Gen. 17:1-7; 15-16 (NRSV)
Names… We all have them. Some of us have even been responsible for giving them to others. But I wonder how many of us have ever spent much time thinking about our names and how our names may have impacted our entire lives? Maybe some of us have and maybe some of us haven’t, but from all the research that has been done throughout the years, I can assure you names matter. They give us our first sense of identity… they can be the starting point for telling us who we believe we are in this world. Names have a way of connecting us to our past while also pointing us in the direction of our future.
[KEN FREE’S FAMILY STORY OF FEREE AND FREE]
Now in my own life, there have been many times when people I meet for the first time have made some comment about my last name. A name I have always LOVED. I’ve never thought of asking what prompted any of those comments… after all that is not what any of us do when a comment is made about a topic that we love talking about. So whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, I take full advantage, and I do this because the name KNIGHT connects me to my past and guides me toward my future.
Now, as most of you know by now, whenever someone makes reference to me being a KNIGHT, I always tell the true, can actually be confirmed, story about something Amy said to me before our wedding day… she told me that she wasn’t sure she would take my last name because it would require her to “drop” in Royalty. Taking my last name would mean that she would no longer be known as Amy Queen, and would instead be known as Amy Knight. Luckily for me she was joking, but as I quickly reminded Amy, my Nanny Knight was a King before choosing to become a Knight. Yep, Margaret King became Margaret Knight when she accepted William Earl Knight’s marriage proposal.
I love that part of my life’s story. Each and every time I share that story it feels right. Do you know what I mean? That story has so many layers, and each time I tell it I feel connected to those who came before me. There is something else I love about the King, Queen, Knight part of my life’s story… You see, in that story I am telling about the ways changing one’s name speaks to new life, and how that new life will one day serve to connect those who come later. Names, I believe, are really amazing in that way.
Knight, though, is not my only name, and I must confess, I haven’t always felt the same way about Jason. Ironically, most of my life I have not been known by Jason. In my home growing up I would mostly be called “Boy” or “Duece” or “Jace” or “J”. In High School everyone called me “JKNIGHT” and in college I mostly remember people calling me “KNIGHTY”. My High School and College names, I believe, had something to do with sports and my teammates, but no matter what the reason, Jason was not something my peers, my friends or my loved ones, ever seemed to call me. Maybe this is why I feel much more familiar with the person known as “Boy” or “Deuce” or “J” of “JKnight” or “Knighty”. I know who I am talking about. I can actually see that person in my mind’s eye. I know exactly who they are and what they’re about. I feel connected to person known by those names.
Now the person known as Jason is a whole different part of my story, though. And it seems I am still trying to figure out that part of my story.
Interesting isn’t it? To think about the power of a name. Maybe this explains why some say, “your name is a crucial factor in developing your sense of self and helps propel you forward on various paths of life.”
Naming plays a central role in today’s scripture, doesn’t it? In fact, everyone in this story is given a new name, starting with God, who for the first time is given the name God Almighty. It seems, this is the author’s way of making it clear that this God who is speaking is the God of Genesis 1… The God who created the heavens and the earth. This God is the God of all creation.
We also have Abram and Sarai who are given new names: Abraham and Sarah. The changes are subtle but profoundly impactful. You see, during those ancient days names weren’t apparently chosen because of their popularity or because of the latest baby name bestselling book. Names reflected the character and destiny of the person and in this case, the names Abraham and Sarah were chosen by God Almighty. The two of them have been blessed by God and in the twilight of their lives, God will do in them the impossible. They will be the ancestors of many nations, their heirs more numerous than the stars in the sky.
The new names are linked to the covenant God established with Abraham and all who come after. This chapter 17 covenant echoes the covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 15:18. However, the chapter 15 covenant was focused primarily on land, while the chapter 17 covenant will be the lens through which Israel interprets all aspects of life. This chapter 17 covenant helps them determine how to live faithfully with God, the land, and one another. This chapter 17 covenant offers the people the gift of hope… it offers them their source of identity, and it offers them their place in the creation.
Central to this story is God’s promise to Abraham, the promise of “an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (v. 7). As the Rev. Dr. Craig Kocher, University Chaplain at Richmond University says, “The covenant between God and Abraham is a reflection of God’s relationship with all of Israel, and through Israel to the church, and through the church to each one of us… The covenant is a royal promise, connecting Abraham to David, Israel’s greatest king, and through the house of David to Jesus. The covenant is an eternal promise that God makes; YHWH and Abraham will no longer be alone... This covenant is our destiny.”
The gift found in today’s text for us, it seems, is in its encouragement that we remember at the center of our being we can discover, or perhaps re-discover, blessing and promise, naming and covenant. We are followers of the One who established an everlasting covenant with Abraham. Even in the darkness of Lent, as we journey toward Easter, the promise that God made to Abraham remains. God is our God, and we are God’s people. That connection is everlasting.
There is great hope in a reminder such as this. Discovering or re-discovering our blessedness helps those once named Feree become Free without losing their connection to their past. You see their blessedness was there from the beginning. Discovery or re-discovering our blessedness helps those like me know that no matter what our name is, we are always, and will always be connected to God. That is what God promised all of creation. So, whether or not I know who I am when called “boy” or “Duece” or “Jace” or “J” and whether or not I’m still trying to discover who I am when called Jason, I can rest and remain hopeful because I am connected to that long line of blessing and promise, naming and covenant. We all are, and that should be embraced and celebrated because there is great power in that knowing.
 Hedrick, Michael, http://theweek.com/articles/460056/how-names-shape-identity
 Kocher, Craig, Feasting on the Word Commentary, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Pastoral Perspective