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Sermon Briefs Isaiah 62:1-5 Part 2

This passage from Isaiah has "name" as its theme, as Jerusalem (or Zion) is "called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give" (v. 2).
In an unpublished sermon preached at the Westminister Presbyterian Church of Anacordas, Washington, Kristin Saldine picks up on the theme present in verse two as she examines the connection in Hebrew thought of name to existence.1 She begins by looking at some of the names in the Old Testament and how a change in name reflects a change in status. Abram (exalted father) becomes Abraham (father of a multitude). Sarai becomes Sarah (princess). Jacob (supplanter) becomes Israel (God rules). These changes, says Saldine, reflect the inherent power in a name.
This power is something we ourselves recognize. Saldine relates the story of her birth and how her parents changed her name from Katherine to Kristin believing it a much more fitting name for her. "Names," says Saldine, "speak for who we really are." She adds a quote from Frederick Buechner's book, Wishful Thinking, in which Buechner talks about feeling foolish if someone pronounces his name in a foolish way, or feeling that he's the one forgotten if someone forgets his name. Giving someone your name gives them a hold over you. When God calls Moses by name, and then reveals God's own name, their relationship is sealed forever.
The connection Saldine makes to the passage of Isaiah hinges on the importance of a name, and the significance of the name being changed, as happens to Israel. "A new name is given not to an individual, but to an entire people," she says. The change in name reflects the very nature of God's relationship with God's chosen people.
Saldine then connects this to the epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians in which Paul addresses a church with many names—wealthy, powerful, prestigious, poor, slaves, business people, artisans. Like Isaiah and the people of Israel, Paul tells the people in Corinth that, though they may be a diverse people with many gifts, it is one Spirit, one Lord, one God they serve, and they are united by a common name—Christian. We in the church today, Saldine says, are similarly united by that name, and she calls on us to ask ourselves what is in this name Christian? "The spirit of Christ is in this name," she says. It is the spirit of the God whose name we know.
This same theme of "name" is used by Tom Shifflet in his sermon on this Isaiah text.2 Shifflett is Senior Minister of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He begins by quoting Tim Ashley, a Brooklyn College English professor who said, "If you don't like your name, change it." Shiflett then goes on to list several famous people who have changed their names: Muhammed Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Fred Astair, George Burns and many others. He even notes some places whose names have changed—Ethiopia, Zaire and Iran. Changing names, says Shiflett, is what the Isaiah passage is all about.
Shiflett's exegesis is similar to Saldine's. He notes the importance of one's name in the Old Testament by citing Abraham, Sarah and Jacob as examples. When God changes one's name, as God does for Israel, "past conditions shall be reversed, obliterated, transformed." Implied in this passage, he says, "are the great themes of human need— pardon, forgiveness and reconciliation."
God continues to give new names to God's beloved, according to Shiflett. He offers examples from the New Testament as proof—Simon who becomes Peter, and Saul who becomes Paul. Even today God changes names. Like Israel, we may feel forsaken by God and alienated from the world, but like Israel, we can receive a new name from God that will change our relationships—with God, with others and with ourselves. "Once we were no people, now we are God's people. Once we had not received mercy, now we have received mercy." It is because of one name that this has happened, and this, according to Shiflett, is the good news. It is Jesus Christ who rescues and redeems your soul.
Saldine and Shiflett both offer good treatments of this theme in Isaiah of Israel's receiving a new name, however, this passage is rich with imagery to make a sermon sing. Vindication shines out like the dawn and salvation like a burning torch. A young man marries a young woman, and the bridegroom rejoices over the bride. These images provide different ways of thinking about God's salvation of Israel and God's continuing salvation offered to us. Like the image of being called by a new name, they are fertile ground for exploring God's relationship with God's people.
Carolyn Herring
1. Kristin Saldine, "What's in a Name?", Anacordas, Washington, January 15, 1988.
2. Tom Shifflet, "Called By a New Name," Biblical Preaching Journal, Winter Issue, 1989 (Lexington, Ky: Biblical Preaching Institute), 1989.