Matthew 18.15-20 (compare with John 14.13-14)
What’s in a name?
In the name of Jesus. In the NAME of Jesus. In some churches, you’ll hear that phrase used over and over again – all through the prayers they say. It’s a kind of magic phrase which some have come to believe will make real whatever the prayer is about. ‘Father God we pray for wealth and health, in the NAME of Jesus. Abracadabra!’
But is this what Jesus meant for us to do when he taught, in John’s Gospel, that whatever you ask in his name he will do. Or, as we heard in today’s Gospel, ‘whenever two or three gather IN MY NAME I am there with them.
What does it mean to pray, or gather, in the name of Jesus?
In western culture, names are thrown around without a great deal of thought. We tend to give names to children because we like the sound of them, or because they are the name of a much loved family member. (Or in the case of the Brombley family, apparently, because girls names start with ‘s’, and boys names start with ‘f’. That’s right, isn’t it, Sarah, Summer, Sky. And Freddie and Frankie?!)
In older times, parents would choose names which they hoped would be worked out in the behaviour of the child as it grew. So, names like Grace, Chastity or Patience were especially popular in Victorian times. The stained glass windows in our choir stalls have three lovely ladies in them, called Faith, Hope and Charity.
A few years ago, I was accosted in the churchyard by a dear lady of somewhat dubious mental health. She harangued me for quite a while about the fact that we don’t, in fact, call Jesus by his proper name. Actually, she was right. The name he was given was in fact ‘Yeshua’ – which is anglicised to Joshua. Over time, through translations from Aramaic into Greek then into English, the consonants and vowels got changed – leaving us with the modern rendering of his name: Jesus. Yeshua is what Jesus would have heard when his mother called him for his dinner. And it means ‘God saves’.
Which makes Jesus an extraordinary name for a child to be given, because there was an expectation that he would live up to the name he was given and go on to genuinely save people from their sins.
There’s no mention in the bible of Jesus having a surname, but that isn’t hugely surprising. At the time Jesus lived, an individual would be known by their given name, and then perhaps the place they were from. Jesus of Nazareth would be good example. Perhaps their occupation - like Matthew the Tax Collector; or maybe who their father was, like James son of Zebedee. What is certain is that Jesus’ surname wasn’t ‘Christ’. No-one approaching him in the street would have said ‘Good morning, Mr Christ’. That wasn’t his surname – but rather it is a Title…a word which means ‘saviour’. So, if you like, you can call Jesus Christ ‘Yeshua Saviour’. Certainly the old lady in the churchyard would be much happier if you did!
Giving people a title is another way of renaming them, to describe something about them. Ken Dodd, of blessed memory, sometimes referred to himself as the ‘Chief Tickler of Britain’. And then there are the plan daft titles which are creeping into the world of work. Recently I heard of someone called the ‘Chief Wizard of Light Bulb Moments’. Turns out he was a Marketing Director. And I rather like the title of ‘Grand Master of Underlings’…which turns out to be a Deputy Manager!
There is one title, however, that we can all aspire to because of Yeshua Saviour – Jesus Christ. The whole point of Jesus living among us was to show us what God is like. Jesus wanted us to see God differently than how he has been viewed in the past. Jesus showed us that God wasn’t a distant deity, perched on a mountain-top or a cloud, viewing the world from a distance. Instead, Jesus gave God a new title – the title of Father…or, actually, the title ‘Abba’ – which means ‘Daddy’. Jesus, born as a child himself, invites us to view God as a parental figure…the Daddy, or the Mummy, who cares about their children. And so, we are offered a new title – the title of Child of God.
I’ve had many names and titles throughout my life – Tom, Dad, Grandad, Rector, Reverend, Canon. Idiot. But the one which matters most to me is the simplest of all, the one modelled by the baby in the manger…child of God.
I am Tom, child of God.
And Sandra is a child of God.
And Lucas is a child of God.
And everyone here…we are all children of God.
That title is one which every member of the human race can claim. We are all God’s children. The only choice we have to make is whether we choose to be part of the family of God as well.
And if we do, if we choose to bind our self to the names of God, and especially to the name of Jesus Christ, then we will surely desire to live and to pray in the ways that he lived and prayed. To pray, or to gather, in the NAME of Jesus, means to align ourselves to Jesus’ will for the world – revealed to us in the Scriptures.
What was his will? We see it worked out in his prayers, and in his teaching. We willed that we should Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He willed that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. He willed that all his followers should be one, and that the hungry would be fed, the prisoners cared for, the sick healed. He willed that the whole community of people who call themselves after Christ – the Christians – would bear his light to the world. By our actions, by our generosity, by our commitment to our community, by our prayers…all of us bent towards the transformation of the world in which we live.
Now that’s a prayer for which we can pray, and for which we can gather, in the name of Jesus!