God smiled when You were Born

My granddaughter Annabelle is learning to say her name. Actually she is very verbal for her twenty months, and can string several words together in quite long sentences, like “Mummy Daddy coming soon,” or “Open door now Nana.” But although she has been saying her name for months, it is quite a long one, so her first attempts were a bit mumbled. Her folks are now encouraging her to speak it more clearly, and she enjoys enunciating it as three clear syllables, and being rewarded with applause.
The other day when I was babysitting, she was trying to persuade me to pick her up when she was supposed to be having a nap. After several attempts at negotiation, she finally looked solemnly up at me with her big gray green eyes, and said “Ann-a-belle,” beautifully. I think she thought it might work some magic, like ‘open sesame.’ It didn’t make me relent, but my heart just overflowed with joy at the magic of a child who knows her name, and is sure that she is loved. I felt for a moment as if it were me standing in the presence of God, saying my own name, and that his heart was overflowing with love for me, and with a parents’s joy in seeing their child grow in confidence.
God knows me by name. The scriptures tell us that explicitly in places like Isaiah 43, but as one of God’s adopted children, I sense it in my heart, as well as knowing it in my mind. "God smiled when I was born." He knows my name and he uses it to call me and encourage me, to teach me and warn me.
The notion of following Jesus depends on the truth that he is present today, in some way that enables us to connect with him. That is the mystery of the risen Christ. I believe that because it is a reality in my own life, and there are thousands, millions, round the world ,and down through history who attest to the same experience. As people of faith, we believe that he calls us to follow him, just as he did with the first disciples. And that invitation is personal; he calls us by name.
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
Or in my case, “Vivian, follow me!!” He calls me by name, to be his disciple. ‘Disciple’ means a learner, one who comes under the discipline of a rabbi. Jesus calls us into his training course, to be his student, to learn from him, to “take the yoke” of his kingdom values. Most of us are keen to sign up for that, we want someone to be our life coach, and support and encourage us through the changes and challenges of daily life. But this year as our local church has been working through the gospel of Mark, I noticed something I hadn’t really seen before – that Mark describes the chosen men (and there were women too!) not just as disciples, but apostles. “He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word and give them authority to banish demons.” (Mark 3: 14, 15)
Apostle means one who is sent. I take that to mean that twenty centuries later, I am not just called, but sent. Sent on the Master’s business, sent to publicize and implement his rule in our community. Sent to do all that Jesus did when he was on earth, and more. “As the Father has sent me, so have I sent you.” John 20: 21. That’s a more daunting responsibility, but one that many before us took on, at God’s personal invitation. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Andrew, Matthew, Peter, Paul – and the myriad others whose names are unknown to us but known to God.
The fact that “he knows our name” says God knows more than just how to pronounce the syllables. He knows us, our strengths and flaws, gifts and gripes, hopes and fears. He understands that ‘we are dust’ – but he also delights in seeing us learn and grow. This Lenten journey is one where I want to listen more intently to his marching orders, and more confidently for his joyful chuckle, as I discover whom he has sent me to be.
To chew over: What is the difference between being called and sent? Where is God sending me this week?
From a song that is often sung at the beginning of a new ministry:
Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, where you send me
I will hold your people in my heart.
Dan Schutte, 1981