August 29, 2021
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
“Holy Father, protect them by your name, which you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I kept those you gave me safe in your name. I protected them and not one of them was destroyed, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
“But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so that they may be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
“Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world. I sanctify myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters in the family, and in the name of Jesus Christ; "what's in a name?" "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Do names really count for much? Rock singers names their children "Moon Unit" or "God"—who cares? Arguably one of the most intolerant organizations in America claims in its name to promote civil liberties. The United States of America were, for the first century or so of their existence anything but "united," except in name. Names, in fact, word in general are often so arbitrary that we are surprised when we find someone what actually means what he says and lives up to his name. Over 50 years ago a group of Christians came together and named their congregation of believers—even before there was a building to bear the name—Our Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church. They named themselves after one whose name they could trust: the name of Christ—the Name and the Word of God.
The night before Jesus was crucified, he sat with his disciples at his Last Supper, and he spoke a long prayer, which we call his High Priestly Prayer, and which is recorded for our edification in John's gospel. The lesson before us today is a portion of that prayer. In it we note the earnestness of our Shepherd and Savior: he's going back to the Father, but he wants to ensure that his followers won't fall victim to the despair of the world as soon as he's no longer there—visibly—to guide and protect them.
He asks his Father to protect his disciples, us, by his name, so that they may be one, as Father and the Son are one.
Now, a lot of well-meaning Christians, and many not-so-well-meaning unbelievers have used this verse to criticize us for our divisions. Look at how many different denominations are out there! Hundreds, and more cropping up every day. At least, that's how it used to be. Now, churches are drawing up agreements with each other, entering into unions and federations and saying that the doctrinal differences don't matter as long as we can all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" and in the name of "oneness in Christ" allow false prophets to preach from our pulpits and teach our children.
That's not the kind of unity Jesus was talking about—because, friends, that's not unity at all. He wants us to be one as he and the Father are one—and they are one because they agree in everything. Only in true agreement, not "agreeing to disagree," can there be real harmony and real peace.
We can waste as much ink as we want on nominal "agreements," but we'll never be one as long as men and women among us teach falsely, and represent themselves, or the name of Christ, falsely.
Now, we do it, too, my friends. Not on paper—read through This We Believe or Positively Lutheran and you'll find nothing in either document that contradicts the Word of God. But I'm not talking about pen and ink. Look instead at your lives. You bear the name of Christ, der Christian, yet how many times have you sullied that name in the past week, or day, or hour? And your sins against the name of Christ are not only sins of action, but sins of inaction, as we say: "the evil I have done, and the good I have left undone." How much good could you have done in the name of Jesus in the past week, day, or hour—and how much did you actually do? What word of comfort was left unsaid, instead replaced by sarcasm or indifference? What helping hand remained slack in your pocket?
When we examine ourselves honestly—and I pray you will do so before you approach the Lord's Table today—we must admit that we do not deserve the name we bear. Yet our Lord and Shepherd has given it to us nevertheless. He gave us his name when he made us his children through Baptism by water and the Word, or when he converted an adult's heart of stone with the comforting Word of the gospel.
And we who bear his name are protected by his name. Do you wonder what Jesus means by that, my friends? How can we be protected by a name—when, in fact, it often seems this name brings us more grief and suffering? Catechism review time, again. What is the name of God? It is not only the name and titles he bears, nor is it merely his attributes that he has revealed to us, it is everything he had done to save us. Think about it—when you remember the Statue of Liberty, what do you remember? Her title "Lady Liberty," sure. Her attributes, also – presented by the French in 1876, built of steel and copper, and so on, standing in New York harbor. Or perhaps you remember that it was she who welcomed many of your ancestors as they arrived in the United States, seeking freedom and opportunity?
That is how you should understand the name of God, dear Christians. He is the great I AM; he is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal; but most important of all he is the God who saved you: the Father who sent to you his only Son; the Son who lives, died, rose and ascended so he might win you forgiveness of sin and freedom from death and hell; the Holy Spirit who comes into your hearts and sanctifies you through the Word. You who bear THAT name, ARE protected from the world and the devil…
…protected by the truth. God's Word is that truth—it tells sinners that they have a Savior from sin. Not just unbelieving sinners, but believing sinners who have failed to live up to the name of Christ are reminded that they are forgiven because he never failed to live up to his name, and he did not turn aside from the path to the cross. Moreover, he has risen from the dead so we who bear his name can remain assured that our hope is not in vain—he lives, and so we live. We live—in the world, but not of the world, because our home is in heaven.
It can no longer be amazing to us that this simple truth given in God's Word can do such miraculous things, softening hearts of stone, strengthening and protecting hearts beleaguered by sin and sorrow, because we know the power of God, and the name of God, are behind it.
The Father answered his Son's prayer—as he does all the prayers of his faithful, my friends. Now let God use you to answer that prayer. Open your Bible; spend time with it; cherish it, and the Name and the Word of God that you find revealed therein will protect you and keep you in faith in Jesus, until you praise his name in heaven.
To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with us, to him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage VersionTM (EHVTM) copyright © 2016 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved.
Lectionary listings from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal © 1993 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.