I have called you by name, you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1c
What’s in a name? Our names are important. They help to identify us. Our name and who we are become inseparable. Have you ever be told by your parents that they considered another name for you when selecting baby names? How strange it seems to “try on” another name for yourself. Others when they hear the names we might have had tell us “I couldn’t imagine you with any other name!” Its as if a change of name for us changes our identity.
In the scriptures names are important. When God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt he begins by calling his name “Moses, Moses.” When Gabriel visits Mary to tell her the news of Jesus he first greets her with a title “O favored one” but then calms her fear “do not be afraid, Mary.” At the empty tomb on that first Easter morning the Risen Jesus greets the bewildered Mary Magdalene with her name “Mary” and its then that she sees him. The Disciples are called with their name. So to, when we are baptized our name is used. Not some generic person, but YOU are saved; YOU are called: YOU are made the Lord’s!
Christians have had a long standing practice of giving their children Biblical names, or names of the saints. Sadly this practice is fading in most circles. The idea was to give them a namesake, a heritage, an example to follow and a life to emulate. More come today is to use family names for children. The principle is the same. This family member is important to our heritage – they embodied virtues we don’t want lost. So, this previous generation is carried over into the new by use of a name.
My name is Jonathan; my brothers are David and Thomas. All of us bear biblical names and that was intentional on the part of my parents. I reflect often on my namesake Jonathan. He was a prince, the heir to the throne of Israel; he was to be the Lord’s Anointed! Yet the Lord had other plans. David was to be king; he was the one anointed by Samuel to lead God’s people. Jonathan displayed a profound degree of humility in submitting to God’s will and plan. He imulated Jesus’ prayer in the garden “not my will be done but your will be done.” Jonathan could have reacted poorly to God’s will, as his father Saul did. But instead he noticed the will of God and became a powerful supporter of that will; all while still honoring his father as the commandments called him to do. (Its really a great story – go and check it out in 1 Samuel) The heritage, the calling that I receive in my namesake Jonathan is to watch for the work of God and then to get out of the way when it happens. That is something I try to do regularly; though I can be poor at it.
Some of us have biblical names, others have family names, still others of us have wholly original names. Still though, what I’m reflecting on holds true for you. You are important to God; you are called by him by name. And you are given a name in Baptism. This is another longstanding Biblical truth. God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. So to you get a name in baptism. That name is Child of God. You are named in the waters of Baptism; you are claimed as God’s own child! That name carries a powerful heritage. You are forgiven, you are saved, and you are empowered to work in this world for God. When God brings people out of darkness into light; out of slavery to freedom; from death to life – you too have that calling and that power to work in that way in the world. You have that power because its in your name!