Emmanuel Window

Lent 2 – What’s in a Name? – February 25, 2024

What’s In A Name?

Starbucks CupWhat’s in a name?  Is the name you use on your Form 1040 — now that we’re in tax preparation season as well as Lent — different from the one you use with friends?  What does your family call you?  What about your friends from high school?  Maybe, if your name is unusual like mine or hard to spell like Jere’s, you have a coffee name — mine’s Susan — for when you’re ordering your latte at Starbucks.  Or a nickname — my father called me Charlie when I was a little girl.  No one else ever did, and I’ve never known where my dad got that name.  But I think I finally came to understand what the name Charlie meant to Dad, and to me, in the last years of his life.  Especially when he was sleepy, or not trying his hardest to show that he was his old, in-control, professional self.  Then he’d call me Charlie, resetting our relationship as Daddy and his little girl even as I cared for him.  The name Charlie took us both back to his strength and youth, when he could make everything all right with a bandaid or an ice cream cone.  The name Charlie connected us, tracing my life back to his, and his back to his own parents and beyond.  His name for me as his little girl connected him to where he came from.

Names Communicate God’s Message

Abraham and Sarah and an AngelIn scripture, names are always important.  The American Bible Society points out that scriptural names can refer to circumstances of a person’s birth, show family ties or communicate God’s message.  Names can also signal an affiliation with God or indicate a new beginning or new direction in a person’s life.  We read today from Genesis the wonderful story of Abram and Sarai and the new names God gives them in the covenant that brings us all into God’s family.  Abram is 99 years old and Sarai is 90 when God gives them new names.  Is that 99 whole years made up of 365 days each?  I don’t know, and I don’t think we need to get bogged down in that level of detail.  Genesis is not a legal document or a news story.  What we’re supposed to notice from the extreme age claim is that Sarai and Abram are mature.  They’re not young and inexperienced, but have been around the block.  They’ve been married for a long time, but they never had children.  And that’s the big point of the story.

God tells them that they will be the parents of nations, as improbable as it seems at their advanced age.  They will be the parents of all of us.  This is our origin story as God’s people.  God tells Abram and Sarai that God is changing their names, because they will need new names to express their new roles.  From here on out, God says, Abram — which means exalted father — will be known as Abrahama father of many nations.  And Sarai’s new name will be Sarah, which means queen — the source of rulers and nations.

Naming is a Privilege

Presbyterian minister and author Mihee Kim-Kort writes that naming is a gift, a privilege. When we use it as a means to relate to and understand one another, it becomes a special responsibility for all.  The work of naming, when enacted genuinely, is sanctifying.  Its calling out and lifting up—its resurrecting, like Jesus calling Lazarus to new life.  During Lent, we remember Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness, preparing for his public ministry.  As we read last week in Mark’s gospel, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness for this preparation right after John baptizes him in the Jordan River, where God gave Jesus a new name for his new role — my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Emmanuel Window            Let’s remember our own name — Emmanuel — meaning God is with us — as we prepare ourselves this Lent for our ministry as Easter people.  Maybe you’ve taken on a discipline during Lent — possibly one of Pope Francis’s suggested disciplines, like fasting from hurting words and saying kind words, or fasting from sadness to be filled with gratitude.  Maybe you’re praying your way through Lent by planting seeds to sprout in your window for the community garden, growing hope and courage as your prayers spring up green out of the little peat pots.  Maybe you’re reading the daily meditations your fellow parishioners are writing — meaningful and thoughtful explorations of our relationship with God through the experiences of our ancestors in the faith.  Maybe you’re attending our Wednesday evening simple soup suppers exploring Different Pathways on Our Lenten Journey — a series of conversations exploring Lenten observances in other denominations and cultures, as well as ways we can connect with our deepest and most meaningful sense of our belonging to God — through poetry, music, visual arts, and even the psychology of our own motivations, which can often be amazingly obscure to us.

Who we will be after Jesus’ resurrection at Easter?  What will our name tell us — and our neighbors — about who we are, where we’ve come from, and what we do?  This is a new Easter, a new age, and a new resurrection, and it’s filled with possibilities.

            What’s in a name?  Shakespeare’s Juliet asks Romeo.

That which we call a rose

            By any other name would smell as sweet. 

A RoseIt might seem that Juliet is saying names don’t matter — a kind of Renaissance version of it is what it is.  Or — as Gertrude Stein famously and relatedly wrote — a rose is a rose is a rose. 

But Romeo’s response is very interesting, taking us back to scripture and reminding us that names connect us to our great lineage and give us courage for our future.  Call me but love, Romeo replies to Juliet, and I’ll be new baptized.  Let us be new baptized at Easter, growing in faith together in community, with God among us.  Let us be new baptized as Emmanuel at Easter — God with us — connecting us to our great lineage as God’s people with strengthened faith for God’s work with what’s next.  Amen