Second Sunday in Lent
Year B February 28, 2021
“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations…
As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations.”
When I was born, my parents gave me the name Polly, after my great-grandmother. Her name was actually Mary, but her nickname was Polly. So her nickname became my name: Polly. I had no middle name. I was just Polly Holcomb and I guess I had a little name envy.
Everyone else I knew had more than a first and a last name. I had to explain to my friends, all of whom had three names to boast of, I had no other name, and each year as school started, I had to convince my teachers that I really didn’t have a middle name.
My parents said they didn’t give me a middle name because one day I’d be married, and when that happened I wouldn’t have to give up a name; Holcomb would become my middle name. Reasonable, I thought at the time; a bit presumptuous, now that I think about it. But like my namesake, my great-grandmother Mary, I had a nickname, too. My dad called me Boojammer.
Go ahead, laugh. It’s funny sounding, I know, Boojammer, as if there are not enough ways to make fun of the name Polly. Only my little brother still calls me Boojammer now, or Booj for short; and to hear it from him, still brings a smile to my face and a tender warmth into my heart. Boojammer comes from “Beau jeune fille” which is French for beautiful young girl.
My dad never spoke another language besides English, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Dad blurred that French right into Booj and then added jammer. Who knows why??
The names our parents give us, be they ancestral or ripe with meaning or animated in some way, remind us of who we are—recall for us that we are part of a family with hopes and dreams for us. When God calls Abram to walk before him to establish a covenant, God names Abram, Abraham. It is a subtle change, but the change carries a mighty weight. All of his people knew Abram’s great status as “exalted father,”
but God changes Abram’s name to be something great,
Abraham, “father of a multitude.” God promises to make Abraham exceedingly fruitful saying, “I will make nations and kings of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” God renames Sarai too, though she has to hear this later, from Abraham. Sarai, which literally means “my princess,” God changes to Sarah, “chieftainess of a nation.”
And how did Abraham respond?
Our lectionary reading today, stops at verse 16, and so we didn’t get to hear this part, but stopping there is absurd, we need to hear this, Abraham fell on his face and laughed. We can just see this scene: Abraham, with tears of laughter running down his face, says, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
Right there, in the face of El Shaddai, God Almighty, Abraham laughs, because he is old. Abraham doubts God. Abraham laughed at the absurdity of what God suggested, not the burden of being a father to nations. Abraham laughed with doubt, unsure that he and Sarah could fulfill what God had promised. Abraham’s response is so human—it is honest.
I think I take consolation in the fact that from the very beginning of their being called into covenant with God, God’s people laughed and doubted and wrestled with this covenant. No wonder later, God renames Abraham’s grandson Jacob, Israel, which means wrestles with God.
Rob and I are expecting a grandchild in March. A girl. We are very excited, and it’s fun to wonder what our granddaughter’s name will be. We don’t know. I read the other day that Luna is top on the charts for girl’s names right now—Luna, hmmm, it’s such a cosmic name. It means moon, of course, but its popularity is assuredly due to Harry Potter. The name Astrid is popular now too, meaning “godly beauty”. Seems like quite a heavy burden to bear, Astrid. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what name our daughter and son in law choose.
But whatever her name is, I expect, being human like all of us, like Abraham and Sarah, too, our granddaughter will wrestle with God. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When we wrestle with God, whether it’s struggling to make sense out of scripture or wondering what God’s covenant means for us now in the 21st century, we are in good company. When we wrestle we ask ourselves tough questions like,
What does the unequal distribution of vaccines across the globe mean to people who are called to be a blessing to all others?
How can we share more generously all the goodness that God has faithfully shared with us? What am I willing to give up so that my life can be a blessing?
When we wrestle with these questions, we are in the company of Abraham and Sarah, of Jacob and Rebecca, and fast forward, we are in the company of Jesus’ disciples.
I doubt there was one follower who didn’t shutter when they heard Jesus say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
No one would have mistaken his meaning—the cross was the Roman’s way of intimidating the Jews, through torture and oppression. “Take up your cross and follow me,” meant a hard road ahead, a place where no one truly wants to go. but like Abraham, they followed faithfully.
A Faithful Lent asks us to wonder, to wrestle,
to trust God to use us to fulfill God’s promise. We will fall short…but our courage comes by walking in faith, following our Lord to the cross and listening to El Shaddai, who with hopes and dreams for us, calls us by name.