Summary: God calls us by name.
Abraham: What’s In a Name?
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16
Reader’s Digest is full of interesting little tid-bits of information—some enlightening, some challenging, but most always, funny. They appear at the end of articles as little slices of life that readers have submitted in hopes of being published. One such tid-bit is the story of Fruit Stand. When the 1960s ended, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district reverted to high rent, and many hippies moved down the coast to Santa Cruz. They had children and got married, too, though in no particular sequence. But they didn’t name their children Melissa or Brett. People in the mountains around Santa Cruz grew accustomed to their children playing Frisbee with little Time Warp or Spring Fever. And eventually Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise all ended up in public school. That’s when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely apply name tags to their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it. "Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered. And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?" He accepted hesitantly. By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much odder than Heather’s or Sun Ray’s. At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. "Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their name tags. The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Anthony."
So what’s in a name? Everything. Just think of the struggle you went through as you tried to find just the right name for that new baby. Perhaps there was even an argument or two before a name was finally decided upon. Our name identifies us to the rest of the world. Our name gives us our place in our family. We have named our children Adam, and Joshua, and Brittney, and Kelsey. Now, I can tell you from personal experience that these children are their names. I could not conceive of Adam being anything but Adam. It defines who he is, and it describes him. He is the first. And Joshua, well, what can we say about Joshua, but he is himself, and to think I wanted to name him Andrew. But he is not Andrew, he is Joshua. It is the same with Brittney and Kelsey. Now that they have been given those names, they could not ever be anyone else. It was the same way in Bible times. A person’s name was more than a mere identifier. One’s name said something about who the person was, just as God’s Name reveals His attributes and character. There is something revealing in a person’s name. And we discover lots of names in our encounter today. Let’s see what we learn from these names.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.  I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to make you into a mighty nation."  At this, Abram fell face down in the dust. Then God said to him,  "This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of not just one nation, but a multitude of nations!  What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram; now you will be known as Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.  I will give you millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them!  "I will continue this everlasting covenant between us, generation after generation. It will continue between me and your offspring forever. And I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  Yes, I will give all this land of Canaan to you and to your offspring forever. And I will be their God.”
I must tell you first, that we have been calling him Abraham for the last few weeks, but long before he was Abraham, he was Abram. And his wife, long before she became Sarah, was Sarai.
Remember with me for a moment that it has been thirteen years since we last encountered Abraham. Then, Abraham had taken matters into his own hands, and had quite made a mess of things. Imagine if you will, living in a household for thirteen years with two women at each other’s throat, and a rambunctious child that even God said would be a “wild ass of a man!” It was thirteen years of bitterness, anger, contempt, jealousy, envy, and we might even say, outright rebellion. Thirteen years of living with the consequences of taking matters into his own hands. Any way you care to phrase it, it was thirteen years of hell.