God’s Name for You
I was talking with one of my former youth this week. He was home for Christmas and contacted me to have coffee. We were talking about finding our purpose in life and God’s path for our life. I shared that I had been pre-med in college. He hadn’t known this about me, and he was surprised. There is still a wistful, unrealistic dream that bubbles up sometimes when I am at the hospital. A bubble that bursts as soon as I think about whether I would be truly content as a doctor. The answer is no. God had a different purpose for me, and I know that I would not be content or happy anywhere but in the church as a pastor.
Tonight, as we ring in the New Year, a lot of people will make resolutions. Resolutions to better themselves, to better their lives, to leave behind things that are etching away at their best selves, to commit to things that will bring them health and happiness…or they think they will.
When I met Chris he had a pair of Birkenstock sandals – they were about three years old. He got them his junior year in High School. They were broken in and comfortable. When we got married three years later, they were among the things that moved to Virginia with him. When we moved back to Memphis two years later, they moved with us. When we moved into our house in Germantown, 7 years later, they moved with us. They needed to go. The cork had long since worn down, or out. The puppy had chewed on them. But, when he got home and took off his shoes, he put on his Birks. It’s not that his mom hadn’t given him a new pair for Christmas, several years prior. It was that they were comfortable, and he didn’t want to break in new ones.
The fate of New Years Resolutions is like those old Birkenstocks. We know that we have not the best for us habits that we have put back on like those worn out but comfortable Birks. We know there are new challenges we need to break in. Why?
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!” Our hearts are filled with the Spirit of the One born to a carpenter, dutifully paying his taxes, mercifully protecting his betrothed wife, who humbly gave birth in a cattle stall far from the women who could help her. They were tired from the journey, emotionally and physically. They were separated from their support network. They barely knew each other, they had been betrothed to wed and then she had been found with child. She went to stay with her cousin for six months, and now here they are with a baby. They weren’t experienced in child birth. They weren’t experienced in infant care. The Spirit of the One who humbled himself to be born to them, the Spirit of the One who would say, “Not my will, but thine” fills our hearts, crying “Abba, Father.”
The original language is “Abba, o Pater.” The Aramaic and Greek words for father. Abba is the word Jesus used for father. It is sometimes translated Daddy. “Abba” was used by children throughout their lives from childhood throughout adulthood to address their fathers. What is significant about “Abba” isn’t the age or maturity of the child, but the intimacy and familiarity of the relationship. (N.T. Wright)
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Daddy, the father!” The time had come when the promises that Isaiah had foretold would be fulfilled. Just as surely as the earth brings forth sprouts in the spring, the Lord has clothed us with the garments of salvation and covered us with a robe of righteousness. The prophet foretold, “You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give.”
Paul, throughout this passage switches back and forth in kind of a confusing way between 1st person plural, talking about “we” and “us” and 2nd person plural, “you all.” Until the last verse of the paragraph, he switches to 2nd person singular – you – you right there (point), you, you, you. You, not the person sitting next to you, you are no longer a slave to whatever nature delivers, come what may, the fates of the universe, you have a purpose. You have a new name, Child of God.
In the fullness of time, GOD acted. God acted, and you have a new name, Child of God. In the fullness of time, God sent his son to be born – not to be deity wrapped in flesh that appeared among us, but to be fully in-carnate, “in body,” to be fully human, born of woman, born under the law. He was born vulnerable and remained vulnerable to all the frailties of human life – temptation, fear, sadness, doubt….
In the fullness of time, God acted. God sent his son, so that we might be adopted and receive a new name, Child of God. John Calvin distilled the work of the incarnation this way: “By putting the chains on himself, he takes them off the other.”
Now our hearts cry, “Abba, Father.” We long for relationship with God, the intimate, familiar relationship of a parent and a child. We long for the dreams God has for us, purposes God had in mind for our lives. This call to relationship, to God’s purposes and dreams for us, forms the very best of our new year’s resolutions.
What in your life is a barrier between you and God? Has it become like those old Birkenstock sandals? So comfortable that it is hard to throw out? Choose someone to share your commitment with, to hold you accountable, and remove it. It will be hard to break in the new, and you will be tempted to slip on those old, comfortable sandals. But, the reality is that our commitments to things that keep us from being fully committed to God is like Chris’s commitment to those Birkenstocks – broken down and you’ll never be able to go far. You won’t reach contentment in life, true joy, true happiness.
I started telling people I was going to be a doctor when I was three years old. It had become comfortable. It was what I had always envisioned. It was comfortable. I couldn’t imagine anything else. But there was a whisper, a tiny thought not my own, in the back of my mind every time someone asked me “What are you going to be when you grow up?” “You could be a minister.”
What in your life is just waiting to sprout forth like a spring bulb? What still small voice whispers do you hear? Child of God, I planted this in you. Will you water it? Will you allow the Spirit of the Son to cause what is planted in you to spring up? Will you?