Saturday, June 20, 2015

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup                                                6/21/15

3rd sermon in the series Praise the Lord with Symbols

Acts 3-4:22, Philippians 2:6-11

There is power in the name.   We see this all of the time.  When I was dating my wife, we were over mother in law’s house when she placed on the table a bottle of catsup.  In her mind, this was simply a cheaper alternative to a condiment that she did not feel vital to family palate.  I, on the other hand, thought the whole event almost treasonous :).  The only ketchup is Heinz.  Sure, there might be other names on bottles, but those aren’t really ketchup.  Heinz is the only ketchup.  There is power in a name, and we see this from ketchup bottles to cars to any variety of products we use and give allegiance to.

Human beings like names.  It goes way back in our story.  God gave Adam the job of naming the animals. 

The LORD God brought the animals to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.

This surely involved time and effort for observation and comparison.  An appropriate name aligned with characteristics.   In Scripture, the names of children were sometimes given because of early behaviors.  Sometimes in Scripture, people were given new names to match the call of God upon their lives. 

Today, not everyone always gives such care to naming a child.  I will often talk with people about what their name means.  Often, people do not know.

Do you know what your name means?  Do you know why you were given that name?

Today, we celebrate the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus means “salvation”.  Christ is a title, not the last name of the Lord.  Christ is the Greek word for Messiah.  The name of Jesus makes interesting appearances in this place.  His name is read each week from Scripture, and liturgy.  We pray in Jesus name.  Our hymns often praise Jesus.  But there is also some less known ways the name of Jesus appears in the sanctuary.

This summer, we are praising the Lord with symbols.  A symbol is a visible sign of something invisible.  We talked of bread and wine, symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and his presence at the table.  We have talked of the sanctuary, which points us to the House of God.  Today, we talk about the letters that appear on some of the furnishings of the sanctuary.  These letters that form words are Christograms, abbreviations for the name of Jesus.  There are four popular Christograms.

  1. A&Z, or in the more familiar Greek:  Alpha and Omega.  This is one of the names of Jesus Christ that describes his eternal nature.  He is the first and the last.
  2. INRI, which is Latin abbreviation of the phrase Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  This phrase is used mockingly by Pontius Pilate and his soldiers, as they ascribe the name on wood to the top of the cross.  But it is also used by the Magi, as they search for Jesus. 
  3. IHS is the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek.  A generation or two ago, it became popular to identify this phrase as In His Service, but that is not what the letters mean (though it isn’t wrong in spirit). 
  4. XP, or Chi Rho, which is the first 3 letters in Greek of Christ.  The Chi is an X and the Rho similar to an English P were transposed upon one another to make an early version of a Cross.  In fact, this symbol was carved into the early tombs to show believers where Christians were buried, or where a Christian home was for those needing hospitality.   As a quick side, Chi (X) is why I never was one to get to upset about the term “X-mas”.  Ironically, this shortening keeps Christ in the holiday, at least via Greek letters.
And so on a paramount, or a communion table, these letters, A&Z, INRI, HIS and XP all speak to the name of Jesus.  They call upon important languages in the history of the church:  Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus, almost like the role English plays in today’s world.  Latin, the Roman language, which survives via the Catholic church.

These letters remind us of important words, and the power of THE preeminent name in history:  Jesus.  There is power in his name.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks to the powerful name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the name above every name.  The name of Jesus is used by God in human flesh.  To his name we bow; heaven bows, earth bows, under the earth bows.  And if we don’t bow now, we will someday.  We bow and we declare the name of Jesus Christ as Lord.  God the Father is glorified by this.

In the Acts reading, it is fascinating how many times the word “name” appears.  Our story starts out with Peter and John going to the temple for the time of prayer.  This is the background to the healing.  This is a wonderful and simple phrase, easily glanced over.  They were walking to prayer time when they were used to bring healing.  This sentence is the perfect blend of the mundane and the spiritual.  This routine of walking to the temple allowed them to see a need which the name of Jesus could heal.

And so when this man who was crippled called out, hoping for a donation, the two disciples stopped their walking to deal as authentically with this man as they knew how:  (3:6) In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.

And the man walked. He became strong, instantly. Jumping to his feet, he walked some more and jumped some more, and he praised God.  And all this walking and jumping and praising caused a little stir.  People stopped to look:  Wasn’t that?  No, it couldn’t be.  It is.  And so the people join in the praise and wonder and amazement regarding this strong name of Jesus Christ.  Approximately two thousand people are converted that day (compare 3:41, 3:47 and 4:4).

Why does this surprise you?  That is Peter and John’s question to those who saw the miracle.  It is also a good question for you and I.  Why does this surprise you?  The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had glorified Jesus.  God had raised him from the dead.  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (3:16).

The religious establishment understands the complexity of this power.  (4:7) “By what power or what name did you do this?”

The unschooled, ordinary disciples answer by the power of the Holy Spirit. (4:10) It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed”

(4:12) Jesus is the name of salvation.  It means salvation.  He is salvation.  He is the only salvation.  There is no other name given to human beings by which we can be saved.  This is one powerful name.

Those with some power, or power limited by time, command the two not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (4:17-18).  But really, when you have seen the power of Jesus Christ, how small and temporal do these empty threats seem.  The disciples reply that they can discuss amongst themselves who should be obeyed:  them or God.  Peter and John had seen and heard the powerful name of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else compared.

Why does this matter?  These letters in Greek and Latin, these stories of disciples calling upon their Lord’s name, with the miraculous happening as a result:  what does it mean for us?  What does the name of Jesus matter in 2015?

  1. The name of Jesus is the primary reason for the existence of the church.  You have gathered in a sanctuary today.  You have done so because you find support in community, because you want to pray, or sing, or talk or listen.  You come because you felt you should, or you needed to, or you wanted to.  We can do good things together.  We can reach out with a message and help people.  This is all good.  But all of this is secondary to the most important thing:  we gather to praise the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus taught his disciples, “Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20).
  2. We bear Christ’s name.  We might use some other names to describe ourselves:  disciples, believers, faithful, Presbyterian, spiritual, religious.  But first and foremost, we are Christians.  We take Christ’s name, because we belong to him.  We are to live to tell about his name.  The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26).
  3. Jesus name is the source of our faith.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to the beggar”.   Our faith isn’t in happiness, or entertainment, or experiences, or history.  Our faith is in the name of Jesus Christ.
  4. The name of Jesus will endure forever.  This is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  The one who has the Son has life, the one who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:11-13)
The name of Jesus is the source of power for our life before God.  I want to offer some caution though, as we conclude this sermon:  The name of Jesus is not a magic trick.  We should handle it with respect and not casually.  Certainly, we should not take the Lord’s name in vain.  But also, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we say his name three times and tap our toes, that everything bad will go away or we’ll get everything we want.  When we ask in the name of Jesus for something, we should believe in his name, and be seeking his name and glory through our request.  In the Book of Acts, there is a story of caution for those who feel the name of the Lord can be mocked, misused or manipulated:

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.   Acts 19:11-20

As Jesus taught his disciples, “hallowed by Thy name”.   I hope you find the meaning and story of your name, both the name given to you by your parents, but also the name given to you by the Lord.  The name of Jesus Christ, is strong, and good, and will endure forever.  May we love this name, and cherish it, and defend it, because we will all answer to it:  For those who love the name of Jesus, bowing before him to declare him Lord is truly good news, and a good future, sure and certain.

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