The Dummies Guide to Reality: What's in a Name?
In our Large Catechism we say we are to "dread every misuse of the holy name, as the greatest sin that can outwardly be committed" (I, 55). Luther said, "'This sin is more serous before God than murder and adultery'" (Ten, Peters, 157). Luther even said, "'God so stiffly holds to His name the He will not have it blasphemed even in idols'" (Ibid. 81). Yet dummies like me think no deeper than Shakespeare. "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."
To postmoderns names really don't mean anything. You can call women "sir" and men "mothers." What's in a name? Not much unless of course it's ours. Not one of us will let our name be taken carelessly let alone as an interjection. Who among us would let our name be used as an exclamation at a dinner here? Back and forth we would be going as people said, "O my John!" or "John help me!" only to find that we weren't being called. Yet we expect God Almighty to ignore such misusing of His name.
A name isn't a big deal unless it's our name attached to what we haven't said. Would you let me share an email with your name on it which denied babies are to be baptized, said Mary was to be prayed to, or homosexuality is as God pleasing as heterosexuality? Yet when Baptists sign God's name to the first; Catholics sign His name to the second, or Liberal Lutherans sign His name to the third, that's no big deal to you.
I'm exposing a double sin in dummies like me. I not only misuse God's name; I think more of my name than I do His. Luther said that the battle line between the Christian and the inner Pharisee was praising God or praising self (Ibid. 158). Which one do you think our self-esteem culture promotes? In Luther's "Short Explanation" to the Commandments he said the fulfillment of this Commandment is not only ""laud, honor, praise, and calling upon God's name'" but "totally destroying one's own name." He said there is a correlation between praising God and self-annihilation. Our prayer is to be, "Hallowed by Your name, but profaned be my name'" (Ibid. 156).
I'll tell you a secret that only dummies can hear. You don't get to the proper use of God's name by starting with the destroying of yours. You start with the power and gift of God's name. To properly appreciate it, think about the place of idols in false religions. That's the place of the Lord's name in the true religion. Think how statues of Baal or Ashtoreth were honored in the Old Testament; think how temples to Zeus and Apollo were revered in Greece and Rome; think of how holy the Muslim treats the Kaaba or your local Buddhist temple regards its Buddha. All the imagined power, holiness, and helpfulness associated with these are in the true God's name.
Even a dummy like me ought to come away from the Bible understanding the importance of God's name. At the end of wrestling with God all night Jacob cries in desperation, "Please tell me Your Name." Moses won't return to Egypt to lead the Old Testament Church unless the God of the Burning Bush tells him in whose Name he is being sent. Samson's father is desperate to know the name of the Angel of Lord who appeared to him. The climax of the OT's wonder at the name comes in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son?"
I could go on. There's Yahweh commanding Aaron to do what we do every Sunday. "Put My name on My people saying, "The Lord bless theethe Lord make His face shine upon thee...the Lord give thee peace." There's Jesus' command to baptize into the Triune name. There's Jesus' promise do anything asked in His name. The power, the reverence, the awe, the comfort the Buddhist and Hindu gets from their statues, that's what the Lord has placed in His name. You can't carry a statue around with you, but the name of the Lord is as close as your lips.
Like Augustine and Bonaventure before him Luther indentified God's name by and large with Christ (Ibid. 155). Only in Christ is the name of God safe for us to use. That's what Peter preaches in Acts. "There is no other name under given among men whereby we must be saved." Outside of Jesus God's name is a humming power station you dare not touch or use. The name of Jesus is the outlet in your home which is so safe, so convenient, that you take it for granted.
Even a dummy like me appreciates when someone says "use my name" to get a discount, to get into an exclusive club, to get a favor, but I think it small potatoes that I can use God's name. But why does He allow it? The use of God's name is connected to being saved by God and that of course is connected to Jesus. Psalm 116 says, "I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord." The Old Testament promise comes to fruition in the New, "Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
You know in the end, given the chance, everyone calls on some name to be saved. I often tell the story of the prisoner executed in Louisiana circa 1940. Moments before being electrocuted he shrieked repeatedly, "Joe Louis save me! Joe Louis save me!" Soldiers die calling for their mother. Many die calling for a generic God. There is salvation, however, only in Jesus' name, An angel tells Mary, "You shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins." The "Je" is for "Jehovah" and the "sus" is "saves."
