Name Changer, Game Changer
Genesis 17:1-17 and Jeremiah 31:31-34
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
Feb 25, 2018
This past Wednesday I read to the Wooden Ladder preschool children--a highlight of my week. I read the book “How Big is God’s Love,” which says God’s love is taller than the trees, deeper than the oceans, and wider than the seas. That’s big! Then, I gave them small paper hearts and asked them to write the name of someone they loved--could be mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, sister or brother, friend or pet--anyone they loved. Since the 3-year olds can’t write yet, we helped them. I asked one boy named Ethan, who do you love? He said, “well, my brother Jack”...and so I started to write Jack, but then he kept talking…”but he is not always good; sometimes he is bad. So don’t write his name.” I asked,“then, who should I write?” He said, “My dog Milly, she always licks me.” At the end, I showed them a picture of a big heart I drew, telling them it was God’s heart. And I asked them to stick their small hearts inside the big heart. They put all their hearts in God’s heart. And Ethan said, “There’s still room for more.” I always learn something from children.
Indeed, as Ethan observed, the Bible tells us that God’s heart of love is big enough for us all. In our Genesis reading for today, God makes a promise: “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; your wife Sarai shall be Sarah. I will establish my covenant...an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” This was a Name Changer: Through Abraham and Sarah, God made a covenant with the whole house of Israel. In doing so, God establishes a relationship with God’s people, in which God promises blessings; and in return, God expects faithfulness. God put it in writing--the 10 commandments were engraved on stone tablets. If the people do not keep up their end of the covenant, there are consequences.
Prophets were called to be God’s messengers--to enforce the terms of the covenant. When he was a young boy, God called Jeremiah by name, but despite his resistance because of his age, God persisted and promised to give him the words to speak to be a prophet for the nations. Jeremiah warned God would punish the covenant breakers with exile, and so it was. But Jeremiah assured them that in time, God would bring people back from exile and restore blessings, and so it was. Back and forth between obedience and disobedience, blessings and curses. Then, God changed the plan. No more threats. No more punishments. In today’s lesson, Jeremiah speaks words of promise: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant...I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
This is a Name Changer. Jeremiah is no longer an immature boy, but a powerful prophet. Jeremiah is the only prophet who uses the word “new” and in so doing he foretells a new covenant that will come in the New Testament, whose mediator is God’s own Son Jesus, born a child and named Emmanuel, which means “God with Us.” No more external laws. No more threats. No more punishments. God says, “I will write it on your heart,” so your own heart will be your guide and your correction.
This is a Game Changer. God makes a covenant with all God’s people, promising I will be their God--that is, I will be provide and protect, guide and correct, bless and love you. And, they shall be my people--that is, not “you better behave or else,” not “if you mess up, you will be banished,” but a new covenant: “I trust you will be faithful.”
This new covenant shows just how big God’s heart is. In God’s big heart, there is room for all of us….and there is responsibility for us all--to keep the covenant of being God’s people--to do as Jesus did. Jesus didn’t just come to make us feel good, Jesus came to change the world for good. Jesus healed the sick with compassion and in anger, he turned over the tables of the money changers; Jesus fed the hungry and challenged the status quo; Jesus prayed silently and he preached to the powers; Jesus loved mercy and did justice. God’s covenant is not a “get into heaven free card,” but a call written on our hearts that says, “you, go make God’s kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.”
We have heard the tragic news of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that left 17 people dead. But have you heard the news of the response of the student survivors? I watched the Town Hall meeting on Wednesday evening, and saw young people whose hearts were broken and their sense of safety shattered. But, out of the shattered pieces, God seems to be raising up prophets, calling young people to speak truth to the powers and try to change the world for good. As I listened to them speak, one after another, I thought: This is a Name Changer and a Game Changer. They are not idealistic kids; they are concerned citizens and articulate activists. They are not waiting for adults to prevent the next school shooting, they are taking matters into their own hands.
They have started a movement called Never Again.
They have articulated a policy goal (stricter background checks for gun buyers and more mental health resources for treating troubled peers).
They have organized a nationwide protest (March for Our Lives, scheduled for March 24th).
They have kept the issue of gun control in the media, reminding America the shooting was not a freak accident, but the result of actual human decisions--which can be changed.
They are challenging the NRA and corporations who give discounts and politicians who accept their donations, circulating lists of elected officials who are in close races in midterms.
They are planning a national school walkout on March 14, encouraging teachers, students, administrators, parents and allies to walk out of school for 17 minutes--one for every person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
In an article about the shooting, one youth activist named Charger said, “When something like this happens, you will never be the same. The person you are after this is a completely different person. How that affects you, and the people around you, is up to you.”
Their hearts could be filled with hatred and anger and indifference. But instead their hearts are filled with hope, passion and love for one another, of their school, and of their peers all over the country.
At the end of the meeting, student survivors of the school shooting sang a song they wrote, "Shine:”
You're not going to knock us down….We'll get back up again
You may have hurt us but I promise we are stronger and We're not going to let you win
We're putting up a fight
You may have brought the dark….But together we will shine a light
“How Big is God’s Love?” It is taller than the trees, deeper than the oceans, and wider than the seas. It is spoken by the prophets and shown by the life and death of Jesus. It is written on our hearts and is the source of healing and hope, light and love. In God’s big heart, there is room for all of us….and there is responsibility for us all--to keep the covenant of being God’s people--to do as Jesus did.
It is a name changer: it changes our names to beloved children of God and disciples of Christ.
It is a game changer: it has the power to change the world for good, for God, one small heart at a time.