Our Failures, God’s Promise: A New Name

Sermon for Lent 2: Our Failures, God’s Promise: A New Name

Genesis 17:1-7;15-16

            Once I posed the question on Facebook:  Does your name have a story?  If so, what is it?  What is the meaning of your name?

Of course, this is more than one question, actually.

I learned in 9th grade Latin class that my name actually means, “Goddess” – something that impressed me briefly.

But as to the story of my name – how I got my name – I am not sure.  It may have something to do with the popularity of the Lennon sisters in the late 1950s.

Maybe my parents just paged through the Baby name book until they found a combination that sounded good.  I don’t know.  But what about you?

Do you know the meaning of your name?

I remember a few people who answered the question.

One woman said that her name “Ellen” came from the name of the nurse who attended her mother throughout her pregnancy.  All the time they had a different name in mind, but at the last minute, the name “Ellen” just seemed right.

Another woman said her parents had named her “Ruth” because it was a good solid name, and they couldn’t ever imagine a girl named “Ruth” misbehaving.   She said they may have changed their minds later in her childhood.

So our names have stories attached to them – and our names have meaning.

And this is true as well for the names in the Bible.

For example, do you know that the name “Israel” means – the one who wrestles with God?  Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled a blessing out of God out in the desert.

And “Isaac” means laughter because Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a baby at 90.

Abram means “exalted father” – and Abraham – means “Father of a multitude of nations.”

To us – Abraham is a name that makes sense.

But to Abraham, it must have hard to believe.  Or make that – impossible to believe.    Because Abraham had no children.  And he was 90

The covenant with Abraham – and the story of his name – goes beyond this brief scripture reading.  It begins in Chapter 12 when God tells him to go – “to a place I will show you” – and that he would make his name great – which means, that he would bless Abraham with wealth, measured in offspring and property.

The promise and the story continues – God promises that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars, he promises that he will be a great nation.

At one point, the promise seems so impossible to believe that Abraham and Sarah decide to take matters into their own hands. Sarah’s slave, Hagar, has a baby for Abraham.

But it turns out t that God has something else in mind, another child, through Sarah.

It’s a complicated, messy story of trust and doubt, faithfulness and impatience and  cruelty.

At one point Sarah is jealous of Hagar and Ishmael her son, and orders Abraham to cast them out.  Which he does.

And when Hagar cries out to God in the wilderness, believing that she will die, God comes to her and makes promises to her and her son as well.

And by the way, the name Ishmael, the name of Abraham’s other son?  It means, “God listens.”

Names are important.

They tell us who we are, and they tell us who God is for us. They give us a promise – and they give us a mission.

And sometimes it is tempting only to remember the promise. Abraham will be blessed and Abraham will be a blessing.

His name will mean father of a multitude  of nations– and sometimes he believes it – but other times – he doesn’t.

Other times he acts like someone who has to take matters into his own hands, who doesn’t trust that God will come through for him, who doesn’t trust what God is already doing through him.

Sometimes Abraham is a hero of faith, and sometimes he acts like a coward.

But God still makes a covenant with him, God still makes a promise to him – and to Sarah.

God promises to bless him – to give him descendants and land – and to make him a blessing.

And he gives him a new name – Abraham – father of a multitude of nations.”

His descendants will be as numerous as the stars.   And they are, you know.

The descendants of Abraham are as numerous as the stars. Three religions claim him as their patriarch.

We do, of course the Jewish people do, and the Islamic nations claim Abraham as their faith too.

Names are important.  They tell us who we are, and they tell us who God is for us.

And they tell us our mission too.

Our names tell us that we are blessed – and they also tell us that we are a blessing.

But sometimes we fail to believe the promise.  Sometimes we fail to trust the mission.

When we are baptized – for some of us it’s the time we received our names.  I was baptized about six weeks after I was born.  “Diane Marie” – that is the name that my parents gave me.

I had a colleague that didn’t think you should say a baby’s name until after they are baptized.

But I always disagreed with that because that’s not the most important thing that’s happening at baptism.

After all – some people are baptized when they are six weeks, and some people are baptized when they are 4 and some people are baptized when they are 8 or even 18 – or 80.

No – the name that we receive at baptism is this one:  “Christ.”  We are given Christ’s name – and our names are written in the book of life.  That’s the promise.

We are given the name of the one who suffered – and died – and rose to life – for the love of the world.

And the mission?  We, like Abraham, are blessed to be a blessing to the world.

We are given a promise that God will never let us go – all of our lives, and into eternal life – we are his.  He knows our names.

And we are also given a mission – to be Christ-bearers.

There are times, I will confess, that I have a hard time believing that the promise is for ME.

But mostly it’s the second thing I doubt – that God could use me to be an instrument of his peace, and grace, and hope.

What about you?  What about all of us … Grace church?   We have a name too.

Names are important.   Ellen.  Ruth.  Abraham.  James.  Ava.  Shelby.  Connor.  Gabriela.  And Grace.  I believe that God has a mission for us.

I see the children – at the school, but not just at the school – here, among us.  God has sent them to us.  We are not barren.  God has a mission for us – nurturing life,  making sure they know Jesus, the one who is Grace, the one who gave himself for us.

So often we fail.  But God’s love is wider than our failures.

Look at the sky and number the stars.  See if you can count them.    You’re up there.  We’re up there.  So shall our descendants be.


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