Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr
April 15, 2018
Acts 3:16, N.T.: Acts 3:12-19, Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
The name, Jesus. What is there about Jesus Christ’s name that’s offends some and blesses others? Debate over using Jesus’ name has removed mention of Him from much of public life. It has been limited to Church sanctuaries and homes. It shocks us to find His name uttered in public venues.
On Easter Day of 1993, Bernard Langer won the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Langer was interviewed following his four-stroke victory over Chip Beck. He was grateful to win his second Masters. But Langer claimed his Masters’ win was secondary to a greater purpose.
Langer said to a live television audience, “It’s wonderful to win the greatest tournament in the world. But it means more to win on Easter Sunday – to celebrate the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ . . . Basically, I want to thank God for being in this place.”
Langer publicly referred to Jesus Christ on a live broadcast. Bernard Langer, on one of the world’s largest stages, humbly honored Jesus Christ.
Debate over Jesus’ name has affected public prayer by Christian clergy. The public no longer allows our Lord’s name to be spoken without complaining. I once was asked by the president of our swim club in Plum to give a prayer prior to the swim club’s annual banquet. I prayed in Jesus’ name. A member of the club who was Jewish complained to the clubs’ board. I was told not to use Jesus name when I prayed the following year. The person who told me was the board’s president, who was an elder on the Session of the church I served.
When preachers refer to Jesus Christ in public prayers, they often present His name as a personal reference. “This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” We’re conditioned not to offend those in the audience who don’t want a pray-er to invoke Jesus Christ’s name on their behalf. Most clergy simply resort to praying to God. It’s less controversial. What happens in public to clergy pray-ers also happens in Church life.
More than once did Pittsburgh Presbytery hear Rev. Robert Humes complain during Presbytery’s meeting that Jesus Christ’s name was absent from Presbytery’s discussions. Bob made it a point to raise this at virtually every Presbytery meeting for almost eight years. Presbytery reaction to his concern was at first shock and dismay. Then, it became embarrassment. Finally, many presbyters thought he was a nuisance. Some of us who were Bob’s friends were asked to talk with Bob to let up on his complaining. But on he persisted.
Why? Because nothing changed. Jesus Christ’s name was avoided by presbyters as the source for decision-making. Christ’s name was not invoked as the power to save. Jesus Christ was not openly admitted as the reason for repentance. In fact, repentance was another one of those words rarely heard in Presbytery – unless you were a minister being tried for misconduct.
Being one of the younger ministers in Presbytery when Mr. Humes made this complaint, I asked my older colleagues what they thought.
Some said, “We take it for granted that when we talk about God, we’re talking about Jesus.” Being too young to know better, I pushed a little farther to gain more understanding. I asked, “But Jews and Muslims believe in one God. Shouldn’t we use Jesus’ name a little more than it seems we do?”
Others admitted before I got to my question, “Bob Humes has a point. He’s pushing me to think about how much I use Jesus’ name.” To this response I asked another question to the one I asked of those who assumed we took Jesus’ name for granted.
“What do you think it means that Jesus’ name isn’t used in Presbytery?”
My clergy peers’ answers to these questions varied. It showed the diversity in more than opinion across presbytery’s clergy. It showed disagreement over who Jesus is and what is the importance of using His name. This has an impact on what you, the members of congregations, do with the name of Jesus.
The question before us isn’t whether or not presbyters use Jesus Christ’s name, or even why they do or don’t use Jesus’ name. The fact His name is not universally used to describe God’s work by Christian clergy is enough of an indicator that many devoted Christians don’t see the value of using His name.
The question before us this morning is whether or not you believe there is power in His name. Throughout the Book of Acts the Apostles invoked the name of Jesus Christ to do remarkable miracles. They indicated the remarkable works they did were not from themselves. They attributed the miraculous things they could do to one thing – the power that exists in Jesus Christ’s name.
