Sermon

Acts 11:19-26

 

What’s in a name?

 

Luther didn’t like it that people started to refer to themselves and others as Lutherans.  He didn’t like his name to be used in that way. He thought Lutherans should not be about Luther.  They should be about Jesus.  They should be about Christ. Listen…

“I ask that men make no reference to my name and call themselves, not Lutherans but Christians.  What is Luther?  After all, the doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone.  St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian.  How then, should I, a poor evil-smelling maggot sack (Madensack) have men give to the children of Christ my worthless name?  Not so, dear friends.  Let us cast out party names and be called Christians after Him whose doctrine we have.”

 

Christians were first called Christian at a little place called Antioch in present day Turkey.  “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”  They did not call themselves that at first.  Their Jewish enemies would not have called them Christian in the first place.  Christ was the Greek word for Messiah and the Jews claimed vehemently that he hadn’t come yet and that Jesus was not their Messiah nor was he their Christ.  The word Christian has Greek origins.  Outsiders to the faith saw these people who followed Jesus and called them Christian.  It happened when Greek people started to hear about Jesus.  “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”

 

People still call you Christian.  You still call yourself a Christian.  This name Christian means something.  In fact, let’s consider what the name Christian means in two regards…

 

WHAT’S IN THE NAME?

1. When people call you Christian it means something.

2. When you call yourself Christian it means something.

 

1. When people call you Christian it means something

Christian was not the name of choice of early Christians.  The hard core critics of Jesus’ followers called them “the Sect of the Nazarene.”  That sounds bad to us still today.  We know about sects and we don’t want to have anything to do with them.  The early followers of Jesus called themselves followers of “The Way.”  Their enemies referred to them this way too.  They called themselves “brothers” and “disciples” and “believers.”  The early writers called their hearers “dearly beloved.” And then this name Christian came….

 

The name Christian is Post Modernism’s worst nightmare.  Post Modernism is the name of the age you and I live in.  Post Modernism says, “There are all kinds of truths and ways” but all are on the way to the right place.  Same goal; different ways of getting to this same goal.  But the word Christian stands up to this false belief and says, “There is only One Way.  It is the way of Christ.  Christ is a one of a kind Savior who was chosen by God himself to be the only one to save human beings from hell.  We are Christians.  We are people who believe that you have to believe it right.  You have to believe it our way because our way is the Bible’s way and that is the only way.  Jesus is the only one.

 

That’s what the word Christian means.  That may not be what is in the mind of those who aren’t Christian when they call you Christian.  But they know enough of this to sniff and scorn Christianity.  You have heard enough of it in your time.  You don’t need more examples of how people say a Christian is much too straight and too judgmental and too unhappy for them.  They don’t want to live in the camp of the “only.”  They want to live in the camp of the “every” or even in the camp of the “any.”  Not “only.”

 

Lest we forget it too, Christianity is about something that continues to be very good.  It’s a good thing to be a Christian and to be called a Christian.  The only good things in this world come from this name and its connection to Jesus, the Christ.  Consider the words today about one of the early Christians.  His name was Barnabas.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.  Barnabas was a good person.  You hear people saying that about all sorts of people these days.  He was a good kid.  He was a good father.  If you understand what Christian means you have to say, “If this person was not a Christian it is impossible for him to be a good person…like Barnabas.  The only truly good people are Christians.  A Post Modern ear gets upset and angry at that statement.  But it is still true.  The Christian Church is about good people.  Not perfect people but forgiven people.  These are people God has worked on in Jesus and made them good.  He even makes them perfect!  Christians themselves wince sometimes at the charge that they “think they are so good.”  But it is true.  In Jesus and what Jesus did for us Christians, we are perfect people.  (That is good that is off the chart!)

 

The good comes because of the bad.  The good comes in view of the bad.  (And the world is bad…to the core.  And humans by themselves are bad to the core too.  Christ came not because human beings were good but because they are only capable of  bad.  Christ came not because the humans were capable or able or anything like that.  Christ came to save people who could not save themselves.  Jesus was the only one who could do this.  He was the only One God sent.  He still is that “only” person.  He is the Christ.  If we follow him we still are Christian.  Christians are still the people who are of “The Way.”    If people have a problem with people who claim that they are the only ones who have the Only One, then they are going to have trouble with us because we still are Christian.

 

2. When you call yourselves Christian it means something.

It is important to know what people are calling you.  Sometimes this is distressing, but you want to know.  You want to know what is in the name Christian that is spoken to you who maintain to be Christian.  It is even more important to know what that name Christian means to you in your own private life.  You can (and should) remind yourself often of who you are when you say, “I’m a Christian.”

 

Remind yourself when you think about yourself being a Christian that Christians are generous.  Christians have shown their love for each other by their generosity from the very beginning of the name.  Look at the example of one of the early Christians, Barnabas.  The words before us today tell us that Barnabas was a good example to all the people in being generous.  Here is what it says in Acts 4:36 about this Christian: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” This same sort of thing happens in our church too.  Look at the bulletin this morning.  Read about the gifts of love people in this congregation have brought here.

Caring of others.

 

Remind yourselves that as Christians you are encouragers.  You encourage other Christians.  Listen to what those early Christians, Paul (called Saul here) and Barnabas did to encourage others.  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  And according to the words the encouragement you give as a Christian to another Christian is, “Come on brother.  Stay with it.  Stay close to Jesus.  Don’t look to yourself.  Look to him.  He’s still the Lord.  He still loves you.”

 

Remind yourself when you think of yourself as a Christian that Christians are teachers.  They want to impart knowledge about Jesus to others.  That’s why they do mission work…across the seas and across the street.  That’s why they attend Bible studies and worship services…to receive teaching and to impart it.  Listen to how the first Christians taught.  The words before us this morning say, “So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.”

 

When you think of yourself as a Christian, remember that you are a person that has the Lord’s hand in his life.  There is no more joyful thought than that!  “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”  Say “Christian!” to yourself and see a hand.  Jesus’ hand.  Get the picture.  His hand is protecting and sheltering you.  It is a defending hand.  It is a bull-dozing hand, making the crooked places of life straight and knocking down the high and stubborn obstacles of your life.  It is the hand that is the very fist of certainty and a gavel of God’s righteousness.  It is a gentle hand and a picking up hand.  It is a hand with nail scars on it.  It is a hand full of blessings.  It is a hand that seizes the great load of all of our sins.  It is the hand that easily lifts the lead weight off burdened hearts.  It is a hand to pick up the smallest child.  It is the hand that stops the funeral possession and gives the dead back alive again to the weeping and hopeless.  It’s the hand that accomplishes the incredible about-face of conversion…180 degrees of pure resistance and inertia.  And the Lord’s hand that is with you Christian does it!  And a great number of people…turned to the Lord.  It’s that hand!

 

Call yourself Christian.  Often.  It means something very good.  Amen.