What’s In a Name?


Gen. 16:15-17:14Heb. 10:1-10John 5:30-47

Have you ever heard your name called in a loud, crowded room and been surprised you knew you were being called?  With a common name like Matt, often I have been surprised I could not just pick out my name over the cacophony of sound, but knew it was a familiar voice looking for THIS Matt.

I have also had times when people call me by name, engage me in deep conversation, only for me to finally confess, “Have we met? Do I know you?”  The answer is often “No, but I have heard you speak out in public.  I feel like I know you.  I don’t think we ever met.”  I suppose this is a hazard of my profession, but this happens more often than you might think.  Sometimes I wonder if I am losing my mind half way into these conversations.

These examples remind me of the power of a name.  To know someone’s name, especially in ancient Hebrew culture, meant to have power over one.  God goes further with Abram – actually renaming him.  It taps into the deep reality of his identity.  “Abram” means “Ab (a divine name) is holy” whereas “Abraham” means “Father of a multitude.”

Abraham has just been blessed with a son, Ishmael, finally at 86 years old.  Then at 99 God comes to him and reveals that Abram will not just be blessed with more ancestors than there are stars, but that he will be the father of many nations.

The covenant with Abraham is abundance and progeny.  As a sign of that covenant circumcision is given.  “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.”

While I have never quite made the connection as to the importance of this kind of sign, what it represents to me is that abundance and blessing are exhibited in the physical world with Yahweh, not just in the spiritual realm.  Our God is not a god who sits enthroned above, utterly disconnected from our daily lives, but infiltrates even the most intimate aspects of our lives together.  We are bound together with God, and with one another, and we are claimed as God’s own forever.

This is what baptism means for the Christian, when we are claimed as Christ’s own forever.  And unlike circumcision, the dividing walls of gender fall by the way side.  God’s welcome opens to all.  It is why baptism is called the “new circumcision” by Paul.

As you head out into the world today, be assured that we follow a God who has called each of us by name, who loves each one of us, and claims us as his own.  You might also want to call out to those you love, NAME THEM, and tell them you love them.


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