A New Name

When Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above," and Nicodemus said, "How can anyone be born after having grown old?," he had apparently forgotten all about Abram and Sarai.  Back there in Genesis 12, God says to Abram and Sarai, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you."  Neither Abram nor Sarai were young.  Abram and Sarai had lived full and long lives, but it was still time to be born after having grown old.

The winds of the Spirit of God had blown into Abram and Sarai's lives, and as Jesus said to Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes."  Abram and Sarai knew what it meant for the wind to blow, not knowing where it might lead.

Both of them also knew what it meant to be born again from above, for they were given new names.  No longer were they Abram and Sarai, as their parents had named them and their families had called them; they would be Abraham and Sarah, as God named them and we now call them.  They were born from above, swept up by the Spirit of God.

I know this is not exactly new because it is what Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, and other places, explaining why Gentiles can be called children of Abraham.  They can have the same faith that Abraham had.  Paul writes, "Just as Abraham, 'believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham." It was hard, though, for Nicodemus, and for us at times because it is hard to comprehend how the Spirit of God will lead us, or as we might say, give us new names.

One of the first things that we learn is how to spell our names.  We spend time writing our names, learning who we are.  Years later on the first day of school if we are called by our first name and we are used to going by our middle name, we will not look up when the teacher is calling roll.  We do not turn around because our names are personal, and we do not even respond to another name that already belongs to us.

I had a good friend, who always went by a nickname that his older brother had given him as a child.  Everyone knew him by this nickname growing up, and even through college.  After he started the next chapter of his life, beginning his career, he chose to go by his given name.  We had to relearn how to introduce him to others, using his given name and not his nickname.  It was difficult to remember because his given name did not seem to belong to him.

When I graduated from school, my wife and I were married, and we moved to a new city to begin our jobs.  Right after our wedding my wife began her job as a teacher, writing "Mrs. Martin" on the board for the first time.  She always said having the students call her "Mrs. Martin" so often helped her learn her new last name.  It was not until one of the first football games that fall, where we went to support some of her students at the game, that I heard one of them call her "Mrs. Martin."  At first, I did not realize they were talking to her.

Learning a new name is difficult.  It changes who we are and how we see ourselves.  It is akin to what it means to be born from above.  Abraham and Sarah knew what it meant to receive a new name, feeling the Spirit of God carry them forward into something new.  Nicodemus heard the calling to something new, feeling the Spirit of God stir within him, and he was trying to understand what it meant. We are listening for that new name, learning who we are in the name of Jesus the Christ.  It sets us out on a new journey, led by the Spirit, as we follow the one who gives us our name.