What's your name?

Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36-48

We have had lots of baptisms recently, and it’s brilliant. Arthur 4 weeks ago, Peter on Easter day, Posey today, and in a week or two, on a Saturday, young Elliott.

And any baptism is a joy, but it’s particularly wonderful to welcome these children, who are already so fully part of the church community, into God’s family. And we look forward to seeing each of them grow up and change and we are - all of us - honoured to be able to be part of that.

And in baptisms there’s lots of stuff about names - and both of the readings talk about the power of Jesus name - and I want us to think together a bit about names and why they matter.

Because our names matter, don’t they. Does anyone know what their name means…..

Our name is a very significant part of who we are; of our identity. And names matter in the bible too.

In the book of Exodus we discover God’s name - he tells Moses that He’s called ‘I am who I am.’

I am who I am - that’s God’s name, and it’s who He is. The one who always is. The one who had no beginning. The one whose past, present and future are all an ever present ‘now’. The one who is both knowable and beyond knowing.

And names matter for people in the bible too - and often when someone meets God in a particularly powerful way, they get a new name. So Abram which means ‘many’, is renamed Abraham - ‘ Father of many’ because he is going to be the Father of a new nation. And Jesus’ disciple Simon - his name was upgraded as well. Simon means ‘snub-nosed’ - but Jesus renamed him ‘Peter’ which means ‘The Rock’.

Not everyone gets an upgrade like that though - we might feel a bit sorry for Isaiah’s son. Isaiah can see that Israel has become weak and is about to be invaded and trampled by the neighbouring countries and wants to make a public point about it. So when he has a son, he names him Maher-shalal-Hash-baz. It means ‘quick pickings, easy prey’. Try that name in the playground and see how you get on!

And when we get to Jesus, his name matters too. At the start of Matthew’s gospel he’s given two names - he is Immanuel which means God with us, and then the angel Gabriel tells Joseph to name the child ‘Jesus’ - and Jesus means ‘God saves’. This child is to be with God with us and the one who saves us.

Names are to do with identity, with purpose and with meaning.

That’s why both our readings say that it is faith in Jesus’ name that matters. To have faith in his name, means to have faith in who he is, in his purposes for us and in who we are as a result.

And here we are, 2,000 years later, baptising in the name of Jesus. And in baptism there’s lots of ‘name talk’ too. And there are three names - or three kinds of names - which are given to all those who are baptised; three names which will be given to Posey just now.

The first names she will receive are the ones given to her by Kat and Tom. Persephone Mathilda Ogden. This is who she is. She is the only ever Persephone Mathilda in the history of the Universe - naming a child at baptism reminds us that we are not just an anonymous part of humanity, just another random bundle of DNA that joins 7 billion other random bundles of DNA. Each of us is a unique, wonderful miracle of life, known by God by our very name.

‘I have called you by name’, says the Lord in the book of Isaiah, ‘you are mine’. And later on in that book, we’re told that God has our names written on the palm of his hand. We are - each of us - carried, by name, on the palm of God’s hand.

This first name that Posey will be given is a promise that God knows her personally and that she is his.

But Posey will receive another name as well. It is the name given to all those who belong to Jesus. The name is ‘Christian’.

To be baptised is to take on Jesus’ name - it’s become part of Jesus himself. The word ‘baptise’ means ‘to plunge’ or ‘to immerse’ - so be to baptised is to be immersed in Christ. To be totally plunged into who he is.

To help understand that, in his letter to the Galatians Paul uses a metaphor. He writes ‘As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’. It’s like when a rugby player pulls on the famous All Blacks shirt for the first time. That shirt isn’t just a helpful way of telling people who you are on the pitch, it’s an identity. To wear the All Black shirt is to be part of a proud history and clear set of values, it’s to be part of a story and a meaning that is much bigger than yours alone, and it’s to let that story and its values shape your whole life. To be an All Black is to be immersed in an identity that is bigger than who you are as an individual.

And Paul goes on to say something even more powerful. In his letter to the Romans he says that those who are baptised, ‘are baptised into Jesus’ death, so that they might walk in newness of life’. It’s not a very easy thing to explain to parents when they bring their beautiful young baby to talk about baptism - actually what’s going to happen is your lovely child is symbolically going to die, just like Jesus did!

But that is what we’re saying - that Posey, and anyone who is baptised, no longer lives for themselves, but for Jesus. She is no longer just ‘Posey’ - loved by God for exactly who she is - she is now Posey Christian, she is now ‘immersed in Christ’, she carries his name; he is shaping and defining her life and her destiny.

And then there’s a final name that Posey will receive. It’s the family name that is shared by all those who follow Jesus. She is Posey - known by name and loved by God. She is ‘Christian’, carrying the name of Jesus who died for her, and in whose life, death and resurrection she is now immersed. And she is now also given the name ‘Church’.

The church is the brother and sisterhood of those baptised into Christ. It is the family, the community of those who are clothed with Christ, those who have been baptised into his death so that, together, they might walk in newness of life.

It’s why the first question that I will ask during the baptism isn’t to Tom, Kat and the Godparents - it’s to all of you; the church. ‘Will you support this child as she begins her journey of faith? Will you help her to live and grow within God’s family?’

You are about to become brothers and sisters to Posey, as you already are to one another. And that is a dangerous thing to say, because it means that her life and your lives are now profoundly connected - as you are already profoundly connected to all those you are sitting alongside today; those you love and those you are learning to love.

Names matter. And none matters more than the name of Jesus Christ, which has the power to forgive, to save and to restore. We have our own name, in which we are loved by God individually and personally, and we carry Jesus’ name, in which lies freedom, grace and hope, and because of that, we have a new family name - the name of Jesus’ community; the church.

Posey Mathilda Christian Church Ogden. It’s not a bad set of names to have. And they’re your names too, if you’ve been baptised. And if you haven’t, they can be yours, if you want that.


Going deeper

What is literal meaning of your name? What does it mean to you? How do you feel about your name?

In Exodus 3:14, God tells Moses that his name is 'I am who I am'? What does this tell us about God?

How do you respond to the biblical statement (Isa 43:1) that God knows us by name?

What do you think it means to be 'in Christ?'

Read Galatians 2:19. What does it say about being 'In Christ'? What does 'in Christ' mean to you?

How should the suggestion that all Christians are part of the same family affect our behaviour towards one another? What kind of church should be be aiming to be?

Hugh Nelson