The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r107.htm
s107e03 Lockleys Easter 4 11th May 2003
"We should believe in the name of .. Jesus Christ and love one another .." 1 John 3.23
We have in today's readings a couple of references to "the name of Jesus" and so it seems appropriate to make some comment about what this means.
The boldness that we have to ask for whatever we want from God is immediately qualified by the statement that "we obey his commandments and do what pleases him". So this is not "carte blanche" &endash; our prayer life is intimately related to God's will and our following it. It is perhaps a simplistic way of saying it, but it is clear that God cannot help us rob a bank, and we do not need God's help to do nothing. Indeed when we begin to think about it, we don't need much help from God if we are simply going to continue to relate to those in our inner circle of acquaintances. The time when God's grace is needed is when we move out of our circle of comfort &endash; when we try to relate to people who are different from us.
And of course this is precisely what Jesus did, and the reason why the religious authorities had him killed. The religious authorities wanted to keep to their own circle of acquaintances, and in the name of God to separate themselves from others. So the "name of Jesus" is to do the opposite &endash; to be open to others who are different.
We can have no doubt whatsoever that God is less concerned at what we do in our own name, but God is vitally concerned with what we do in the divine name.
When I looked for the occurrences of the phrase "in my name" in the New Testament, on the lips of Jesus, they can be categorised into three distinct groups. The first is welcoming people and coming together "in my name" - which is encouraged (Mt 18.5, 18.20, Mk 9.37 & Lk 9.48). The second is avoiding people who claim to come "in my name" (Mt 24.5, Mk 13.6 & Lk 21.8). By far the most frequent use is the third category when they are used by Jesus in the final chapters of John's gospel. This is when Jesus is talking to the disciples - six times - and they are nearly all about asking God for things "in my name" (Jn 14.14, 15.16, 16.23, 16.24 &16.26). The odd one out is about the Holy Spirit teaching us. (Jn 14.26). We can conclude that it is the eucharistic community which is bidden to be welcoming of others save only those who would make claims for themselves. Welcoming of difference is how we follow Jesus.
It is clear that the name of Jesus became an important way the early apostles expressed themselves, for Luke in his account of the early Church in Acts, 11 times uses the term the "name of Jesus" or "in his name", and we have in our first lesson today an example of this.
There are a smattering of other references to the words "in his name" the sentiment of which may be characterised by John 1.12: "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God".
So the "name of Jesus" is about welcoming others save only those who make claims for themselves. Those who make claims for themselves direct our focus away from others and try to get us to focus only on them alone. Here is a test to help us see if God is in fact leading particular people. When the rich young man runs up to Jesus, the guru would no doubt say "sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to me". Jesus tells him to give them to the poor.
I find it interesting, indeed curious, that this has parallels with the rather pedestrian advice in the letter of James about making distinctions between people who come to worship. (James 2.1f) It doesn't really matter what causes us to focus on a particular person - social standing, financial position, beauty or whatever &endash; if this distracts us from the proper fulfilling of the needs of the other &endash; we have departed from the gospel.
I am not too old to remember my teenage years where I was exceedingly self-conscious - and of course, while I didn't realise it at the time - I now realise that I was precisely the same as everyone else at that age. As I've "matured" I am slowly getting less self conscious and somewhat more aware of others and how they might be feeling.
Much of the essence of illness, physical as well as mental - is that a person becomes self-absorbed. One of the standard pieces of advise for those who are sick is for them to pray for others. Maturity and health revolve around our relationships with others.
So why did the apostles so frequently used the phrase "in the name of Jesus" rather than "in the name of God".
Jewish sensibilities meant that the divine name YHWH was not pronounced, so that when readers came to the divine name in a sacred text they said "the LORD" rather than pronouncing the name itself. So even the very name of God was "removed" from the ordinary experience of people. The Name was inaccessible and without the Name the divine could not be invoked. Jacob wrestles with God to prize a blessing and the name from God (Gen 32.29) when he is renamed Israel - he gets the blessing but not the Name.
This is in stark contrast to Jesus and his ministry. Rather than individuals having to wrestle a blessing, Jesus spend his time visiting and accepting the hospitality and contributions that one and all offered. Indeed it was precisely for this that he was crucified - for he offered to everyone what was previously inaccessible - or reputed to be. I suspect that it is precisely this that lies behind the charge of blasphemy (Mat 26.65). It was blasphemous to the religious authorities that anyone should suggest the God's name and blessing could be accessible to the ordinary run of the mill person in the street.
So when we do something in the name of Jesus it is always in the sense of including other people and it is here that all prayers are indeed answered.
So in fact belief in the name of Jesus actually equals loving others - belief in the name of Jesus means we can look at others with respect rather than questions.
But why did Jacob have to wrestle with God? Why does it seem God's name is in some senses inaccessible? Well I suspect for precisely the same reasons. God always has been the God of the whole universe, not the sole possession of an individual, group or nation. For an individual, group or nation to have sole possession of a name is to deny the essential character of God. It is precisely in Jesus who was crucified for associating with others who shows us the character of God.
The Lord is not my shepherd in the sense that the Lord isn't the shepherd of others too. Our Father is not ours in the sense that God isn't a Father to everyone else also.
When Jesus says in our gospel reading for today, "I know my own and my own know me", Jesus immediately adds that his "own" are those for whom he laid down his life and even then there are "other sheep" as well. His "own" are those for whom he laid down his life, not the rather smaller group of people who have come to realise this.
The hired hand who runs away doesn't care for the sheep - the hired hand cares only for his or her own safety. The hired hand, in the parallel of Jesus' life are not the disciples who abandoned Jesus at his arrest, but the religious authorities who actually don't care for the people with whom Jesus associated.
I want to return to the fact that the use of the words "in my name" occur most frequently in the gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These chapters are the instructions to the disciples at the Last Supper, though John fails to mention the supper itself. For me it means that it is clearly a travesty of the use of the name of Jesus to use the eucharist to make or perpetuate divisions between people.
When we act in Jesus' name we are open to all other people, and every prayer we utter in Jesus' name will therefore be about removing barriers and distinctions between people. These prayers are always answered in the affirmative.
Every time we finish a prayer: "through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen" we are saying that our prayer is made in the faith that God includes all, including ourselves.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.