Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
The English Reformation, like all reformations, was imperfect in some significant ways. But there were many great gifts of the English Reformation, chief among them being the Book of Common Prayer. “Common” not in the sense of “ordinary,” but as in prayer that is shared, communal, held in common.
Those of you who are familiar with the daily office in our prayer book know that we read through all the psalms in about seven weeks. Once this rhythm gets into your bones, you’ll know that every seven weeks we get a big clump of shorter psalms together in one day, Psalms 120 through 127. At the center of this group of psalms is Psalm 124, which happens to be the psalm appointed for this seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Psalm 124 concludes: Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Where have we heard that before? This is how the Compline service begins: Our help is in the name of the Lord…..the maker of heaven and earth….
I would like to suggest this morning that these two lines are the glue that hold together all of our readings for today.
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Our help. Not my help, not your help, but our help. We are a people, a community, all of us who look beyond what we can see in the way of trouble and celebration. In today’s New Testament reading, James writes: are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. James’ call to prayer is infinitely linked to life lived, and life prayed, in community.
It is in community that the healing ministry of Jesus is most often made manifest. As happens so often in the Gospel, particularly in Mark’s version of the story, it is someone from Jesus’ inner circle who doesn’t quite get the radical inclusivity of Jesus’ message. John says: Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, but he’s not one of us, so we tried to stop him. The disciples have fallen into the club mentality that so many of us do in our churches. We have our way of doing things and talking about things, our favorite places to sit, and if you don’t do it our way, then you’re not one of us. This club mentality says: whoever is not for us—or like us—is against us. Jesus turns this on its head and says whoever is not against us is for us. Not only is whoever not against us for us, says Jesus, but people who are against us will become for us simply by using the name of Jesus.
When we gather in Jesus’ name, we have great power, and we can do powerful things on behalf of the God who made heaven and earth, the God who loves us. Jesus has told us that whenever two or more of us gather in his name, he is in the midst of us. The name of Jesus becomes strong in us in community. Our common life is the vessel for turning the strong name of Jesus into the saving actions that Christian communities can do when they practice their faith in the world around them.
This is why Jesus uses such strong language in the gospel about anyone who is destructive to the gathered community or to any part of that community. One of my Facebook friends wrote that this morning she was preaching about taking the bible seriously, but not literally. But if we’re good Episcopalians, we already know this, right? We do take the bible seriously but not literally.
Jesus’ language about drowning and amputation and being thrown into hell is the language that gives the church a bad name when we take it literally. Jesus uses that language to make a point: How seriously he takes the power of the gathered community, and how seriously we are to take this as well.
Another friend of mine talks about our worship as our training ground for ministry in the world. Our shared story, our music, the gifts we gather and offer at the altar, our recollection of God’s great gift to us—all of this is the way that we gather in the name of Jesus. And all of this is the context for our going forth in the name of Jesus. Our work in the world is to tell stories of what God has done for us, to act those stories out, to sing songs of praise, to give generously as God has given to us, and to walk in the way of the cross.
We do not have a bell calling us to prayer every morning and every evening. Instead, we have our altar call: the gifts of God for the people of God, which gathers us around a common table, in the name of Jesus. We have our dismissal—let us go forth in the name of Christ—sending us out into the world God loves, to carry on the ministry of Jesus in his name. How do we do all this? Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Amen.