Sunday 25th April 2021
Acts 4:5-12, John 10:11-18
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Nearly every week I start my sermon in that way – seeking to ground my thinking, my writing and ultimately my speaking in the name of God.
“…there is no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved.”
Names are important and names are powerful.
The name by which you are known, and how others use it, can speak volumes about relationships. If someone you don’t know well changes your name without consent – perhaps they shorten a Stephen to a Steve or a Vivienne to a Viv – then not only can it cause annoyance but it can also feel as though that person has become over-familiar and trying to exert informal power.
One of the redeeming features about being called Paul is that it is not an easy name to either shorten or lengthen – although I was called Pablo when I lived in York many years ago. I guess that could now be Padre Pablo. That has a certain ring, but no!
When parents shout, or say quietly, your full given name, including your middle names, then you know you are in trouble.
People in close relationships may use all sorts of nick-names for each other, which may not be known or used by anyone else, and which reinforce intimacy.
People who don’t like each other, or wish to be deliberately unkind, may call each other horrible names:
‘…sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me…’ – I think we all know that is not true.
People with depression or self-esteem issues may call themselves all sorts of bad names, which can change the way they think of themselves. When we think lowly of ourselves and give ourselves demeaning names, remember always that that is not how God sees us – he knows our real name.
The importance and power of names runs like a golden thread from the beginning to the end of the bible – let me highlight just a few:
At the very beginning, when God spoke creation into being, he also named that which he created: ‘God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night.” (Gen 1:5) The act of naming completed the act of creation.
When Abram entered into a new covenant with God, at the age of 99, an age when most of us are quite used to our names I suspect, God changed his name, perhaps to complete the act of creation in his life: “No longer will you be called Abram your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations”. (Gen 17:5).
Many monks and nuns change their names when taking religious vows. I once stayed in a monastery and ended up sitting next to a monk called St John of the Cross. Which felt a little intimidating but he was very nice.
When Moses was called by name from the burning bush and sent to rescue his people from slavery, Moses asked the name of the one who was sending him: “I AM WHO I AM” or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE – Pure being-ness and becoming. (Ex 3:14)
When God, I AM WHO I AM, later gave the ten commandments to Moses the fourth commandment was that his people should not misuse the name of God – ‘for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name’ (Ex 20:7). In response to this commandment many Jews will not even write or say the word ‘God’, for fear of even accidently misusing the name, and will refer to God as “HaShem” – which simply means the Name.
I don’t know about you but when I hear people using the name of Jesus Christ as an exclamation or a swear word it really hurts me. I feel it in my heart. It is misusing the name of God, it is misusing the name of someone we love and follow and I would certainly hope that no practising Christian would even be able to do this.
When God called the boy Samuel to be a prophet he called him distinctly by name, as he had called Moses before, and, as we heard on Easter Day, when Jesus wanted Mary Magdalene to recognise him following the resurrection he simply said her name. Although God calls in many and varied ways he is also quite capable of simply calling us by name. If we are brave enough to approach the burning bush, willing to seek the counsel of those who are wiser than us or simply take a moment to wipe the tears from our eyes, or metaphorically unblock our ears, we may recognise and respond to the one who calls us by name.
When John the Baptist was conceived his father Zechariah was struck dumb and was not able to speak again until he confirmed that ‘his name is John’ (Luke 1:57-66).
Having started in Genesis the theme of the power of names, both for us and for God, goes all the way to Revelation: “To the one who is victorious I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Rev 2:17)
Doubtless a mysterious verse but one which suggests to me that our true identity, our eternal name, is known only to God and that the act of creation in us will be completed on the other side of this life when God gives those who have won through that white stone with our new and real name written on.
And, at the very end of Revelation, in the new heaven and the new earth we are told of God’s people that:
“They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4)
There is a beautiful circularity here: The people of God both receive a new name from him, which is their true identity, but ultimately they are known not because they wear their own name, but because they wear God’s name. This is the opposite of misusing God’s name, it is being known as His people by making his name our name.
Then, of course, last but by no means least, there is the name of Jesus:
“At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him, king of glory now.”
I do love that hymn, but, like many hymns it is based in scripture, in this case Philippians 2:9-11:
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The name above all names.
Although I don’t bow my knee every time the name of Jesus is mentioned you may have noticed that I often bow my head during the liturgy, and those that wear birettas to worship would doff them at that point – this is no mere affectation or empty religiosity but, for me at least, comes from the same heart that is hurt when Jesus’ name is misused – it is a heart that recognises the name of Jesus as the name of my friend, my brother, my judge, my king of kings and my God. How could we be unmoved by that name?
The disciples were asked:
“By what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7)
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit said:
“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead…. there is no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved.”
There is no other name by which we must be saved.