Outside of Jesus there is no salvation. In Jesus there is because in Jesus all the Laws that badger you day and night to be kept, are. See how Jesus called upon God when in need. See how He prayed, praised and gave thanks even when He was staring at the grave of a friend. Dummies like me don't do that. Call all you want upon anyone else's name and you'll still be responsible for keeping the Law's commands before you can be saved.
The same goes with the Law's penalties. Jesus suffered what the Law requires from a person who breaks even one Commandment, and you know what that punishment is? It's to call upon the name of the Lord and get the same response as the poor man who called upon Joe Louis did. From the cross Jesus prayed, "My God, My God," and the only answer He got was more pain, more hell, more judgment. Even a dummy like me knows I can't bear that. In Jesus' name, I won't, don't, or do.
Jesus says, "Use my name," and I do. When the Law comes knocking demanding I do this or that before I dare call upon the name of the Lord, I say, "In Jesus' name the Law, all of it, has been kept in my place." When guilt comes slithering into your conscience for sins that you have repented 10,000 x 10,000 for, holding your shame or hell's terrors before your eyes, you say, "In Jesus' name I've been washed of that stain; in Jesus' name I've been absolved of that shame; in Jesus' name His Body and His Blood are for my highest good putting an end to hell's terrors.
What's in a name? Everything if it's the name of God and everything for sinners if it's Jesus' name. And this name has been given to us. The Large Catechism says, "God's name was given to us when we became Christians and were baptized. So we are called God's children and have the Sacraments, by which He connects us with Himself so that everything that belongs to God must serve for our use" (II, 37). Everything? Yes, in Jesus' name sun, moon, and stars serve us. In Jesus' name even Sin, Death, and the Devil serve us. What I mean is not that we use sin but that God uses it and Death and Devil too. Isn't that what Joseph said to the brothers who had sold him into death? "You meant if for evil; God meant it for good."
Yes, God gives us His name in Jesus to do great things. And this dummy is surprised at what we confess that first great thing to be. "Call upon it in every trouble, pray" Prayer? Not casting out devils? Not healing people in Jesus' name? Not pious good needs in His name? Nope praying in it. We cite in the Large Catechism the following as correct calling on God's name: prayers commending yourself to God, meal prayers, the practice of crossing yourself and saying, "Lord God protect us!" "Help Lord Jesus!" And at this time of year, it's well to point out that we say calling on the Lord's name is to replace how children were taught to call upon St. Nicholas (I, 74).
You know how it is when you have a problem with a bureaucracy government or not. If you have a name, you have a lot, don't you? That name will get you in the door; make people take your seriously; maybe make people want to help you. You might even wield that name like a club if you have to. How much more so the name of God?
We say that we ought to "call upon it in every trouble." But don't be a dummy like me and think this is passive resignation. Luther used the name as a life-giving force. He used it as a weapon against the tricky and powerful assaults of the Devil. The Devil fears this name. Jesus' name is the "little word" that we sing about in A Mighty Fortress that can fell Satan (Ibid. 163).
What's in a name? The Jews think so much that they won't pronounce the name of their god. Freemasons think so much that they won't tell you the name of their god till you're well into their secret religion. You have to be content "with the nameless one of a thousand names" till then. Tibetan monks have worked for centuries to compile the billion names of god. They believe once the true name in all its forms has been spoken, the world will end and a new phase begin (Browser's Dict. 266).
The true name of God is meant to be spoken, is no secret, and pronouncing it doesn't put an end to this world but to sin, death, and the devil. The reality is that where Jesus' name is called upon, prayed, praised, and given thanks sins go, death dies, and the devil loses, so use it often. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek II (20151209); Second Commandment