Sarai, which means, “my princess” to Sarah, meaning “mother of nations.” She too had her name and purposed redefined. We know of others. Jacob, meaning “supplanter” because he stole his brother’s birthright, became Israel, “having power with God.” Simon, “God has heard,” became Peter, “the rock.” Name and purpose, which defined God’s will for each of their lives. Only trouble, on the surface, it doesn’t seem that God changes people’s names anymore, so how can we know our purpose, but that is the surface. Going deeper, we realize that God has changed everything about us for the fulfillment of his will.
St. Paul: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
St. Peter: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)
St. John: “Beloved, now we are children of God.” (1 John 3:2)
Jesus: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)
God has not changed our names, he has transformed who we are into a completely new creation: his people, his beloved, his children, and maybe more important than all that… his friend; and in doing so, he has given us the purpose of our lives and shown to us his will—and don’t hate the messenger—but you know what that will is. Yes, you do: love—to love God and to love neighbor, the rest…
Do you know what a spaghetti junction is? You really only have them in cities, but they are where many interstates and roads come together and are intertwined with bridges and tunnels, on-ramps and off-ramps, big arching loops and tight circles. They look like a plate of spaghetti. I think they are a pretty good example of life—not just a single junction, but one after the other. A constant discernment of the various decisions of our lives. It often times is a mess that not even Siri can get you through, but what is impossible with man is possible for God, for if you will look at the road before you, you will know the one that God has designed for you—even with all its loops and weavings. How? There are many roads we can take, but there is only one that is ordered by love. If you will follow the road that allows you to love God and to love neighbor—as crazy as that road may look—then you are fulfilling the will of God and the purposes for which you were created.
Imagine your life when the decisions are before you and instead of asking, “What can I get out of this? What will benefit me? How will this make me look?”; instead of asking those questions, imagine your life when the decisions are placed before you and you ask, “How can I fulfill the purpose of God… the will of God?”, which is just another way of asking, “How can I love?” With the decision before me, “How can I love God and a my neighbor?” It will not always be an easy choice and you may be the one who “loses” according to the world’s standards, but you will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful… friend.”
Eugene Peterson said, that when he asks for the name of the child to be baptized that he’s not only asking, what is this child to be called, but is also asking, “What do you want this child to become? What are your visions for this life?” Those are also questions that we ask God for ourselves. What do you want me to become? What is your visions for my life? The answer: follow the road of love.
God has given his son a name which is above every name and you have been called according to that name. You have been called to the fulfillment of love.
Let us pray: Most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Our first beginning and our last end: You have made us In accord with your own image and likeness. Grant that all the thoughts of our minds, All the words of our tongues, All the affections of our hearts, And all the actions of our being may always be conformed to your holy will, so that on the last day, we may enter your eternal kingdom and live in your glory. Amen.