What Is Your Name?

Genesis 32: 24-31.


Bible Portion

And Jacob was left on his own, and a man struggled with him till dawn broke.  He realized that he could not win, so he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he struggled with him.  He said, “Let me go, for the dawn has broken.” He said, “I shall not let you go, unless you bless me.”  He said to him, “What is your name?” and he replied, “Jacob.”  He said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”  So Jacob asked, “Tell me please your name.” He said, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.  So Jacob named that place Peniel, because “I have seen God face to face and yet my life was rescued.”


The passage starts with the words “And Jacob was left on his own”. When Jacob was on his own he gets into a struggle with a man until the dawn broke. Even in this struggle where Jacob gets his hip dislocated he demands to be blessed. Jacob is a character who would go to any extent to win a blessing. If he did not get it, he would steal it. Point blank he was asked the question “What is your name?” this was God asking Jacob his name? Dint he know it? God is asking him “Who are you, what is your name, what is your past?” Jacob who had cheated his father and deceived his brother had to be reconciled to God. He had to own up his past. He had to say his name is Jacob, he had to accept that he had cheated his father. He had out of greed stolen the right of his elder brother.  And then God changes his name, reconciles his past and gives him a new identity as Israel. He realizes God’s presence to name the place Peniel that reflects the grace of God in his life, that with all his shameful past, he is still alive. He is a new man. Man transformed by God. After God names him, he repents and goes and reconciles with his brother Esau in Genesis chapter 33. He gets first straight with God, and then with his brother.

Are we not like Jacob? Are we not on the run, fleeing from God and ourselves? We are like him, we want everything for ourselves, no matter what the cost. We are struggling with God. He asks you and me, “What is your name?” “Who are you?” “What is your past?” in the presence of God we need to own up our name, who we actually are, What is our past. This is the act of Confession. Coming as you are in front of the Lord. Repenting and accepting yourself owning up the shameful acts we do, the hypocritical lives we live and greed we have, to urge we have to fulfill all our needs even at the cost of our brothers, sisters and friends. God gives you a new name, makes you a new being, transforms your identity. Friends, it is important to come in the presence of the Lord and say “Lord I am wrong. I am leading a very shameful life. I am hiding from myself. I am fooling You O Lord. Forgive me”. Let the Lord heal you. You will have to discern his forgiveness and grace. Do not hide yourself. Come out and own up.

If one notices the Mar Thoma liturgy, we see that after the sermon we have the Sacrament of confession. In that confession we begin by saying “I confess that I have sinned against you, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in thought, word and deed. I am sorry with all my heart for these my sins……” He forgives those who truly repent, He gives them a new name. He calls them His children. And like Jacob after being forgiven by God and transformed by God went to reconcile with his brother. In the same way after the sacrament of confession, the second part of the service begins with the act of Kiss of Peace which indicates reconciliation with your brothers and sisters. Your confession is not just a hollow act, it has to be manifested in action, and you have to be a witness to the people around you. People will have to see the Peace of God in you.

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing grace” written by a gentleman in 1779 by the name of John Newton. John Newton used to be a Sailor who used to sell young boys from Africa as slaves for huge profit in England. The lives of young boys from Africa were a matter of profit to him and he earned immensely. But there was guilt. This man that he sold was created in the image Of God. But he avoided heeding that voice. Then one day when he was alone in the sea and had a near death experience. He discerned the grace of the Lord and repented, owning up his sins. After this he wrote the beautiful hymn “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” He not only repented but also reconciled with his brothers who he sold for his profit as slaves. John Newton later became a priest and he crusaded against slavery and slave trade. He too got right with his Creator and reconciled himself to his brothers.

God is asking you “What is your name?” What is your answer?

Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Paul What Were You Thinking? Pray Without Ceasing?

Text: Psalms 139: 1- 4, 23-24

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

 You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.


Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.


