A sermon for Easter 7.
‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. In old money, that’s the Sunday after Ascension Day. And the themes of Ascension Day continue to echo through the readings we have heard this morning. The power and authority of Jesus are found in both of our readings this morning. In three stories, we hear of the power of God – the power of God to free a woman being used; the power of God to break open a prison; the power of God to unite us with God and reveal his glory. In all three we also see the power of the name of Jesus – it is in the name of Jesus that Paul commands the spirit to leave the slave-girl; Paul and Silas tell their jailor that he must believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved; and Jesus tells his Father that he has ‘made your name known to them’.
The Ascension Day theme of Jesus sitting at the right hand of power continues in our readings this morning in the form of the power of the name of Jesus. In many ways, it is through the power of the name of Jesus that we experience, and have access to, the power of the Ascended Lord. ‘I order you in the name of the Jesus Christ’ says Paul. When was the last time that you said something like that? I want to suggest this morning that we too should command powers and spirits in the name of the Lord Jesus. We too have access to the power that Paul taps when he orders the spirit possessing the slave-girl in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.
But if that sounds exciting or scary or just alien to your experience of the life of faith, perhaps we should begin by looking at just what the power of the name of Jesus is. And let’s begin with Jesus himself, and his prayer, part of which we have as our Gospel reading this morning. The whole of chapter 17 of St John’s Gospel is given up to one long prayer of Jesus. It is a prayer that he offers for his disciples, and those who will come to believe in him through them. It is a prayer offered at the last supper, when Jesus is preparing for his death. It is a prayer that circles around and around the word glory. The prayer begins before the passage we heard read this morning, with Jesus asking ‘Father, the moment has come, glorify your son so that your son may glorify you’ (John 17.1). In this morning’s Gospel it continues with Jesus praying that ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them’ and later that ‘Father I desire that those whom you have given me may be with me where I am, to see my glory’. The power of the name of Jesus is intimately related to the glory of Jesus, and that glory is seen above all when he is crucified.
Look around this cathedral and you will see many crosses. Our procession is led by one – quite literally we follow the cross. The danger is that in all this talk of glory, and in the beauty of some of the crosses that decorate our churches, we miss the basic meaning that the cross is the shape of the power of Jesus. The glory and the power of Jesus is the glory and power of the cross, the glory and power of love and faithfulness that we see in the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. To share in this power is to share in the love and faithfulness of Jesus. And that can lead us to suffering as well.
Let’s pause for a moment and catch up with ourselves. We are thinking this morning about the power of the name of Jesus that we see in Paul’s encounter with a slave-girl in Philippi. Through looking at Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel reading, we have found that the power of Jesus’ name is rooted, not in super-powers or some easy miracle, but in the self-giving love and faithfulness of Jesus that took him to the cross. The power of the name of Jesus is the power of love and faithfulness to endure, even through suffering and death, and to make that love and faithfulness available to others. This is our vantage point, the place of insight that our readings this morning offer us. And from this vantage point, I want to suggest three ways in which we can and we do share in the power of the name of Jesus.
The first way in which we share in the power of the name of Jesus is in prayer. We end our prayers ‘in the name of Jesus’, following Jesus own teaching to ask in his name. But his is not a magic formula, or a kind of special phrase that makes God sit up and listen. Rather it is a reflection of the way that in prayer we share in the life of Jesus and his Father. In prayer we bring ourselves, or rather we are brought, into the midst of the life of God. We share in the love of the Father for Jesus and of Jesus for his Father, just as Jesus prayed ‘so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them’. Prayer is where we are united to God through Jesus. The love and faithfulness of Jesus, which we see in the cross, is the love and faithfulness of God. In prayer is becomes our love and faithfulness. Here is our unity, for which Jesus prays. Christian unity is not a matter of meetings and statements of Popes and Archbishops. These have their place, but fundamentally, the unity of Christians is found in prayer. Today we say farewell to Patrick who has been part of the life of this Cathedral for nine months. In the love and faithfulness of God, we pray for Patrick and know that despite our separation we are united with him because we are all united to Jesus. In the power of the name of Jesus, Patrick remains part of our life and we remain part of his life. Here is the root of the unity of Christians – in being united to Jesus and his Father in prayer.
So to share in the power of the name of Jesus is to pray. We also share in the power of the name of Jesus as we evangelise, as we share our faith with others. Paul and Silas share their faith with their Jailer and he, and his whole household, come to believe. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ they tell him. What the book of Acts shows us here very clearly is that the power of God comes from the faithful and self-giving love that we see in Jesus. There was great power in the earthquake that broke the prison open. But Paul and Silas do not use this as an opportunity to escape. Their jailor was responsible for them, and losing a prison-full of captives would cost him dearly. The loss of his livelihood, absolutely. Flogging, certainly, and possibly worse. But then he finds Paul and Silas sitting there, still in his prison. There is no such thing as easy evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the life of Jesus with others, and that is a costly self-giving love, not a cheap three point plan. We share in the power of the name of Jesus, we share in his self-giving love, we share that life and love with others often in costly ways.
So to share in the power of the name of Jesus is to pray and to share our faith. And finally, we share in the power of Jesus name as we bring freedom to our world. This is where we began with Paul commending the spirit of divination to leave the slave-girl. The slave-girl, possessed by the spirit and possessed by her owners, is freed by Paul’s use of the name of Jesus. This does not please everyone, and those who had been making money from the girl stir things up so that Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison. There are echoes of the suffering of Jesus even here. But in this encounter, we do see the power of the name of Jesus in bringing freedom. As we begin Christian Aid Week, we acknowledge that there are many people in our world who still need the freedom that comes from the power of the name of Jesus. With your news sheet this week, you have also received a flier about the IF campaign, a campaign that says there is enough food for everyone in this world, IF we can stop those profiting from the poorest by dodging tax, trading unfairly, forcing people off their land and so on. There will be a big event in Hyde Park on Saturday 8th June, following a Hunger Summit here in the Cathedral on Friday 7th. Come and be part of these events. It would be good to have a contingent of folk from Derby Cathedral in London on 8th June, and I think I can fairly safely say that you won’t finish the day in prison. Well, not unless you do something else as well. Come and call for freedom and justice for the poorest in our world in the power of the name of Jesus.
We are, like Paul, to speak in the power of the name of Jesus. To do so is to share in the self-giving love and faithfulness that we see in the cross of Jesus. We speak in Jesus name, we share in his love, in our prayers, in sharing our faith and in bringing freedom and justice to our world. In all that we do, let us share in this power, this love, this mission. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Given at Derby Cathedral. 12.5.13.