Sermons & services

Sermon for the Naming of Jesus

Published Tuesday 3rd Jan. 2023, at 10:46 a.m.

When I was watching the World Cup last year, one of the things that still surprised me was how many players were called Jesus! Gabriel Jesus plays for Arsenal and Brazil. Jesus Corona plays for FC Porto and Mexico. Jesus Navas plays for Seville and Spain. How can you call someone after the name of the Lord? Well, actually, we do the same thing in English. Jesus from the latin: Jesu. Jesu comes from the Greek Iesous. Iesous comes from the Hebrew, Yah’shua. We anglicise Yah’shua into the name Joshua. Jesus was not called Jesus: he was called Ya’shua. So if you know a Joshua, you know someone who has the same name as Jesus. And the name tells you everything you need to know about him because His name literally means: God saves. Who and what Jesus is is contained not only in his actions and words but in his very name. This is why St Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome, and St Peter in the Acts of the Apostles can say that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. To invoke the name of Jesus is to invoke the salvation that Jesus brings. To understand why we need to understand that in Judaism to invoke someone’s name was to somehow make that person present, to place oneself in the presence of that person. Jesus is the final Name of God. Jesus is "the Name which is above all other names" and it is written that "all beings should bend the knee at the Name of Jesus" (Phil. 2:9-10). In this Name devils are cast out (Luke 10:17), prayers are answered (John 14:13 14) and the lame are healed (Acts 3:6-7). The Name of Jesus is power. Which brings me to one of the most powerful prayers there is. I don’t preach enough about prayer: perhaps I don’t feel confident preaching about something I don’t feel I am very good at! But this prayer has been used by Christians for centuries. It grew out of the monks and nuns of the early church in the middle east, and was initially only really used by Christians in the eastern, Orthodox, churches. But when Orthodox Christians began to migrate west, particularly in the 20th century, Christians here began to encounter what is known as the Jesus Prayer. It’s very simple. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of [the living] God; have mercy on me, a sinner. The words of the Jesus Prayer are profoundly Scriptural: the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the road near Jericho, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:38); the ten lepers who "called to him, Jesus, Master, take pity on us' " (Luke 17:13); and the cry for mercy of the tax collector, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:14). It is a prayer in which we recognise our own sinfulness; a prayer in which we admit our desperate need of a Saviour. And that Saviour is – and can only be – Jesus, for “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”, as St Peter tells us in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s a prayer that fulfils Jesus command – repeated later by St Paul – that we should pray constantly. This is a prayer that you can do anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Literally. Walking down the street. On the tube. On the loo. In bed when you wake in the middle of the night. But also a prayer that we can give ten minutes to, every day, in deep, concentrated prayer: mulling over each word as we say it. It’s a prayer that contains within itself the entirely of the Good News of Jesus Christ: our sinfulness and our salvation through him and him alone. It’s a prayer through which we come into the Presence of Jesus.. As Lord. As Saviour. As brother. As friend. We must never be afraid to call Jesus by his name: because he is our friend and brother. We call our friends by their first name, and Jesus should be no different. We should tell him our deepest fears, our deepest desires, our deepest anxieties, our greatest joys. All these feelings we should wear on our hearts as we repeat the Jesus Prayer, over and over again. It’s not a mantra: words to distract the mind. It is a prayer and each word must be invoked and spoken with fervour and love. How often do we hear the name of Jesus blasphemed on the lips of those around us? But let us have the words of St Bernard on our lips: O Jesus, how consoling you are to those who invoke you! How good you are to those who seek you! What will you not be to those who find you! To invoke the Holy Name of Jesus is to be in His presence and for him to be in our presence: for us to be together. As friends. As his brothers and sisters. This is what it means when we pray that we will remain in Him and He in us. That we will be so one with Jesus in life, that we will continue to be one with Him in death. As our friend and brother and saviour. Yesterday, the Church lost one of its greatest theologians, the former Bishop of Rome, and Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. He once wrote about the reality of death, and said this: "Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness, we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out. Human beings live because they are loved and can love; and if love even penetrated the realm of death, then life also even reached there. In the hour of supreme solitude, we shall never be alone .. Those who keep the name of Jesus on their lips in this life – in love and friendship, reverence and awe – will be blessed with having his name on their lips for all eternity, as they sing with the angels and saints: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” Amen.