s107o00 Somerton Park 14/5/2000 Fourth Sunday of Easter
"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12.
I thought I would begin today doing a little research to see how Jesus used the phrase "in my name". I find it quite revealing.
Jesus uses the phrase 15 times, remembered particularly by John (7 times), by Matthew and Mark three times and Luke twice.
Each of the first three writers remembers Jesus using the phrase in conjunction with welcoming children. (Mt 18.5 // Mk 9.37 // Lk 9.48). Matthew recalls Jesus using the phrase when he says "where two or three are gathered ..." (18.20). Mark recalls Jesus accepting (and not criticising) someone else who used his name to help another (9.39). In contrast, all three warn not to follow those people who will come using his name to lead people astray, saying "I am he". (Mt 24.5 // Mk 13.6 // Lk 21.8).
We see immediately that the name of Jesus is about welcoming others and community. In contrast, the name of Jesus is inherently misused when used for the magnification of the person using it.
In John's gospel the odd time Jesus uses the phrase is when he says: "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26). There is a clear identification with doing things in Jesus' name and identifying with the ministry of Jesus, which was ever for others.
The other six times, Jesus tells us to ask "in his name" (14:13,14, 15:16, 16:23,24,26). Clearly we ask "in the name of Jesus", not for ourselves to be magnified, but ask for others as well as for ourselves.
So the only reason Jesus can claim our allegiance, is because he leads us to an acceptance of others. Jesus does not lead us to an acceptance of himself, as Messiah, Lord, Son of Man, Son of God or whoever, but to others, including ourselves.
It is only with this background that I think we can correctly interpret the text for this sermon today. It is indeed true when Peter says: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" because it is only Jesus who leads us to others. To use this verse to divide the world into "Christian" and "unbelieving" camps, into the "saved" and the "damned", is to completely fail to see the force of the words about the name of Jesus, and indeed why he was crucified.
And surprise, surprise, these sentiments are echoed in the gospel passage for today, where the hireling and the shepherd are contrasted. The shepherd gives of him (or her) self for others - the hireling cares mainly about his or her own well-being. And even though we can joyfully affirm we are God's own, we are God's own through God's own self giving. In the same breathe we are also reminded: "I have other sheep", not just us.
Again and again in our reading for the epistle, believing and reaching out to others, comes one after the other.
So: "He laid down his life for us -- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16). John goes on: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (3:17). The point is made again: "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action ... by this we will know that we are from the truth ..." (3:18, 19). "We receive from him whatever we ask, because we ... do what pleases him." (3:22). "This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." (3:23). "By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us" (3:24) - that Spirit which breaks down boundaries and reaches out to those who differ from us.
J. L. Houlden, in his fascinating book "Ethics and the New Testament" (Pelican 1973), speaking about the various perspectives of "love" by the different New Testament authors, quotes John 13:34 saying: "In John ... on the other hand, the ethical horizon is narrowed and intensified to the love of the fellow Christian, love within the community ..." He rightly contrasts this to the perceptions in Matthew and Luke about loving one's enemies. (page 72). Given the truth of this however, John's perception of love is that it is still for others "outside" the community of faith - so that "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).
And the six other times the phrase "in my name" is used in John, is when we are bidden to ask ... they are in the context of Jesus calling us friends and making know to us everything (15.16), when he speaks to us plainly about the Father (16.23), when we will do "greater things" than Jesus. (14.13). So our requests are not a wish list of personal desires, but requests specifically and fully informed by the purposes and nature of God's mission of love to the whole world, and not just for us as Christians.
Now what does this mean for today?
Perhaps some of you read the article in the Advertiser of the 23rd of April, of the rift between the new Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Peter Carnley, and some members of the Diocese of Sydney. It was reported that Archbishop Carnley's view about the uniqueness of salvation through Christ alone was that it was "not valid in a modern, multicultural context, and arose because the gospel writers were unaware of religions such as Buddhism and Islam ... that salvation was only through Jesus for those in Jerusalem at the time of his death because he was their victim and the only one who could communicate God's forgiveness and love ... However, Jesus preached that Christ identified with all those who suffered and were victimised."
As I reflect on these words, I think that the Archbishop is saying more than the words of scripture are culturally conditioned. There is indeed a cultural conditioning, but he accurately proclaims a prior and dominant thrust in the outlook and mission of Jesus, which was ever towards others, with which I would heartily agree.
For the words of St Peter that are my text for today's words are probably the prime ones for those who hold that there is no salvation outside those who confess the faith of Christ crucified. I would want to say that anything done for someone else, any support for those who suffer, the victims, marginalised and downtrodden in society, is done "in the name of Jesus", whether that sacred name is mentioned or not.
Just after Easter, my favourite uncle died. My family, like most other families, have been split and divided as various members have become Christians of one sort or other. I am not sure of the history, but I think my widowed grandfather married a woman in another denomination and this caused ructions. People who weren't members of this other denomination couldn't attend the wedding. And please, I am not pointing the finger at that particular denomination. The specific details and denominations are immaterial, and in one form or other, have been replicated, time and again, in many families. Anglicans can be just as bigoted. My favourite uncle who died, I imagine saw all this and wanted nothing whatsoever to do with any of it. He never darkened the doors of a church, because of the unhappiness it had caused the family. When I look at modern Australian society and the general antipathy toward the Church - we have to remember that there are reasons for that antipathy - good, valid and logical reasons. My uncle's sons, my cousins, wrote in their joint death notice: "World's greatest dad", and knowing him and them, I know these words come from the heart.
Until we, as the Church, stop sweeping these things "under the carpet", until we have a theology which encompasses real people like this, any amount of badgering people, threatening damnation unless they acknowledge the name of Jesus, will only compound and exacerbate the problem.
And it is my faith that, of course, Jesus has already proclaimed precisely this sort of love for all people.
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