There’s universal agreement in the Book of Acts and the Apostle Paul’s letters the Apostles weren’t responsible for their remarkable work. They knew better than to take credit for the miraculous events the public was seeing.
There is also universal agreement in the Book of Acts, as well as in Paul’s letters that while all power rests in God the Creator, who raised Jesus from the dead – what was responsible for new life, healings of the diseased, raising from the dead, was the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ’s name – alone – was the reason people were flocking to the Church. Jesus Christ’s name – alone – was the link between different changes of heart among non-believers to join the Church. Jesus Christ’s name – alone – evoked changes of mind among skeptics and antagonists to join the Church. Jesus Christ’s name and His name only brought people together in one faith, one hope, one baptism, under one God who is above all, in all and through all.
Nothing else was responsible for the Church’s growth amid persecution than Jesus’ name. The Church grew amid fierce religious competition by the power in Jesus’ name. The Church’s became a major force in the world despite the ambition of government leaders who used death to stay in power.
The New Testament repeatedly states neither Peter, Paul, James and John – nor Andrew, Timothy, Barnabas, Matthew, or Thomas were responsible for unleashing the power of hope that began the Church and empowered the Church.
The Apostles knew better than to take credit for themselves that which Christ’s name was doing among them. They would have been ashamed to take credit for planning and organizing the Church’s growth. They would have been mortified to think that anyone who joined the Church joined it because of their preaching, their choral singing, their friendliness, their audio visual technology, their sound system, or their church programs.
The Apostles would have thought it unbelievable that the time of worship, the style of worship, air conditioning in the sanctuary, or the size or availability of a parking lot were reasons for people coming to Church. Neither would they have considered a website or a mailing campaign as necessary for Church growth.
It was, is, and always will be, Jesus Christ’s name that grows the Church.
Where Christ’s name is invoked, the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed to form the Church. Where men, women, and children believe in the power that is in Jesus Christ’s name – new hope, new life, a new world dawns! They freely offer the power that saves in a world powerless to find hope.
Friends, we do not need court permission to use Christ’s name. Neither do we need political correctness to validate Jesus’ name. Part of the reason Christ’s name is avoided, or out rightly prohibited, is because of its power to offer new life that is independent from government control or economic prosperity.
Jesus’ name short-circuits promises of a better future made by politicians, scientists, and technology CEOs. Jesus’ name gives anyone immediate ability to start a new life when intellectuals feed us theories that we’re biologically determined or environmentally conditioned. Jesus’ name frees us from being perpetual victims to a hostile world. Jesus’ name restores our vision of an abundant life that depends only on God – not some human genius.
Bernard Langer won the Masters eight years earlier than his 1993 Easter victory at Augusta. He had won the Masters eight years earlier. But he felt empty.
A week after he first won at Augusta, the number one ranked golfer in the world was invited to a Bible study. There, he was introduced by other world class golfers to Jesus Christ. His life changed that night and it wasn’t from wearing the coveted Green Jacket of the Masters.
From the moment Bernard Langer first learned the power in Jesus’ name, he aligned his life with that of Jesus Christ. He recognized that Jesus Christ’s name had transformed his life. And in 1993, he told the world the inspiration to his success – the name of Jesus Christ!
What is needed around Bellevue United Presbyterian Church is more association by all of us with Jesus’ name. We are facing great challenges to our faith that can be overcome by the power in Jesus’ name if we begin to invoke that power by referring to Him more often.
Each of us needs to consider more deeply how Jesus Christ is working in our lives and begin to self-consciously refer to Him as our daily inspiration. Each of us needs to employ Jesus’ name in our conversations as the guidance for decision-making, not because we’re afraid we’re in trouble but because we know in His name is new life!
The future of this congregation and every congregation is closely linked to the freedom by which we turn to Jesus’ name as the power that infuses us with new life. To Jesus, precious Jesus, we dedicate all that we are, and all that we are to be. Help us Lord Jesus, to rise above our anxieties and worries about the future and fill us with that spiritual power in which all things are possible!