We meet a lot of new people at Bratislava International Fellowship. Every week it seems like we are welcoming people from around the world. Some come to Bratislava for work, some come to study, some come because of love and some come for, well, mysterious reasons. It’s one of the things we love about doing the work we do, meeting, greeting and welcoming people into this dynamic city.
Of course the first thing we ask someone new is, “What’s your name?” Most of the time it’s a common name, a name we are familiar with or can understand clearly, like John, Monika, Ewa or Sheila. Sometimes the name is a little less familiar or harder to understand. These names sound exotic; a link to somewhere foreign or unknown to us. But regardless of the name or its origin, all are welcomed to join us and become part of the community.
Names are important for many reasons. They are given to us by our parents but then they become part of our identity. Our name is how we introduce ourselves to the world around us. They are how people connect to us and get to know us. At first we may start out with a formal name like Mr. Smith or Professor Wong but as we open up to people we become more comfortable with them using our personal names like Jason or Maria. Some people even get so close to us that we let them give us nicknames or intimate names; names that only they know us by.
Names can even reveal where we come from: Miroslav from Slovakia, Ewa from Poland, Antonio from Italy, Scott from America, Jin-Soon from Korea. Our heritage, ancestry and even geography can be determined by the name we were given
Names can also be a way to honor the past. Perhaps you were named after your father or mother. Or maybe a favorite uncle or great grandmother is where your name comes from. This is a way of keeping the past alive, of remembering a loved one and declaring that their legacy lives on. Sometimes this can be a great honor for the one who bears the name but sometimes it can be an unbearable weight, the expectations of living up to the name can be too heavy.
So what’s your name? Where did it come from? What does it mean to you? How do you want people to know you? It’s a simple thing but full of richness and meaning. It can be a painful reminder of the past but it can also be the beginning of something great. Are you ashamed of your name or are you trying to make a name for yourself?
Did you know that God has a name? We call him GOD in English but in many ways that is more of a title, a job description if you will. In fact GOD has lost all of its meaning in the way we have used it (to curse or to conquer) and in the way we have fought over it. But here’s the thing, God reveals his name to us in the Bible and when we understand his name we learn a lot about who he really is and how he wants to be known.
There are many names for God in the Bible but in two conversations with Moses, God reveals not only his name but the way he wanted Moses and the Israelites to know him and relate to him. In fact it’s how he wants us to know and relate to him.
The first name he reveals is not really a name but a reality, it’s a statement of being. God says that his name is “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14-15). In the English bible we translate that as LORD (all capitals) but that doesn’t capture the richness, fullness and mystery of the statement. I AM WHO I AM, fully secure, fully present, fully alive, fully in control. There is no question in this name about who God is. He just is. No one gave him this name and no one can take it away. Beyond comprehension and fully complex and yet told in the simplest of language, the most basic of verbs.
The LORD is mysterious, unknowable to his fullest and yet fully present and approachable. He is at a distance and yet he is closer to us than we can imagine. In fact because he is “I AM,” you and I can be who we are. In him we live and move and have our being.
The other name that God reveals to Moses is later on in the journey through the desert. Moses has had a really bad day. The people he is leading are rebelling. He’s having anger management issues. In fact, he’s ready to give up on this whole misadventure of leading the Israelites out of slavery. He needs something to keep him going. He needs to know God in a deeper and more intimate way.
So God decides to reveal more of himself to Moses. He does this by proclaiming his name as he passes by Moses and as he does this he reveals more of who he is. “And he passed in front of Moses proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”(Exodus 34:6)
It’s as if God is saying, “If you want to really know who I am Moses then you need to know this about me…I may be God, eternal, uncreated, mysterious and beyond comprehension but I’m also compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, rich in love and faithfulness. My title may be God, my formal name may be I AM but you need to know me as gracious, loving, kind, forgiving and faithful. You can approach me, you can trust me, you can expect good things from me because I am rich in love.”
This is I AM, revealed to us. This is who we talk about when we say we believe in, worship and love God. Not a formal title, or an argument or an idol created by humans. But a person, the ultimate reality, the greatest mystery and yet the simplest truth. Know the name of God and you know everything you need to know in order to live a life of peace, love, grace and truth.
It’s a name beyond understanding and yet it speaks to the greatest needs of our lives.
So why don’t you come and join us as we learn more about how to know, love, worship and live for the LORD each Sunday at BIF?