Sunday, September 26, 2021
I have a friend who was visiting a church recently where the pastor introduced visitors during the announcement time, asking them to stand and so on. My friend has a more uncommon name that starts with an “m,” but the pastor got it wrong and introduced her as “Moira” to everyone, then kept calling her “Moira” after the worship service, “Thanks for joining us today, Moira!” She was too embarrassed to correct the pastor. Needless to say, I don’t think my friend will be back to that church. Names are important. It means a lot when someone we just meet remembers our name, and conversely, when people forget our names, it can be discouraging. We can feel like we aren’t important, even though we’ve all been in that pastor’s place, mixing up or forgetting someone’s name.
Today, we’re thinking in particular about the importance of Jesus’ name as the “name above all names,” and what it means for us to call ourselves Christian, what it means for us to bear the name of Christ. Jesus tells us in the gospel today that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” We are connected to Jesus the Christ through the name we all share as “Christian.” How do our words and actions reflect the powerful name of Christ as we go about our every day? Jesus tells us that how we use his name in words and deeds matters; how we represent Christ to others matters!
First of all, what makes Jesus’ name so powerful? Especially in the book of Acts, we hear about different people, Peter, Paul, other apostles and followers of Jesus, using the Lord’s name to heal and pray for others and so on. “Jesus” was a relatively common name at the time, meaning “God saves” in Hebrew, so to remind people that this was not just any ordinary Jesus, that this was the Messiah, the Christ, people in the book of Acts and in the early church would pray in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. A few weeks ago, we learned more of the background of what the particular title of Christ or Messiah means to us as Christians. These titles mean the same thing, remember. They tell the world that specifically Jesus Christ of Nazareth is God’s anointed and chosen one who will save us through his death and resurrection. This is the power of Jesus’ name as we try to share with others the power of his name. We try to point people back to this particular Jesus Christ of Nazareth, taking the focus off of ourselves.
I was baptized when I was two months old, so I have been walking around bearing the name of Christ as a Christian for a long time now, but when I started wearing a clergy collar as a young vicar in St. Louis, just 25 years old, I started to learn about what it means to bear the name of Christ in a more public and visible way. I remember being pretty uncomfortable and self-conscious at first. There is no hiding my Christian identity wearing a clerical collar. Because I have been a pastor in predominantly Roman Catholic communities, I am now used to people asking me things like, “Should I call you “father” or “mother” or…?” “What church are you from? Not Catholic I guess.” One time in a grocery store in October a young clerk thought I was wearing a Halloween costume. I have noticed the collar gives me an opportunity to share a little bit about my faith, as people will open up and say they are churchgoers, or they haven’t been to church and why they won’t go to church, or that they are some other religion entirely but admire female clergy, and so on. Bearing the name of Christ in wearing obviously Christian clothing I find helps me start what are usually positive conversations with people about faith.
As laypeople, you have the advantage of being anonymous Christians, but then the challenge becomes, how do we share in a non-threatening way that we are Christian when the opportunity arises? How do you let people know you’d be open to talking about your faith when you want to be able to do that and DON’T have the convenience of a collar? We could wear a cross necklace or a t-shirt that may have a Christian message on it, but sometimes we just have to bring it up in conversation: “At my church the other day…”or “when I was praying…” or even, “would it be OK if I prayed for you?” Or a simple, “God bless you” can be ways to invite a conversation and let others know you are a Christian.
In the gospel, Jesus tells us bearing his name could be as easy as receiving a drink of cold water from someone else, or sharing a cup of water with someone who is thirsty. And Jesus warns us about becoming stumbling blocks to others. Jesus wants those who are with him to be as many as possible, and we are called to help, not hinder, Christ’s mission! Sometimes, the best way to bear witness to Christ is to “do no harm.” So today, we might reflect not only on how we can be proactive to share our faith in Jesus, we can also think about ways we could try to not damage people’s view of Christians and of Christ because of our negative words and behaviors.
Our readings for today remind us that the power of God’s name through the Holy Spirit works beyond the walls of a church building and beyond ordained pastors! Eldad and Medad are not one of the seventy appointed elders, and yet they are able to prophesy and share God’s word. The letter to James instructs elders to anoint the sick in the name of the Lord – these elders were not necessarily priests. And in the gospel, someone who is not a follower of Jesus is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus says, “Do not stop him…Whoever is not against us is for us.” Part of what it means to bear the name of Christ is to have confidence in the power of Jesus’ name, and the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us and through other people despite our doubts and hesitancies. Sadly, it’s often the churchy people in Jesus’ time and still today that try to control who’s a part of the body of Christ and who isn’t, how things are done and who can represent Christ and who can’t. We hear pretty clearly in all of our scriptures this morning that we’re not in control of God, God is in control of us. And God, through his son Jesus, can work in much more expansive ways through other people than we might determine or expect.
In my husband Rich’s “ministry in context” site, which was a 10-hour-a-week congregational internship before we left to do a full-time internship year in seminary, the council president and chair of Rich’s supervisory committee was named “Jesus.” While he was Latino in background, his name was pronounced “Jesus,” not “Hey-soos.” For a whole year, we made many jokes about how Jesus our council president said such and such…and what Jesus did at church and so on. All joking aside, Jesus was an influential person of faith for Rich on his journey to becoming a pastor. He was a good example of someone who happened to be named Jesus but who relied on the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth working through him and with him in and outside of the church. Today, we remember all of us through our membership in the church in a way are named Jesus. We are the body of Christ, after all. We have been anointed in Christ’s name and given the power of the Holy Spirit. On internship, I got used to wearing my collar and I also got used to signing off my emails with “In Christ,” rather than “sincerely” or “best” or something more secular. I find it makes it clear who I believe myself to be, and who I believe you all to be alongside me. We are “in Christ,” together. We are working in Christ’s name, together, not by our own power or control, but by God’s amazing and unlimited power! What a holy privilege and opportunity it truly is to bear the name of Christ. Amen.