Taking God’s Name

Badges, labels and trademarks are key tools in marking today. We have all become familiar with the logos of large organisations businesses which have become household names. As soon as we see their logo or mark on a product we instantly recognise where it has come from and either trust or reject it based on our view of that company.
Cars which carry a prancing horse or the spirit of ecstasy are instantly recognised by those in the know as either a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce. One has a reputation for speed and the other for comfort. Both are marks of high quality and people who have the money to buy such cars will rightly expect the products to perform in line with the reputation of the manufacturers. A Ferrari which does not go fast around corners or a Rolls Royce which shakes up the champagne and oysters you had for lunch are not the real deal! This applies for many other products in the shops. We will expect more of the premium brands than the cheap and cheerful. If things don’t live up to the reputation of their brand, we feel cheated. Companies need to be careful to ensure that the quality of their products maintains their reputation. That’s why firms are very ready to spot anyone steeling their slogans and brand names to fraudulently market inferior goods.
The principle transfers to the arena of ideas and beliefs. We might look back to the time of the Iraq war in 2003. Many people in the Labour Party and in the country at large who disagreed with our involvement in the invasion of Iraq cried: ‘not in my name.’ The same words have been voiced by prominent peaceful Muslims in the wake of the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester: ‘Not in my name.’
Today’s gospel reading has familiar words: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 28. 19) These words, which Matthew records from the lips of Jesus, have been and remain profoundly significant for the life of the church. They form the mandate from Jesus to baptise. They determine how we do baptism; that it is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. While a baptism carried out by a Pentecostal Church of an adult by immersion in the sea may look very different from the baby held over the font by the Anglican or Roman Catholic priest, the same words will be used. It will be conducted with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In Christian ‘initiation’ as it is known, people are given the badge, the name, the mark of a God who we worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whether that initiation takes place early in life at the font with parents and godparents to guide nurture and pray for that young life to be born again into God’s kingdom or when someone is old enough to make their own profession of faith, those who are baptised still bear the name of the trinitarian God. That is important, because as we have seen, if someone or something carries a particular name or mark, certain things are expected of it.
Baptism then is not just about water and repentance or saying sorry. That was true of those who came John the Baptist for baptism but Christian baptism is more than that. When Paul came to Ephesus, he found some believers and asked them: ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ (Acts 19.2) They tell Paul that they did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul then asks them about their baptism and they tell him that it was ‘John’s baptism’. They are then baptised in the name of Jesus and after Paul lays his hands on them they receive the Holy Spirit which is evidenced by prophesy and speaking in tongues.
True, in this instance only the name of Jesus is used, but the Holy Spirit follows swiftly on and surely the Father is not absent. The point is that baptism is far more than just a naming ceremony, wetting the baby’s head and an excuse for a party. The word baptise comes from the Greek for immerse or soak. When a person comes for baptism, the intension is to ‘soak them’ in the one who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love. God is relationship, a divine interaction between Spirit, Son and Father. Into this we are drawn in baptism and it is this name of the trinity which we carry. Do our lives live up to the name, the badge, the mark we bear?
Turning back to the gospel reading, there are some more pointers to be seen. Jesus begins his final words according to Matthew by saying: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ (Matthew 28.18) Authority is important. In human terms, it is a fickle commodity as Mrs May has discovered to her cost. The bible constantly reflects on the authority of God. The lovely and powerful words of today’s Old Testament reading do that very eloquently. (Isaiah 40) ‘Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales.’ (verse 15) seems particularly apt at present. Again, with reference to the nations, the ‘Song of Moses’ addresses God as the most high using a Canaanite term for God of God’s. We are used to matters of religion and faith being private and personal. The result is that we think of our God having no more power and authority than the next person’s god. That is not Jesus’ view. His Father commands all authority over the physical universe and the spiritual world. Some of that authority is devolved to used modern terminology to governments, to each individual and even to the devil making this world the place of struggle that we experience. That is not the ultimate way of things. Jesus’ victory over sin and death and evil was, is and always will be secure for time and eternity. As we share in his name is baptism so we share that authority in the power of the Holy Spirit.
From that platform of authority comes the command of Jesus: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you.’ (verse 19) It is so important for us to see here that Jesus’ command to baptise is not to be a standalone action. It is part and parcel in one sentence with ‘making disciples’ and ‘teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’ Christian ‘nurture’ is one with Christian ‘initiation’. Baptism is not a magic cure or kind of immunisation that once done will ensure a place in the kingdom of God, no matter how that person responds to God or seeks to live his way. Whether baptism is a ‘christening’ of a young child or an action later in life, it must be accompanied by a willingness on the part of parents, godparents and the baptised to continue to grow in faith through prayer, worship, study and active Christian service.
We can note also that disciples are to be made from ‘all nations.’ Christian initiation and nurturing is not just a western or British thing. People are being made disciples and being baptised though out the world many of them today in very challenging situation where to identify as Christian puts them immediately in a difficult place. Yet, as they are baptised, taking the name of the God who is trinity, they enter a new identity with us. Together we carry the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as the most significant and important part of who we are before our gender, nationality or political allegiance.
We began by thinking of products which carry their manufacturer’s name and brand. That brand will carry in our minds particular associations. As we take up the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in baptism, let us live lives ‘worthy of our calling’. Should we not also be mindful of our responsibilities as individuals and a church to see that nurture sits alongside initiation for all who seek Holy Baptism in our church?
Trinity Sunday 11.06.2017

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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