What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

Pentecost 19 (NL 4) John B. Valentine
Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17 October 3, 2021


So we’re back to doing Preschool Chapel on Tuesdays and Wednesday!

After a couple weeks of settling our young students into their daily routines ... Miss Joanna figured it was safe to add the chaos of ‘Chapel with Pastor John’ into the weekly routine ... Woo Hoo!!

And so we this week we ...

• Lit a candle ... and
• Sang “This Little Light of Mine” ... and another couple of songs ...
• Said a prayer ... and
• Read a Bible story ... and
• Talked about that Bible story ... and
• Sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It” ... and
• Called it a wrap.

Anyhow ... it’s been good to get back into that rhythm ...

Because preschool chapel is:

• A fun way for me to connect with young kids and young families ... and

• A weekly reminder that we have significant responsibility for the spiritual well-being of those students ... and

• An excuse to sing my lungs out and get a bit of aerobic exercise in ... because our preschool chapel songs are pretty ... shall we say ... ‘interactive’.

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So one of the Bible stories that we got to read recently was the one about how Adam and Eve were given the task of naming all the animals.

And so we talked about what kind of a name they gave to a really big grey animal with huge floppy ears and a trunk ...

And the kids all hollered out “An elephant!”

And what kind of a name they gave to a really tall animal with brown spots and an extra-long neck ...

“A giraffe!”

And then we talked about each of those kids’ names ...

Jude and Victoria and Orion and all the rest!

But what fascinated me about that exercise was that ...

Some of those preschoolers ... when it came their turn ... shouted their name from the top of their lungs ....

What’s your name? ....... “VICTORIA” .......

And others kind of mumbled it under their breath ....

What’s your name? ...... “Jude” ......

And others of them couldn’t muster the gumption to say their name at all.

Anyone remember Shakespeare’s assertion about names and the value of names and how names aren’t really all that important?

“What’s in a name?” ... he wrote .... “For that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Though I’m thinking the Bard from Stratford is a pretty wise fellow ... on that one I’m going to disagree.

Because the emotional contortions that our preschoolers put themselves through in having to say their name in a public setting reminded me that they are hardwired ... HARDWIRED ... to know that names are a big deal ... that names DO matter.

That ... somehow ... names ... our names are important.

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Actually ... I know I’ve asked you this before ... but do you realize how powerful names actually are?

I mean ... to know the name of someone is to have a certain amount of power over them.

In fact ... the ancients knew FAR better than we seem to just how important ... how powerful ... knowing someone’s name actually is.

They were pretty reticent about sharing their names with strangers because they KNEW that once someone else knew their name ... they held a certain power over them.

Like ... imagine you’re at the airport ... there or some other place where they seemingly have announcements going out over the public address system on a constant loop.

• “Wilma Flintstone ... your party is waiting for you at Baggage Carousel Two.”

• “Peter Parker ... please go to the nearest white courtesy phone.”

We hear those announcements ... but we don’t really hear them.

They kind of go in one ear and out the other.

But what happens if hear our name called over that same public address system? Our ears perk right up ... do they not?

I mean ... if I stand up here and say “Meghan Rohrer” or “Elizabeth Eaton ... you may be disinclined to listen.

But if I say “Julie” ... I know that ONE of you is going to snap to attention.

Or If I say “Anne Johnson” ... or “Amanda Chung” ... or “Bethany”.

It’s not that you necessarily WANT to pay attention ... but you can’t NOT!

Because ... IF I know your name ... I have a certain amount of power over you and access to you ... because ... at the very least ... I can COMMAND your attention.

THAT’S why names are POWERFUL!!

And the ancients knew that full well ... even if we don’t.

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So consider ... for just a minute ... today’s Bible story.

That story started off with a brief description of the plight of the people of God ... how the Israelites were groaning under the burden of slavery and how God took notice of them.

It was a problem ... and it needed a solution.

But then ... in the second part ... the verses from chapter three of Exodus ... we’re introduced to God’s solution to that problem.


Moses is minding his own business ... taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep.

When he happens upon this weird sight ...

A bush that burns ... but is not burned up.

But THEN what happens in that story?

God calls to Moses from the burning bush ... saying “Moses, Moses!”

Notice that God doesn’t say “Hey you, Mister Sheepherder” ....

God doesn’t refer to Moses by his vocation or his function.

And notice too that God doesn’t say “Hey you, Mister Israelite” ...

God doesn’t see Moses as just being a person who can be defined by his ethnicity ... or his gender-identity or his politics or his age or his place of residence or any of the countless other ways that WE tend to define people.

No ... when God calls Moses .... God says “Moses, Moses” ... God calls Moses BY NAME.

It’s God way of saying “Moses, I don’t just know ABOUT you ... but I KNOW you ... and I am calling you ... by name!”

Thus far ... this story is confirmation of a some words from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah ...

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

They are a reminder that God not only knows our names ... but calls us by name ... and claims us by our names!!

Our NAMES matter to God ... even as Moses’ name mattered to God ... and that’s GOOD NEWS.

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But now here’s where the story REALLY get curious.

You see ... at this point ... whereas God knows Moses ... Moses doesn’t know God.

And God introduces Godself to Moses by saying “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

At which point Moses reacts appropriately by saying “Oh no!”

And then God gives Moses a job ... a pretty significant job ... that of leading God’s people into freedom and back into the Promised Land .

And Moses objects ... and God says “I’ve got you covered.”

But then Moses says to God ...

“Look here, Holy One. If I come to the Israelites and say to them ... “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you” ... they’re going to say “Yeah ... right!!” And then they’re going to say “What is this God’s name?” And when they do that ... what am I supposed to say?”

And God said to Moses ...

“I am who I am.”

Then God said ...

“Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.’” ..... “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.’”

Do you realize how big a deal that is?

God tells Moses’ God NAME!

Which means that ... in a certain way ... God gives some small bit of power and authority over God to Moses ... which is an Oh Wow!” of the first order.

And then God instructs Moses to share that name with God’s people!

I mean ... here we have this God who created heaven and earth ... this God who crafted the whole of the human community ... this God who made promises to Abraham and Sarah to be with them forever ...

This Omnipotent One ...

Who says ... basically ... “I am the all-powerful One. But because you matter to me ... I am going to give you power ... a bit of power ... over me!”

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Do you realize ... folks ... how big a deal it is that God gives us power over God when God gives us God’s name?

It’s as if God is saying to us ... “Here’s the front door key to my house. You now have access to me whenever you need it.”

It’s the first time ... though not the last by any stretch of the imagination ... God entrusts some portion of power over God to people like us.

It’s a power which is going to reach its fullest expression in God handing a whole LOT of Godself over to humankind in the person of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s an invitation ... not to “curse, swear, lie or deceive” ... but to call on God daily in “prayer, praise and thanksgiving”.

And it all seems to me to beg one particular question:

Knowing YOUR name matters to God because you matter to God.


“What’s In a Name?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with worship on October 3, 3021 — the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The key text upon which it is based is Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17.