First Congregational Church
March 1, 2020
First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 1:1-13 & Exodus 3:13-14
“A Rose by Any Other Name: Elohim and Yahweh”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A robber breaks into a house while the residents are away one dark night. Eager to see what he can loot, he quickly starts searching through cupboards and dressers, grabbing valuables with a trained eye. Suddenly, he hears a voice come out of nowhere. “Jesus is watching you.” The criminal jumps, scared the residents are back, and freezes. After a few minutes of silence however, he assumes it was his imagination, and goes back to robbing. A couple minutes pass, before once again, the voice returns. “Jesus is watching you.” Quite confused, the thief searches the house and checks the front door, but nothing pops out as unusual. He finally decides to move rooms, and finds a parrot, but ignores it. Before he can begin to do anything, someone speaks again, “Jesus is watching you.” The robber realized it was the parrot talking! Going to the parrot, he asks it, “Are you the one who’s been talking to me?” The parrot responds, “Yes.” The thief couldn’t believe it. So, he asks another question. “What is your name?” “Ismael.” the parrot replies. The man scoffed. “What type of idiot names a parrot Ismael?” The parrot speaks yet again, “The same type of idiot that names a Rottweiler Jesus.”
And just like that, it is the first Sunday in Lent. Going over my sermon idea stash, I came upon this one for the names of God, which seemed like an interesting topic for the season. According to ChristianAnswers.net, there are 955 names and titles of God in the Bible. Taking two each Sunday, and allowing for one or two Sundays for other “necessary” topics, we would wind up this study on or near December 24, 2021, just in time to start on the 50 names and titles of Jesus. Or perhaps we’ll stick with the ten names for God as listed at iBelieve.com, which fit so perfectly in this season of five Sundays.
Names are so interesting! And I personally think it’s fascinating how parents determine the name of their progeny. Since my mother has passed on, and I’m sure my dad won’t tell, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the real scoop on me being named after one of dad’s old girlfriends. Some parents just know the name before the child is born. Some try out different ones before landing on the right one, and still others wait until the baby is born, so they can see how the name will lay on the precious one.
There are people who change their names - for a number of reasons. There are nicknames and meanings of names and even names that invoke emotions from joy to fear to pain.
And then there are the different names by which we are known. Some folks, beside their given name, have the added names of mom and dad, or mother and father - sometimes dependent on emotions. My nephew can be Tom, Thomas when he’s in trouble, except that then he’s usually Thomas Delmin Wagner, and his nephews simply address him as Uncle or Unc.
When I do funerals for people who are grandparents, I’ve started to ask what the grandkids call their grandparent, because from Nanny to Rabu, Ninny to GiGi, Pappi to Papa D, G-pa to gramps, there are so many variations on names for the same personhood.
Today we have two of the most common names for God that come from Hebrew: Yahweh and Elohim. For those of you more visual learners, I’ve included a little box of information at the end of the announcement page in the bulletin. You’ll notice that the info comes from the Baker Evangelical Dictionary. By and large, I like this dictionary because it gives really extensive, yet accessible, information on that one doesn’t find in a regular reference book.
So the BED - Baker Evangelical Dictionary - tells us that Elohim means “God and refers to God’s incredible power and might. It is the plural form of Eloah and occurs more than 2,250 times in the Bible. The singular form is El and Elah.
I love that it is the plural form of Eloah - because even from the get go, the Bible gives us a hint of what we call the Trinity - God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. Even before anything was created, God the Three in One was in relationship. Not even God does well always being alone - never was, never will.
If I were to tell you that a person built a house, you might think that was nice. If I told you that the builder was an exceptionally nice person, that could well be true, but wouldn’t make much difference in the end. But if I told you that the builder was licensed, insured and had twenty years experience, it might make your opinion of that builder a little different - at least in how you might take any suggestions that the builder made on your specific home.
The same is true for God. When Jesus called out to God when he was on the cross, Jesus used the word Abba, which means daddy. For those who haven’t been in such agony of body and spirit, we’ve certainly seen enough movies that help us understand that in those moments, we may well cry out to a parent, with our most trusting of names, such as Daddy.
But Daddy, or Abba, doesn’t make as much sense to use when speaking about God creating the heavens and the earth. It makes far more sense to use a name that includes a sense of incredible power and might. So in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, the writer used Elohim - the God of incredible power and might. So as you listen to the passage from Genesis 1, know that every time the word God is used, it is the word Elohim.
Genesis 1:1-13 NIV
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Also in the name Elohim, there is the sense of God’s hands being strong and secure, so that what God builds is also strong and secure - which includes human beings - which is a big deal when we feel small and powerless. From before time began, when God was creating us in God’s mind’s eye, it was that we would be created from the hands of the One who is not only strong and sure, but can make anything out of nothing. It occurred to me yesterday that sometimes, when it seems like God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we’d like, is not because God choses not to answer, but answers them in creative ways and out of strength and sureness, rather than individual indulgence and frivolity.
The other name for God for today is Yahweh, and as it says in the bulletin insert, it is derived from the Hebrew word for “I AM.” If that has a familiar ring, it is the same name that Jesus used of himself: I AM the resurrection and the life, I AM the light of the world, I AM the Good Shepherd, and all the other “I AM” statements he made. It is rather powerful to see the same phrase used in the Old Testament when Moses was standing before the burning bush.
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Thank you, Kelly. As the box in the bulletin says, this name for God used in Exodus, Yahweh, is the only proper name of the divine person/presence (containing a sense of authority), coming from the verb which means to “exist,” “be.” As a cool little extra kick, the first part of Yahweh is the “jah" that we sing or say in the word “hallelujah,” meaning praise Yah.
A name can be catchy, kitchy, and cool, but when it has deeper meaning, that’ when we get to the meat of it. And Yahweh signifies “presence.” It is God “with”, God’s presence with us, not so far from another of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, which means God with us.
When we’re lonely, afraid, sad, grieving, we don’t need a creative God so much as we need a God that is present with us, one who will deliver us and be with us through the hard part. Yahweh is that part of God that is involved with our human struggle more than our human creation. Yahweh is the name of God that reminds us of our covenant with God - that God will be our God and we will be God’s people.
In this season that can be seen as dark or hard, I would never want to dismiss the reality of what happened so long ago in those days and weeks leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, and I’m so glad we have Robin MacKenzie’s banners to remind of of the 30 pieces of silver that ended up not only being worthless, but a huge reminder of those things that cannot be bought - like integrity and loyalty.
When we lean into the lent times of our lives, we can find so many opportunities for deepening our faith and relationship to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of some of God’s names give us not only a better vocabulary, but a richer understanding and depth of interchange. So use one or both of these names this week - in thinking about God, in praying to and with God, in sitting with God. And let us start right now.
Elohim and Yahweh, God of strength and God of presence, thank you for not being a surface God, but one with great depth and relevance. Thank you for the knowledge we have in being able to pray more clearly in our address of you - being able to draw closer to you in your power and deliverance. It is a comfort - being able to know your name much closer to how you know our names. Deepen our sense of all the aspects of you that make you God. And we, being your people, say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.