THE POWER OF THE LORD’S NAME
Sermon delivered on the 17th Sunday after Trinity, the 27th September 2015 by Bishop Nicholas J. G. Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29 James 5: 13-20 S. Mark 9: 38-50
S. Mark 9:41 Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
THE POWER OF THE NAME
All of us I am sure have a concern for our own name, not perhaps the actual letters of our names so much, although most people do like their name to be spelt and pronounced correctly, but for what our name stands for. When someone speaks your name in a private or public conversation, you will want an image of, say, probity and decency to arise in the mind of the listener, and not some image of rascality or dishonesty. The name of something often encapsulates what it stands for or what its business is, as in the commercial world of today (such as "Deals" or “Fosters Food Fair” or “Da Fish Shack”). This arises in the political world too in relation, for example, to the Cayman Islands. We might consider what people in the world might think about when they hear that name “Cayman Islands”. When I first came across the notion of a “tax haven” many years ago, I had no sense of any wrongness in such a name, but now it seems that such things are regarded differently. With these ideas I think we have a link with the concept behind naming people and things in older times. In the more concrete thought-processes of those times, a person’s or a thing’s literal name was no empty symbol, as it often is today, but was intentionally chosen to portray what the person or thing was like, and what its character was. Notice too that to this day we use the very word “character” in two very different senses, the sense of the symbol or letter itself, and the sense of the inner meaning of a person or an item, senses that are connected in the older way of thinking, but not so in computer-speak. So when some action is said to be performed in the name of someone or something, we then know a great deal more about the action and its intent, the reason for it and the reach of it. And often not only might an activity be ennobled or besmirched by its association with a particular name, but also a name might be similarly affected by its association with the activity. The New Testament refers to the name of Jesus Christ as authenticating certain actions of the apostles. In Acts ch. 2 Peter, as have others since, preached, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Later he says to a lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” [Later still, he declares to an annoyed set of rulers, “Let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.”] In the public mind of our time, the activities of members of the Body of Christ and their leaders may act (justifiably or unjustifiably) either to damage or to make more credible the Name of Jesus Christ.
All this goes some way towards explaining the text for today from St. Mark’s Gospel about someone being rewarded for giving you a cup of water because of the name of Christ that you bear. This is not just thinking of the action of giving a thirsty person a drink of water as a humanitarian act. The context suggests that here the person being addressed is becoming thirsty because he is spending himself in Christ’s service, so that the one who provides refreshment to him is also doing it as an indirect but simple act of service to Christ and in His Name. So we learn that we can enter into bearing the name of Christ by giving assistance, even humble assistance, to someone who is known to be working in Christ’s name. The action itself is not all that gives value to the action. One must take into account the name in which the action is carried out.
The significance of the name in which we act is therefore very much part of our humanity and the way we actually operate; yet a good deal of contemporary thinking turns its face away from this truth. I am referring to the modern social kind of thinking that tends to be global and amorphous. In this the value of an act is not considered or viewed in its relationship to the name or authority in which the act is being performed. In global terms the world has found such anonymity to be costly, but this lesson appears not to have been learnt. Aggregates of individuals such as the West is increasingly becoming, rather than true societies which function under proper authority and therefore in the Name of someone or something, render themselves greatly vulnerable to many-faceted attacks, as by now we should have seen. Christians should therefore support all the more the idea of having the Name of the Lord, who has revealed Himself, included at the heart of any constitution by which we count ourselves to be governed - and technically this remains true for a constitutional monarchy whose Head or Governor is proclaimed Defender of the Faith. For we need to know the name in which we are being encouraged to sign agreements and promote values. Nevertheless, too often our social worldview at this level does not address our actual human need for accountability and authority, which is by no means neglected in Biblical and Christian thought.
CONFERRING AUTHORITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament lesson today recounts an ancient action of delegating part of Moses’ leadership burden to 70 elders of Israel. The function of the temporary ecstatic prophecy of the 70 was to serve as proof that they indeed now possessed a share of the same name and authority that Moses did, an authority that was conferred by the Lord. Two of these 70 were not present at the “inauguration” ceremony, yet the Spirit rested on them too and they prophesied inside the camp while the others prophesied at the ceremony. It was asked why the two who did not assemble with the other leaders-to-be should graduate, so to speak, when they missed the ceremony. In the same way our university and school graduates also graduate and in designated fields take up the name and the reputation of their school even if they missed their graduation ceremony, and that can provide something of an analogy. Simply, the two that went missing were still given the necessary authority. They acted and were from then on to act as leaders in the Lord’s name, in the way Moses himself did, and, indeed, in the name of Moses himself.
SIN AGAINST THE NAME OF CHRIST
Jesus utters a solemn woe in our Gospel reading to anybody who causes a little one who “believes on Him” to sin. The reason He is so severe here will relate to the episode in St. Mark’s Gospel recounted just before the Gospel passage today, which we considered last week, in which Jesus takes a child in his arms and says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Here He says it would be better for a person who caused any such child or vulnerable person to stumble in his reliance on His name to be permanently sunk in the sea tied to a millstone. The sin referred to means a sin against the person’s believing, a sin against the Name of Christ, a sin that has the effect of divorcing one of Christ’s “little ones”, as He puts it, from Him to whom that one is accountable. For that is no trifling matter. It’s a sin that treats the name and authority of the Lord as of no account. So to put someone on Hell’s road is to walk it oneself. Naming things and persons and societies by Christ has great power and importance in our common life, and that name dropped even lightly from our lips is treated with seriousness from on High because of its greatness. Never let us forget, as whole societies have forgotten, the centrality of God’s holy Name, or the authority with which in His Name His action is displayed among us in this age, and the great opportunity we now have as those named by Him in the days we have been given, to share through the Lord Jesus the power and the blessed authority of His holy Name.
BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. (1) Give some examples in modern times of names that indicate the meaning of what is named. (2) Give some examples of actions performed by someone in the name of another.
2. Does the “Name-bearing Action” paragraph suggest how someone can begin to perform Christian service? Explain how.
3. Does sickness give cause for a person to consider the Lordship of Christ over his life? Why? What is the lesson here?