Sermon Details

What’s in a Name?

June 18, 2023
Wabash Avenue Presbyterian Church in Crawfordsville, IN invites you to join us every week for Sunday morning worship. Today's worship service will be led by Pastor John Van Nuys and Liturgist Jennifer Brunty. Pastor John's sermon title is "What’s in a Name?". Hymn accompaniment, prelude and postlude will be performed by Jim Heinzman. Thank you for joining us remotely
(13) Moses said, “If I tell the Israelites, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me,’ and they say, ‘What’s God’s name?’ what should I say?” (14) God said, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (15) Tell them: ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and my title for all generations.”
– Exodus 3:13-14

I AM WHO I AM. God says, “That’s my name.” But the Hebrew Bible says that God has many other names, too, including: Elohim (The Creator); El Shaddai (God Almighty); Adonai (Master); and Emmanuel (God with us).

In Hebrew, “The Anointed One” is Messiah, but in Greek it’s Christos. The New Testament names for God also include: Logos (Word); Alpha and Omega (Beginning and End); Kyrios (Lord); and Jesus (The Lord saves).

The name for God is God. But like you, God has a personal name – like Miguel or Margaret. God’s personal, proper name is Yahweh. Translation: I AM WHO I AM. Which is a non-answer answer. What’s your name? I AM WHO I AM. In John’s gospel, Jesus expands on that Mystery, saying: I AM The Bread of Life (6:35); I AM The Light of the World (8:12); I AM The Gate for the Sheep (10:7); I AM The Good Shepherd (John 10:11); I AM The Resurrection and The Life (11:25); I AM The Way, The Truth, and The Life (14:6); and I AM The True Vine (15:1). When on trial, Jesus was asked: Are you the Son of God? Jesus simply said: “I AM.” That sealed his fate, and his fate set us free.

Jesus called God Abba – Father. Of all the names of God, Father is one of the most challenging.

Calling God “Father” may not be difficult for you, but for many it is. In the psychiatric hospital where I worked, one teen tearfully confessed that since she had been violated, she could no longer pray: “I was violated by my father. I shut down whenever I hear God called ‘Father.’ My earthly father so hurt me that I feel dead inside to my Heavenly Father.”

I found a Bible and showed her this passage, saying: “I know God loves you and wants you to heal. When God was asked what God’s name was, God didn’t give a male name – or a female name. God simply said: “I AM WHO I AM.” I AM beyond definition. I AM not confined by any category. I AM Mystery. I AM Majesty. I just AM.”

I said: “The Bible tells us how the God who created us also works to help us: Like the abused Hebrews, who God sent Moses to free. Like the abuser Pharaoh, who God sent Moses to confront. The Bible says that God is always on the side of those who have been mistreated, abandoned, and abused. That’s what God does. That’s who God is.”

In the Bible index, we looked up all the names for God. This girl was amazed that there were many more names for God than just Father. I said, “If the Bible tells us that there’s more than one name for God, then the name ‘Father’ doesn’t fully describe God. Does it? Like good dads, God is protective. But God is like good moms, too. Jesus said he wants to protect us like a mother hen shielding her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37).”

The girl, who grew up on a farm, said, “I’ve seen our hens do that!” She said, “I’ve shown sheep at the fair. I always liked Psalm 23. If God loves us like I love the lambs I’ve raised, that’s a LOT of love.”

I said, “Focus on that. Pray to the God who is the Good Shepherd described in Psalm 23. In fact, you’re really smart: Memorize Psalm 23. Start your prayers with that and then say: ‘GOD LOVES ME – JUST LIKE THAT.’”

On Father’s Day, the good news for some of us is that God is our Father. For others of us who can’t connect to a Father God, we have a Good Shepherd, a mighty Rock (Psalm 18:2), a faithful Potter (Isaiah 64:8), a maternal Creator who gave us birth (Deuteronomy 32:18), a female God who cannot forget us as her nursing infants (Isaiah 49:15); and a caring Mother who comforts us as her loved children (Isaiah 66:13).

But the best description and fullest revelation of who God is and what God does is the cross. God loved us – and loves us – so much that God took us all into the heart of Christ, who hung on the cross, who was buried in a tomb, and who arose on Easter so we could rise as well to live with our God and our neighbors and the world as a new creation.

I AM WHO I AM in Jesus Christ did that – is that – gave that Life and Love as sheer gift to all of us who are hurt, broken, and longing to be loved. God even gives that Life and Love as forgiving mercy to all of us who have hurt others; who regret the harm we’ve caused; and who can’t undo the damage we’ve done. God’s crucified, resurrecting Love is even big enough to forgive, redeem, and include us.

Such Love defies comprehension. It’s too cosmic to be categorized. It’s too big to be boxed up in a creed or spelled out in a sermon. It just IS. It is Who it is – and because of that we are free.

However God calls to you; through whatever name of God the Holy Spirit speaks to you; the Great I AM, the Crucified Carpenter, the Living Lord is here to forgive, bless, save, and heal you. Open your heart to the One who can never be reduced to a label, but who can always be received as Love.

In reading this, your heart may be stirred. What you’re feeling is the Holy Spirit drawing you to Christ. To begin or renew a relationship with Jesus, just pray:

“Lord, help me receive your love. I regret the wrong I’ve done. Forgive me. Jesus, I believe you are God’s Son and the Savior of the world. Be my Savior. Save me from myself. Save me for yourself. Enter my heart. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Help me to serve you faithfully and well. Help me to love as you love. Lead me in your Way, Truth, and Life now and forever. Continue to show me who you are and who I am in you. Amen.”

If you pray this prayer, contact a pastor. They’ll show you how to live for Christ with purpose, peace, and joy. Jesus says: “Behold, I make all things new.” That definitely includes YOU!