Psalm 139 written by King David talks to us of a God who is inescapable. He is everywhere. He is a God with us. He is Emmanuel. Before we go further down that road let us take a break and find out if it is so in our lives. Is God so present in our lives? Do we actually believe that? Ok if we believe that do we live like that? Psalms 139: 4 says “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” That statement has a lot of implication for our times. Rev Jacob Thomas, whom we called JT, is one of the most dynamic speakers that I have come across. When I was a teen I heard his ever thought provoking talk in a Teen Camp where he asked us the question “What is that one word that comes to your tongue when you are angry?” There was a long silence. The silence prolonged. He broke it by saying “I am sure that it is not God Bless You.” And we roared in laughter. We understood what he meant. I am sure even the readers have guessed it. It is 4 letter magic word that starts with ‘F’. Acharya Osho has a very interesting analysis of how this word became so prominent. Fredrick Neitzche propounded the philosophical statement that “God is Dead.” When this statement became accepted in the American Culture, Sex was the next obsession that took over. So this 4 letter word displaced God from the conversations. So this word espoused all the various range of emotions. More than a bad word it became an adverb which defines various ranges of emotions like ecstasy, anger, frustration, beauty, irritation and curiosity. This seems to be a very apt analysis. This 4 letter word is indispensable to our conversations. It is splashed out in our mental landscapes. You have songs, movies, dialogues all splashed with these words. If one follows Facebook this word is used very liberally and extensively. ‘WTF’ has become part of our accepted cool dude lingo. Now why am I insisting so much on this word? It is not just a word but it displays our attitude. Unlike the Psalmist, we feel that God is Dead. We act like that. Or if not that radical, we have assigned God to private spaces of prayer, church and songs.

Apostle Paul completely believed in this Psalm. That’s why he exhorted the people of Thessalonica to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). He does not talk about taking some time to pray or an hour to pray or about the benefits of having a quiet time. He says something more radical. He says pray without ceasing. Now the question arises is that “How is it possible?”The answer we may come to is “It is impossible.” This is because of our understandings about prayer. We normally divide our daily life into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events. Therefore we have assigned God a space and time where we converse with him and think Holy thoughts and say holy things. God is therefore removed from our daily life and events. But Paul reminds us that Prayer is an unceasing conversation with God. It means to think and live in the presence of God. It is the joyful affirmation that God knows our minds and our hearts and that nothing is hidden from Him. Prayer is the presentation of all thoughts divine and mundane, ugly and pervert, daydreams and night dreams to our God. When I write it I know how easy it is to write such wonderful sounding good thoughts. But in my personal experience this is far from easy. This is asking too much. There is a deep resistance to making ourselves so vulnerable, so totally unprotected. I indeed want to love God and worship Him, but I also want to keep a huge part of my inner corner for myself,where I can hide and think of my own secret thoughts, where I can nurture my hatred, where I can fan my lust and speak whatever I want to. And when I come to pray I select the thoughts carefully and make it sound very pious and lofty.My fear is, can God tolerate what goes in my heart and my mind. Can he handle my cruel fantasies, shameful dreams, inflated illusions and my deep seated selfishness?Sometimes we just want to hold on to these things.

Paul is asking me to get into a fearless conversation with my God where I bring my good and bad, ordinary and extraordinary, evil and divine thoughts and deeds to the Lord. From unceasing thoughts I am asked to move to unceasing prayers where the touch of God heals my deepest contradictions and pains. Only then can we pray along with David with confidence “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139: 23, 24) But then when we come to this point, I am reminded of a conversation where my friend asked “How do we feel God in a world that is so brutal and nasty. In my workplace and in the market it is very difficult to feel the presence of God. And to pray unceasingly is so much tougher in such circumstances. It is easier to worry than to pray.” Whenever we say this or that is difficult i am reminded of the words of Dr P. C. Mathews, who is a personal mentor to me. He says “Who told you that Christian life is easy? Who told you that being a disciple is a cake walk?”

John Newton, was converted to Christianity when he was on the sea and a terrible storm broke out. He cried out to God and he was saved. But even after his conversion he continued the trade slave that he was involved in.  He traded many African slaves. He prayed everyday but he also traded slaves. He was inhuman in his dealings but never missed to read the bible and pray. He had a friend in John Wesley who showed him that his prayer life and his practices are contradictory. But John Newton kept resisting it. But once in midst of prayer he felt convicted of his ways. He quit his life of a slave trader and became a crusader against Slave trade. It is in midst of his struggles that he wrote one of the most immortal songs“Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” John Newton owned his wretchedness in the presence of the Lord and found that he was blind. He felt found by God and started seeing and feeling the presence of God.

In a world that denies the presence of God, we are called to‘Pray without ceasing.’ Prayer is a protest against the godlessness and the chaos of the world. Let us enter into a fearless, unceasing conversation with a God who searches our thoughts and minds and still loves us.

Let us close this meditation with a song that sums our life and journey as Christians.


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.



Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church