Selfie, pt. 2
17 When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk with me and be trustworthy. 2 I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants.” 3 Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, 4 “But me, my covenant is with you; you will be the ancestor of many nations. 5 And because I have made you the ancestor of many nations, your name will no longer be Abram but Abraham. 6 I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you. 8 I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God.”
Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
At 10:57pm on July 7, I came into the world. Truthfully, I should have been born later in the week, closer to my due date of July 11, but a rookie mistake by the doctor forced the timetable up a couple of days. I was given the name Nicholas Jay Chrisohon. I don’t carry on any family names – the last name Chrisohon really limits the options
A name like Nick Chrisohon means that people often get stuck on Chrisohon and forget the Nick part. One evening at an awards banquet, I was met by a person whom I did not know nor did they me. As we were all being introduced, I was sure to clearly state that I go by Nick and the pronunciation is Chris-oh-hahn. As the event went on, each award given, I anticipated my moment. Then I heard it: “CHRIS NICKOHON….excuse me….NICK CHRISOHEN.” I was not pleased.
As you know, I have since added a name to give it some interest. Of course, I didn’t go with Smith or Jones. I went with the so-easy-it’s-hard last name of my now wife. Baird. B-A-I-R-D. Like saying bear with a d. Just look at it: B – AIR – D. Emily and her parents are used to hearing bard, or beard, but me, with my mouthful of syllables get, “Nick…….uh…….B….whatever”
When Emily and I got married, like all newlyweds in the last seven years, we had a wedding hashtag. Given neither of ours made a cute pun, we went with #Bairdohon. We learned, after our wedding, that one of her friends from California had asked if we were actually both changing our name to Bairdohon. I’m not ruling that out as a future option.
Our names are immensely important to us. We all like to find out the root of our names. Mine is akin to the goddess of victory, Nike, so my name is rooted in Victory. Not sure what I’m winning at but I look forward to finding out. I’m sure many of you know your names’ roots. Michael translates to the rhetoric question, “Who is like God?” Isabella is a transliteration of Elizabeth which correlates to “my God is an oath.” Dianne originates from an ancient form of the word “divine.” You’ll note lots of names are connected to religious elements and people.
We listened this morning to another name that carried a lot of meaning. The man Abram had come out of the ancient city of Ur in what is today Saudi Arabia. He had traveled quite some way north to the land of Canaan. His wife was Sarai. God chooses Abram and Sarai to be the forbearers of the chosen people. By the time God calls them, they have lived for a long time. I’m sure many of you know the story: God comes to Abram in a vision to tell him he will be blessed; Abram responds that he had no children which was the ancient blessing; Abram dreams about the future of his people; he and Sarai don’t wait on God so Ishmael is born to their servant Hagar; then, finally, God says “believe in my power,” and gives him and his wife new names and new identities and a new son.
He was once Abram, “high father,” and she was Sarai, “my princess.” They became Abraham and Sarah, “father of many” and “noblewoman,” respectively. Their story changed because they received new life and new purpose from God.
In previous centuries, your name was connected to what you did. My wife’s name Baird connects to bard. Bards are singers. The name Smith is a tradesman. Those with the last name Mason would have been stone workers.
The name God gives Abraham and Sarah tells us what their job was: to birth a new and noble nation who would be the chosen people of God. That is quite the task, but we learn, God sees them through it all. Their faith is tested by God and their own will, but they succeed in raising Isaac, who fathers Jacob, whose name is also changed, to become Israel, “one who struggled with God.”
Part of our selfie is how we define ourselves. We go by names that we think somehow define us, but all they really do is give us something to be called. The definition of who we are, as followers of Christ, is given to us not by our parents but by God. God has intentions for all of our lives from the moment we are born. It is up to us to take hold of those identities.
As we learn from Abraham, these identities are not always glamorous and can be filled with many difficult stages. We do not take the role of follower so that our lives can be easy. In many cases, it starts out more difficult. Abraham went through many trials even after Isaac’s birth. Look at the lives of the disciples and Jesus himself. Their identities were filled with trouble.
That does not mean that we are abandoned. In Isaiah 43, God tells the people through the prophet, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name. You are mine.” God’s work in our lives is for the transformation of the world in love and humility and God knows this takes work. Claiming the name and identity God gives us transforms us within, even if others do not share that same grace and love. I have learned in my journey that oftentimes, it is up to me to be the light of God wherever I am. Not everyone likes the light of God – it is off-putting to be loving and patient when others want to say and do whatever they want as if our words and actions have no consequence. We are to spread the light of Christ so that the whole world will be changed.
In his address to the conference on Sunday night, Bishop McAlilly reminded us that discipleship in Christ – the identity given to us – is about serving. We have this idea that, as long as we come to church, we will feel better and all will be well. The real treasure of our faith isn’t to feel warm from worship but to be invigorated by God’s gentle push to do ministry. If you have ever served in a soup kitchen or mentored a child or built a home because of love, you will know what joy and contentment are. You are not saved by the name Christian. You are saved by being a follower of the living Christ whose tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, strength and soul and caring for your neighbor. Your name, your identity, is disciple.
We often choose to live by our given name. I have friends who, because of their family, feel they are doomed to relive the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. Alcoholics breed alcoholics; the temper of a parent will be the temper of a child; gossips teach gossip; selfish parents make selfish children. Some of us wonder if we have a name at all. We all are trying to understand who we are while not believing that we have, before even being born, been claimed by God who will take our problems and turn them into empathy for the hard hearted, patience for the anxious, mercy for the critics, and love for the vengeful.
When I take my selfie, I often think “this is Nick.” I’m not wrong, but underneath that, even more to the core of it, I should think “this is a child of God, whose name is kind and honest and helper.”
What is the name of the one you see in your selfie?