A sermon for Easter 4 with baptism – St Mary’s Whitkirk
“It begins, I suppose, with…a person called – but it’s incredible you don’t know his name…”
“Well I don’t like sayin’ the name…no one does”
“Gulpin’ gargoyles Harry, People are still scared…”
Many of you will have recognised a passage from the Harry Potter series. From later in that book – here’s Professor Dumbledore’s take on the subject…“Call him Voldemort Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself.”
There is something very powerful about names…they are much more than just labels. Names carry whole identities, whole lives. In the Harry Potter stories, Wizards are afraid to speak the name of the dark wizard Voldemort because of the horrors they lived through when he was powerful. They fear that even to say his name aloud might somehow bring him back. Perhaps his name is all the more powerful because it wasn’t given by his parents but chosen by Voldemort to say something about himself, to inspire fear.
In the Old Testament God’s name is also a self-revelation, not a human label. “I AM WHO I AM”, says God to Moses…paradoxically a name that isn’t really a name…a name that reveals the total otherness of God. And, as with Voldemort, the Jews avoided saying God’s name. Not of course because of his evil actions, but to protect themselves from the awesome power somehow residing in the name itself.
In our reading from Acts, Peter and John, who have just healed a lame man, are asked by the religious rulers not how, but “by what name did you do this?” In other words – where’s your power coming from?
Peter answers, “This man is standing before you in good health in the name of Jesus Christ…there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Which made me think…what is it about the name Jesus Christ…?
It means saviour/rescuer/healer. Again it’s not a label – but a revelation given by the angel to Mary. And when Peter uses the name Jesus Christ – it’s more than just a name, it somehow holds within it the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…the salvation Jesus brings.
The disciples found that this name holds enormous power. But it isn’t the power of fear, invested in the name Voldemort by murders and torture, nor yet is it quite the awe-inspiring, overwhelming, incomprehensible power of the name of God encountered in the Old Testament.
As always, Jesus demands a new understanding…this time a new understanding of power. In the passage from Acts, when Peter speaks of Jesus, he uses passive verbs: things are done to Jesus…the authorities crucified him and God raised him. The power of Jesus’ name is the power of one totally obedient to God, willing to be wherever God places him – whatever the consequences, so that God’s power can work through him.
As Paul wrote in Philippians, “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself…became obedient even to death on a cross…therefore God gave him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend.”
And the power of that name is, amazingly, available to Jesus’ disciples. By using his name, they can heal as he healed.
Which means I can’t avoid the question ‘What about now? What about us?’
Dramatic healing in the power of Jesus’ name is not something I’ve been brave enough to try…if I’m honest it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with. But I know that others have experienced it, that I should entertain the possibility.
And I know that just before a difficult funeral, or a tricky conversation, repeating the name of Jesus Christ somehow gives me the resources to complete something I couldn’t do in my own strength. When I’m willing to acknowledge that I have no power – the power of Jesus can, amazingly, work through me.
I also know that when I forget for a while that I act in the name of Jesus Christ, I am, frankly, just less Christian.
So when we begin our worship, as we do most Sundays “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” this is not just a kind of settling down phrase. Perhaps it is more a putting aside of our own power so the power of God can work through us. Not words to be said lightly…words to be said with awe, and in the expectation that something will happen.
This morning I have the privilege of baptising Barry. Names are important in baptisms. Often we baptise babies, perhaps given a special name in the hope they will live up to it.
Apparently Barry means ‘fair-haired’ or ‘spear’…not sure what your parents might have been hoping for there…or perhaps there was a Barry they admired…Barry Manilow fans perhaps?…or maybe they just liked the name.
It no longer really matters, because the name now holds all that you have become. Your growing up, your work with young people, your career, your love for Hannah – and hers for you. I gather you’re taking an extra name in recognition of your family – the importance of where you’ve come from.
In a moment, though Barry will be baptised ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. In part that baptism is a public offering of all that he already is, to God. He is placing his life in God’s hands – in the trust that God will use that life. He is recognising that he is greater in the name of Jesus Christ, than he is just as Barry.
Having a baptism in our parish Eucharist is also a timely reminder to the rest of us that we were baptised, we meet each week, we are sent out in the name of Jesus Christ.
…a reminder that the power of Jesus’ name is available to us – if we are willing to admit our own powerlessness, and allow the power of God to work through us.