Bring Many Names


Strong Mother God, working night and day,

Planning all the wonders of creation,

Setting each equation, genius at play,

Hail and hosanna, strong mother God.


All language about God is metaphor.  We say "God is like this…" or "God is like that…" trying to explain our understanding or express our experience.  But no language is complete.  No one name or face or image says all that can be said to express the fullness of who God is.  We are so used to talking about God as Father because that's the language Jesus used when he talked to and about God.  That face of God is there, and we'll talk about that next.  But there are other images of God throughout scripture that invoke another of God's faces - the face of God as Mother.  There are several places, including Romans 8, where God is described as a woman in labor giving birth to creation.  The prophets speak of God like a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them.  Psalm 131 describes the psalmist as a small child finding comfort in a parent's arms.  Lady Wisdom in Proverbs is not God, but is seen as an image of one face of what God might be like: a woman who calls all people to follow her wise ways, who creates order and gives structure, like a woman who runs her family and her household well.

            The creating God of Genesis 1 has a lot in common with that woman, as God creates order out of chaos, sets the patterns in place for all that is and will be, and shapes the universe and all its living things with love and joy.  In Genesis 2, the second creation story, we see another side of the creating loving God.  In his great poem "Creation" James Weldon Johnson describes God kneeling down at the Creekside and, with great tenderness, "Like a mammy with her children" shaping the human being from the clay and breathing into him the breath of life with God's own breath.  

            This is the strong mother God we know, who creates and gives life, always creating, always bringing order, all done with love and joy.


Warm father God, hugging every child,

Feeling all the strains of human living.

Caring and forgiving, till we're reconciled,

Hail and hosanna, warm Father God.


            The face of God the Father is one we are more used to. This is language we've heard before and language about God we ourselves use all the time.  In fact we use it so much that sometimes we don't think about it, or we come to assume that this is the only language about God we could use.  In my mind, and maybe in yours, God the father appears as a stern disciplinarian who makes sure his children keep to the straight and narrow path. 

            But when Jesus talks to God, he uses a different word.  He calls God "Abba", which is the first name a little child would call his father.  Abba.  Daddy.  There is affection there, and intimacy and the assurance of a fundamental relationship that can never be broken, the relationship of parent and child.

            We see this "Abba" Father in Jesus' teachings about a father who lovingly provides for his child.: "What father if his child asks for an egg would give him          or if he asks for bread would give a stone?"  "Look at the birds of the the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?" (Mt. 6:26)

            We also hear his voice as a father whose child has strayed from his ways.  In Hosea, God wants to punish erring Israel, but then stays his hand: 

            But nowhere do we see him more clearly than in the parable of the prodigal son, in the father who joyously welcomes his lost child home.

            That is the warm, loving father to whom Jesus leads us:  The father who knows us fully, sees our faults, but loves us anyway and always welcomes us when we return home.




Old, aching God, Gray with endless care,

Calmly piercing evil's new disguises,

Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair,

Hail and hosanna, old aching God.


If there's one image of God we're familiar with, it's the old guy with the long beard sitting on a cloud in heaven looking down on earth.  But let's look at that picture a little more closely.  In a society that is youth-driven, where all the celebrities strive to look like twenty-somethings long after they have left that age, where what is new and recent and fast is valued, what does a picture of an "old, aching God" have to give us?  Is this a picture of a God who is old and outdated, who has nothing left to teach us or do for us?

            The old God in Wren's song gives us a different face of age - a face that has grown old with wisdom and has wisdom to share, a face that recognizes evil when it appears, and opposes it, a face that has experienced the worst that can happen and fought through it to hope.  This is age that is strong and wise, not weak and useless.

            This old God does not require big elaborate rituals.  Those are for the young, who still are trying to prove themselves.  This is a God who has no need to prove Godself to anyone, but simply Is, and so God's commands and God's rituals are simplified everything to what really matters: to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.

            As we know and honor and obey the Ancient One, maybe we can take a different perspective on our own age.  If we can value the strength and wisdom of the Ancient God, maybe we can value and honor our own elders.  Maybe we can see age not as a sentence to be feared, but as an honor gained through the battle scars of life.




Young, growing God, eager on the move,

Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,

Crying out for justice, giving all you have,

Hail and hosanna, young growing God.


The aspect of God we see most clearly is Jesus of Nazareth, in whom God  walked among us and taught and healed.  I think sometime we forget that Jesus was always only a young man.  He was around thirty three when he died.  In his ministry, he showed a young man's passions and love of life - the pleasure he took in eating and hanging out with his friends, the fearlessness with which he addressed injustice, the compassion for others, not caring about social boundaries as he reached out to them, the willingness to give his all for his God and for us.  This is a young God, full of energy and passion.

            God's Spirit moves among us with the same kind of youthful energy and passion, speaking for justice in the voices of prophets, bringing forth new ideas, crossing every boundary we would use to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters and from God to bring love and compassion for all.

            Female and male, young and old, Genesis 1:27 tells us that all human beings are made in the image of God.  When we look at human beings at their best, we see God's image, and so we learn something about both God and about ourselves.  God's image encompasses all humanity, and then goes one step beyond.




Great living God, never fully known,

Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,

Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home,

Hail and hosanna, great living God.

Brian Wren, who wrote the hymn "Bring Many Names" says the hymn begins by offering us a carnival of different word pictures of God.  As in any carnival, some pictures may delight you, others may annoy, but if any of them reveal the God of Jesus Christ to you, the carnival is worth attending.  The pictures we have seen today are just the beginning of those that come to us in scripture: shepherd, potter, vine, builder, judge, king, midwife, rock to name only a few.  Each image gives a glimpse of the Truth.  Each opens a window to understanding.  Yet no image in itself is complete.  That's part of what we acknowledge on Trinity Sunday, when we speak of the three names or aspects of God we know in Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

No matter how we seek images of what God might be like in what we know of ourselves and what we know, in the end, all language, all images fail.  God is so much more than any human concept.  God encompasses us all and moves beyond.  Filled with mystery, God occupies and moves beyond the universe we see and comprehend.

 Yet as great and mysterious as God is, God comes to us. Closer than our own breath, God dwells with us intimately.  God knows us and loves us and cares for us.  God gives us life and breath for praise.  With joy, God provides all we need.  God sustains us through life and challenges us in life to be better than we are.  God makes covenant with us, agreeing to be our God, making us God's people. 

This is why we worship.  This is why we pray.  In worship and in prayer, we come into contact with the Great Mystery.  In faith we encounter the One who cannot be fully known.  And we give thanks that God in life encounters us.  Amen.





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