Naming and Identity

Message by Jason Storbakken

Bulletin 2.25.18

(Below are merely sermon notes.)

An American, Michael King visited Germany in the early 20th century. He was so moved by the stories of the Reformation that when he returned he changed his name and his son’s name. Michael King, Sr. and his son, became Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr.

Names have meaning and power. Sometimes names are changed so that people might live into their purpose (destiny, calling).

God’s name

God has many names in the Bible. The first name for God is found in Genesis – Elohim. God from above. It is plural. Some say this is a pre-figure of the Trinitarian deity, which is honestly quite a stretch. Most likely it is a hangover from primordial worship of a pluralistic or multi-faceted deity. Not that it was so much a polytheistic religion, but that God was understood in the many.

El is an ancient name of God in the Semitic and Mesopotamian worlds. This God, El, is often described as a bull. It is from this deity, El, that we get other names for God – Elohim, El Elyon (Most High God), El Shaddai (often mistranslated as God Almighty, but we’ll get to that later). And this term, El, is often found in names of prophets and others in the Scriptures – Joel, Ezekiel, Abimael, Ariel, Israel, Daniel, and Elijah.

This name, Elijah, points to two names of God: El and Yah (an abbreviated form of Yahweh). YHWH is the personal name of God revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush. It is a very special name, perhaps the most special name of God. In fact, adherents of many sects of Judaism do not even speak the name. Instead, they say Hashem, which means the Name. The Hebrew people were delivered by Yahweh (Jehovah), and hence there are many Yahwists – those who identify exclusively with the personal revelation of the deity. We find this Yah sound in many persons in the Bible, but we say Jah instead of Yah – e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Joseph, Joshua, Jesus, etc.

Our story

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty.”

When God speaks to Abram, God reveals the God-self as YHVH (I Am), the personal name of the deity. God then reveals herself as El Shaddai, often inaccurately translated as God Almighty, but properly translated as God with Breasts or God who is Earth. God Almighty is El Shaddai.

God as feminine deity

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 66:13

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Isaiah 42:14

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” – Jesus

Ch – ch – ch – changes

A lot of changes happen in our Genesis passage. Abram (high father) becomes Abraham (father of many); Sarai (my princess) become Sarah (mother of nations). God reveals the Godself (or herself) as the God with Breasts, the God who is the earth, the God who provides sustenance nurtures her people and nourishes her world with her very self.

Abraham and Sarah aren’t the only ones who have their names changed in the Bible. Jacob, whose name means supplanter (i.e., one who take the place of someone else), has his name changed by God to Israel, which means “one who struggles with God.” Jesus named people or, perhaps, gave nicknames to people. He changed Simon to Peter (or small stone, pebble, petros). Jesus says, “And I tell you that you are Cephas (Peter) (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” James and John were called by Jesus, the Sons of Thunder or perhaps translated better as thunderstruck or awestruck brothers.

Our world needs changes. We need a feminine deity, a trans God, a Black God, an undocumented God, a God who is a victim of gun violence, a God who continually disrupts and subverts systems of domination, who identifies with the suffering and struggling because she is intimately in the struggle with those who suffer.

David Bowie sings: “And these children that you spit on, As they try to change their worlds, Are immune to your consultations, They’re quite aware of what they’re going through… Ch-ch-ch-changes Turn and face the strange.”

Paul writes to the Romans: “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith… Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” Paul’s letter reminds us that it is by faith that we are saved. It’s not our laws or even our moral codes. But it’s our faith and our trust in God – really it is our trust in the power of Love and that trust that Love is in each of us – that will transform this world.