A Name-Changer

January 2, 2012

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I preached on Isaiah 61:11–62:3, “That Is a Name-Changer!” After a brief “State of the World” message—to demonstrate some parallels between beat-up Israel in Isaiah’s time and the current day—I reflected on the role Christians have to play both waiting for and anticipating the Second Coming of Christ. [You can find the audio of this sermon at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church’s website.] In this passage, the idea of being given a new name is beautifully introduced:

Is. 62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2             The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give. . . .
4             You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5             For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Name-changing is a common and highly significant occurrence in the Scriptures. Several times in the biblical accounts, God gives a new name to a key player:  Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Cephas became Peter, Saul became Paul. These name-changes represented a new character, a new identity. There was a strong association between the name and the person. God’s name YWHW was never uttered out loud by Jews, because to do so would be to contain it and therefore dishonor God. Even today in Jewish literature, the deity is referred to as G_d for the same reason.

Our name is “Presbyterian,” which to different people might mean Liberal, Frozen Chosen, or Argumentative. Some have taken “Presbyterian” out of their congregation’s name, in favor of Christ Community Church or some other non-denominationally affiliated title, simply to avoid the embarrassment many conservatives feel at being associated with a wayward body. A woman I know changed her surname back to her maiden name after her (ex)husband was convicted of a very public crime, to avoid the pain of association with a front-page news figure. This is the sort of defensive action human beings are apt to take when their names no longer stand for their being.

But what would happen if God were to change our name, from Presbyterian to something else?  What sort of new identity would God endow upon our tribe? The question gets to the heart of our denominational aspirations, unless of course “denominationalism” is an expendable concept as many believe.  Taking my cue from the seven letters to the churches (Revelation 1–3), perhaps one of these name-changes would be appropriate:

Fallen to Repentant
Bound to Released
Syncretistic to Whole-Hearted
Adulterous to Faithful
Asleep to Awake
Powerless to Vindicated
Lukewarm to Passionate

My prayer for the PCUSA in 2012 is that we would accept the transforming name God wants to give us and to live into the reality of his Kingdom. I understand that we are so contentious as to dispute what that Kingdom involves, but at the very least, we are called to radical, humble, and joyful obedience to the Lord of all. This obedience is characterized by repentance from sin, true freedom that accompanies the acceptance of limits, single-mindedness and a pure heart, fidelity to God, alertness, ultimate vindication, and passion. What would the Presbyterian Church look like if these seven characteristics were palpable and visible among us? Lord, make it so among us! Maranatha!

 

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One Response to “A Name-Changer”

  1. Ron Says:

    I recently found an old article:

    http://www.crossroad.to/Excerpts/books/faith/Tozer/tozer-cross-long.htm

    The Old Cross and The New

    By A. W. Tozer

    “This wise saint went to be with the Lord in 1963. His messages were written more than forty years ago, yet they are as relevant now as they were then!”

    Perhaps this is an example of a name changer…..

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