Second Week of Lent



Sermon by Reverend Matt Harbage

Sunday 28th February 2021


Readings: Genesis17.1-7,15-16; Psalm 22.23-end; Mark 8. 31-38


May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What’s in a name?

I wonder if you like your name. A lot of thought goes into the name parents give a new born child.

I’d love to know how many names Alex and Adam went through before deciding on the name for their new arrival, Mia!

All names carry meaning, and always the meaning is personal. Sometimes the meaning is obvious too:

Angel. Hope. Gifty. Grace.

I grew up with someone called Grace. She found her name both a gift and a pressure: A gift, because it reminded her that she was loved, that she was a child of God and blessed with grace. A pressure too though, especially when she felt she didn’t live up to her name.

Many of us have Christian names taken from the Bible. Certainly for my parents, they named my brothers and I from the New Testament: Stephen (the first martyr), Andrew (the fisherman) and Matthew (the tax collector)… I wonder if they were hoping I’d bring in the money!

Names are important. They’re part of our roots, our family, our tradition, reminding us where we belong, and where we’ve come from.

The Bible teaches us that God knows each of us by name. He knows you, and he knows me, he knows what we like to eat and drink, what we enjoy on Netflix and how much exercise (or not) we do: He knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. Jesus said:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

God can count the hairs on our head (and easier job for some than others). What an image: The Almighty God, who created the universe, cares and knows even the number of hairs on our head.

What’s more God invites us to be part of his Story and his family. If you’ve been following the #LiveLent materials like me you’ll have been seeing how important Stories are to Jesus and how we are invited to take part in God’s Story. It’s an invitation to know God and to discover how deeply God knows us:

“Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

All of us here at St Paul’s, whether we’ve been coming for months or years or decades. We all have a place in God’s family.

The Story of God’s family, started in a very special way with Abram and Sari.

These two are the first and greatest patriarchs of the Jewish people. We celebrate them when we light the first of the Advent candles, reminding ourselves that the calling of Abram and Sari started something special which led to Jesus Christ, and our personal welcome into the covenant of promise….

We’ve just heard part of the covenant, in our First Reading, the promise God made to Abram and Sari.  Abram is told:

“You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations”

And Sari,

“she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’”

God’s calling of these two was not just about creating a chosen people, but was about the redemption and healing of the whole earth: A process which culminated in God becoming human in Jesus Christ, to give his life on the Cross and to open the floodgates of God’s healing and belonging for all who receive Him.

God welcomes us. That’s where the story of St Paul’s New Southgate joins the story of Abram and Sari. And it all comes down to names:

Elderly Abram and Sari are given new names from God. In the Old Testament, names often reflect the character or intended future of the person: Without getting into the Hebrew too much, with a small addition of a letter, Abram – “exalted father” becomes “father of a multitude”.

Sari, “my princess, my woman of strength” becomes more universally a “princess, a woman of strength” – not for one family, but strong for everyone.

God, in changing their names, is turning Abraham and Sarah outwards: They are to become the ancestors of not one nation, but to be the spiritual ancestors of all of God’s people: Jew and Gentile alike: And that includes us.

As we continue to read on in Genesis, the covenant promise with Abraham is explained by God, that through Abraham, all the nations of the world are to be blessed (Gen 22:18). How? We have to read ahead to the Prophetic books like Isaiah to discover that, but in a word: Jesus.

It is Jesus, as the Son of God and the offspring of Abraham and Sarah, who opens up to us the invitation to share in a new covenant with GOD: Even richer and wider than the first, and bursting full of blessing.

In our baptism we have all been given a new name: “Disciple of Jesus” – that name, tells us about who we are and where we’re going, it opens up the covenant of blessing.

I wonder if you can see how the Stories all come together. Our personal stories of baptism and discipleship. Our calling to be a church family here in our community. St Paul’s church’s story as part of the great river of the Church reaching back to the Apostles, and to Jesus himself. Jesus, as both the Son of God and the son of Abraham and Sarah to whom the first covenant was given.

A perfect coming together. And so, reaching forward: We can have strength and confidence, in the face of joys and trials, life and death, sin and shame, – whatever life throws at us, because our foundation is strong.

I am a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. I am a member of his kingdom, his tribe, his family. That is my core identity.

Jesus didn’t come to make us safe, but to make us belong.

As baby Mai was so recently received into the loving arms of her parents Alex and Adam, and has been given a name: So you too have been given a name too by God. You have been given a family (the church).

Let’s thank God with all our strength for this his wonderful gift to each us – and like Abraham and Sarah, let’s reach out to be a blessing to those we meet: God invites everyone into his family. Everyone has a place around the campfire of God. So let’s welcome those who perhaps feel forgotten and hidden in New Southgate. Those moving into the new flats and want to connect. Those who have been here forever but have been overlooked. Take the risk and invite your friends and neighbours to join us on YouTube.

Let’s share our gratitude and joy.