Do you know what your name means? Were you named for someone in the family? Parents take great care to give their children names they hope they will live up to and live into. Ask any son who is a “junior.” The association with names and meaning is strong. No one here would name a child “Poured Concrete.” No one here would name a pet “Ground Meat.” If we were shopping for clothing, we would be loathe to purchase a garment from “Lepers, Inc.” Indeed, we associate things with the names they are given. Names have meaning, and we pay attention to that.
In our lectionary reading this morning, we see two people who receive name changes from the Lord himself. The changes are slight variations of the names they already have, but they signal to the community that a divine intervention has occurred and life will never be the same:
Genesis 17 (New Revised Standard Version)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty;[a] walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
So Abram becomes Abraham and is now to be known as the father of all nations. He has become the patriarch of EVERYTHING that follows. As the song goes, father Abraham had many sons; I am one of them, and so are you. This stunning intrusion of God into human history turned the world on its ear. In this singular moment, God’s covenant with his people is established, one that will be continued all the way to the cross and beyond.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Barren Sarai’s life also takes a drastic turn. Don’t miss the fact that she becomes the “Mother of All Nations,” and her offspring live out the covenant even to this day.
If you were to be given a new name from God, what would you choose?
Every day, we have a chance to “change our name” in the eyes of God. Choose well today. God’s offer of covenant is yours for the asking.