What’s in a name?
Romans 8:14-17

Today I want to discuss the importance of a name in establishing and maintaining relationships.  We heard in our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans that all who are led by the Spirit are children of God, and it follows that if we are God’s children we know him by name and call on that name regularly.

Earlier this week I discovered that one of my favourite singers had changed his name when he was young.  The world knows him as Tim McGraw, but apparently he was known from birth as Samuel Timothy Smith.  When he was young he discovered a birth certificate which showed that his father was actually Tug McGraw, a pitcher who played major league baseball.  I have always known him as Tim McGraw, I bought his first album back in 1994 and never had a clue that he ever had a different name.  I know that happens a lot with celebrities, they have stage names or screen names that are supposedly more marketable than their real names.

Most of you have probably never even heard of Tim McGraw, unless you’ve seen adverts on TV lately about his upcoming tour. We usually need to know a little bit about someone, what they do, or where they live to give us a bit more of background, something to link the name to.  I’ve never met him, but by the power of television and the internet I know who he is, what he looks like and a bit about what matters to him because he sings about it, he doesn’t know me and I don’t really know him, but there is a connection because I like his music.  When you use someone’s name in reference to them, it identifies them and allows others to understand who it is you are talking about.
Names are important to us, it is very hard to get someone’s attention or address something to them without knowing their name.  Normally the first thing we find out about someone is their name, often it is also the first thing we forget about them as well!  When we use someone’s name they usually respond, they know who we are talking to and most people feel affirmed if we use their name.

On Friday afternoon I went for a walk around the oval and watched a few minutes of the inter-school football and soccer.  As I was standing there it was particularly clear that without using names those games would be rather difficult.  You could of course use numbers, “Hey 21 kick it to me” or something similar, but names make it much simpler.  The game flows much better when each player can call out the name of the one with the ball and encourage or guide them.

That’s why Paul says that when we cry “Abba, Father” the Spirit of God that is in us is bearing witness to our connection to the Father through his adoption of us as his children.  There are many functions that the Holy Spirit performs and this is just one of them.  We can’t call on the name of God as Father unless we are guided by the Spirit.  When others see us using God’s name to speak with him through prayer and praise they can recognise a connection, a relationship that exists.

In that relationship the Spirit leads us as God’s children, as though we were adopted, not as slaves but as heirs.  There is a stark difference between those two things isn’t there.  A slave lives in fear of their master, afraid to speak his name for fear of punishment.  A slave will only speak to their master when spoken to, if at all.  Whereas an heir, a child will (especially these days) have no fear of coming to their parent, be it their father or mother, and use their relationship to join in a discussion.

A slave expects to be driven, ordered around, pushed to their limits; a child will often test the boundaries of how much they can get away with before a parent will react.  In our relationship with God the Father through the Spirit and the Son we learn what is right and what is wrong, the Spirit seeks us out and teaches us and enables us to be led by him.  In this relationship he knows our name and calls on us too.

I’ve always said that I’m happy for you to call me Tim because that is the name that was given to me by my parents (well Timothy actually) and when I was baptised that was the name used.  God has known me all my life as Tim so that’s what I’m happy for you to call me.  Some of you get upset when others call me Tim instead of Pastor, it’s not something that bothers me.  I can see their point, for good order and out of respect for the position of responsibility that I am called to, but when all is said and done, God knows me as Tim.  I also answer to ‘Rev’, ‘Preacher’, ‘Stringer’, ‘Stinger’, ‘Pope Ruffin”(there’s a long story that goes with that one), my kids sometimes call me ‘Pappy’.  In some circumstances it is better to have an alternative name available, like when there are two Tim’s or several Dad’s around, it can be a bit confusing.  I called my Dad Wally for years, then when my kids came along they called him Grandad, so that’s what we switched to as well.
When all is said and done, God knows who we are, and we know who God is, when we call to each other, by the power of the Spirit there is a connection and a response.  When we call on God, he answers, sometimes not immediately, often not in the way we would like him to, but he does answer us.  When he calls to us, most of us wouldn’t even recognise it, it’s not an exacting science, it is a thing of faith and individual gifting.
What we do see though are the fruits of the Spirit.  The Sunday School children today sang us a song based on Galatians 5:22-23 we can see people responding to the Spirit at work in their lives when they show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These are all things that are difficult to manage on our own, but when we are led by the Spirit, that is relying on God and keeping in touch with him through, prayer, praise, worship and serving others these fruits of the Spirit flow much easier.
So don’t be afraid to regularly call out the name of God, seek him out, and listen for his voice.  He has sent his Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us, if only we would take the time to listen and take notice.  You are God’s children, take up your inheritance and live a life led by the Spirit.
Amen.