“More Than a New Name”
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
March 1, 2015

  

This Lent, at least for some of the weeks, we are looking at some passages of scripture that we don’t usually associate with Lent.  Last week we looked at the covenant God made with Noah after the flood and sealed with a rainbow.  We saw that God was distressed at all of the violence and pollution of creation with fear.  God’s good creation, created out of chaos, was being plunged back into chaos.  God decided to destroy the destroyers and did so with a flood while sparing a remnant--Noah and his family.  God’s paradox is that he wants a universe that is peaceful and harmonious; and humanity continues to move in the direction of tension, war, and disharmony; but, at the same time doesn’t give up on humanity.  God’s solution is to act unilaterally.  God talks, Noah listens.  God decides to limit himself.  He will never again destroy the earth by flood.  God doesn’t give up on rebellious humanity; but displays grace in pursuit of desire for a peaceful, harmonious creation.  If God’s broken heart doesn’t make him want to give up on humanity, shouldn’t we who profess to follow him also have broken hearts over what we see happening to God’s good creation; and out of our broken hearts love flows to others?

 

Today we come to a reinforcement of the covenant we found in last week’s passage.  Last week’s focused on the land, this week’s focuses on living with God and one another.  The thrust of the Old Testament is reestablishing the relationship between God and the people of the world.

 

Abram and Sarai are the central figures in God’s unfolding drama of his reconciliation plan.  Abram and Sarai are partners in God’s plan of grace.  Their descendants will be more numerous that the grains of sand.  What is more, far down the descendant line, there will be one that arises who is a Suffering Servant that will bring forth justice.  The challenging part of this new covenant with Abram and Sarai is that God is one God; not one among many.  This God is the God of Creation.  This God is the God of Noah.  This God is the God that tells Abram and Sarai to leave all that they know and go to a land he will show them.  It is this God that Abram and Sarai trust to leave all of the security of their home and strike out in faith into the unknown.

 

Think about what it is like for you to pick up everything and start again in a new place: new job and/or home, new doctors and dentists, new places to shop for groceries and clothes, new everything.  And, you and I have cell phones, computers, and a whole lot of things they didn’t have that we can rely on.  After all, if there is nothing else in the new place, there will be a Wal-mart!  We know we can find food and other basics in the new community; it is not like there is nothing there!  Abram and Sarai left everything and headed off to nothing but their faith.  They left their country.  They left their kin, and kin is the source of security in those days!  They literally left everything behind that mattered to them and struck off in faith in God.

 

Once again God does all of the talking.  God will be Abram’s and Sarai’s protector, provider, and guide.  In return Abram and Sarai are to worship and obey.  God intervenes and creates the covenant and lifts humanity to himself.  God even gives them new names.  Abram becomes Abraham, the father of multitudes.  Sarai becomes Sarah, princess.  There’s a lot of significance to a name change.  For them, it signals a maturity in their relationship with God and the permanence of the relationship.  There are others in the bible.  Jacob becomes Israel.  Hoshea becomes Joshua.

 

In our contemporary world names are changed at weddings, naming ceremonies in some religions at birth, circumcision, baptism, and puberty.  Kings, Queens, and Popes take on new names to signify their new status.  The same is true for those who enter into religious life through the profession of monastic vows.  In each case, the new name signals a new purpose.

 

Abraham’s and Sarah’s new purpose is partners with God in his covenant plan.  They had no say in their new names.  God gave them to them. God also gives himself a new name, “I am God Almighty.”  God and the covenant partners all have new names: new names, new relationship, and new purpose.

 

Several verses omitted in today’s lectionary reading are about circumcision.  Abraham learns that there is more to this new covenant than just a name change.  Although God does most of the new covenant, there is one thing that Abraham and his male descendants must do.  God will show him a new land.  God will make of him a great nation and his name will be great.  God will give him descendants too numerous to count.  Then God mentions what Abraham and his descendants will do for God.  Every male must be circumcised.  Now Abraham discovers that his faithfulness will require more than having his name changed, he is about to become bodily involved!

 

Here on our Lenten journey, we do not head directly to Easter from the shopping center, spa, golf course, or work.  Instead we are invited to spend forty days examining the nature of our own covenant with God.  What is it upon which our relationship with God depends?  What do we trust to give us life? Our jobs, our pension, our education, our family; or do we trust God to give us life?  What practices allow us to become bodily involved like Abraham had to become bodily involved?  Bodily getting involved in volunteering in the community?  Bodily getting involved in being a liturgist?  Bodily getting involved in giving our time, talent, and financial resources to the work of Christ?  What will we do to move beyond lip service to real meaningful involvement in the work of Christ?

 

If we were to ask God for a new name, what might that name be?  What new purpose might that new name signify?  These are the questions of Lent.

 

Jesus is the new Abraham.  Jesus walked away from the familiar toward God’s promise.  Jesus walked with steady trust allowing God to lead him.  Jesus got a new name.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Here at the Lord’s Table, let us hear God’s call to faith and repentance and new life.  Let us walk away from the familiar toward God’s promise.  Let us walk in trust.  Let us live into our new name: disciples of Jesus Christ.