For the past three NBA season the Oakland, California, Golden State Warriors have been unstoppable in winning NBA championships, ushering in a new dynasty in basketball. As ESPN staff writer Kevin Arnovitz wrote in a June 9, 2018 article, “Before the Hamptons, before light-years ahead, and before Jurassic basketball thinkers had to concede that a small team could actually win an NBA championship with jump-shooting, finesse and defense, nobody spoke of the Golden State Warriors as a squad with multiple Hall of Famers, let alone one. The Warriors are celebrating their third title on Friday night after beating the Cavaliers 108-85, with a signature third-quarter run that buried their beleaguered opponent. For the Warriors dynasty — and it’s now a dynasty — the sweep is yet another achievement. But it’s easy to forget that, four years ago, they were a team that couldn’t survive a first-round series against the LA Clippers.”
In our passage today Gamaliel, a well respected Pharisee, is a little bit worried, because he feels the Apostles might be like the Golden State Warriors, he is afraid that they are unstoppable. Not because they have an all star team, these guys are uneducated fisherman. Not because they have a lot of money or a building but because God is on their side. Angels are breaking them out of prison. And if angels are breaking you out of prison God might just be on your side.
In ministry, as in life there are seasons. There are times of trial and times of refreshing. There are times when you miss that three point shot and lose the game, and there are times when you make the shot and the crowd goes wild. There are times where we walk by faith in the dark, not knowing when we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are times in life when you are walking on water, so to speak, and thus you can bypass the HRBT traffic jam. There are times of synergy, and electricity, there are times you are in the zone, there are times when God is on your side and you are winning because it is part of God’s plan. And though such powerful momentum is mainly up to God, our scripture today tells us there are some things we can do so that we are ready if God so wishes to make us unstoppable.
The Good News: When we learn to use the name of Jesus we shall be unstoppable.
We use the name of Jesus through.
- Learning Obedience
The name of Jesus is a big theme in the book of Acts. A couple of weeks ago I told the story of Peter, a man who came back from brokenness, and was used by the LORD to heal a lame beggar by the beautiful gate. The beggar had been crippled for forty years but Peter was used to heal him. But Peter was clear that this man was not healed by Peter’s power or piety but by the name of Jesus. But just because you say the name of Jesus a lot or differently, doesn’t make the name of Jesus more powerful. Then name of Jesus is not like the name of rumplestiltskin. You may remember the story of the magical imp who, if you could guess his name, you would have power over him. But that is not how the name of Jesus works. But that is not how the name of Jesus works. We know that because we have tried it that way.
Instead, the name of Jesus is Jesus’ brand. And if we are to use his brand we need to be good ambassadors. And as our text today suggests God gives the power of the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. You can be Christ’s servant. But if you want to be his friend Jesus says in John that my friends are those who obey him.
The name of a god, in ancient culture, represented a god’s reputation, prestige, identity, and honor. It was functionally that god’s brand. So to use the name of Jesus is to stand in Jesus’ place and invoke Jesus’ brand. And for Jesus to let us use the power of his name he needs to know he can trust us with his brand. The school of prayer can teach us to see what God is doing in our everyday lives and gives us the power to face those challenges with joy. And it takes discipline to hone our skills in prayer as it takes discipline to hone one’s basketball game. But Peter is clear it is not by his power or piety that the lame man was healed but by the name of Jesus. His prayer and discipline allowed Peter to see the “ This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if I do what I command you.” (John 15:14). We become Jesus’ friends by obeying his commandment to love one another. And we see that portrayed in the early church which loved one another by listening to teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread. They sold what they had for the common good (Acts 2:45). Sometimes obeying God means disobeying authority. But God also teaches us that obedience means respecting civil authorities in Romans 13. And I think before we know when God is calling us to disobey authority we must have an attitude of obeying authority. For we may not truly be facing injustice. We may just not like others telling us what to do.
The radio show This American Life explores the basic human tendency of hating being told what to do in the Episode It’s Not Fair. The story begins with reporter Lewis telling a story about his eleven year old son Walker. Walker plays on a basketball team run by a Japanese Buddhist Temple. Walker isn’t Japanese, nor is he Buddhist, but he has a pretty Zen attitude. To quote Lewis, “He has no conflict with his teachers or his classmates or his Japanese Buddhist teammates.” Walker is a pretty calm eleven year old except when it comes to dealing with refs on the basketball court. “Even in what amounts to a Buddhist basketball game, anytime a ref blows the whistle on him, he throws up his arms in astonishment. Then he jumps up and down with his little fists balled up and his mouth clenched tight, so everyone knows just how much injustice he’s suffering. Then he marches off with a scowl. And he doesn’t get over it.” Lewis knows where his son has learned this behavior. To quote Lewis, “The thing is, I know why my son does what he does. He thinks he’s Klay Thompson, the all-star shooting guard of the Golden State Warriors…… When Klay hits a three, Klay pounds his chest and points to the sky. And so when Walker Lewis hits a three, he too pounds his chest and points to the sky……..When Klay is called for a foul, he scowls and throws up his arms in astonishment, and sometimes even says something to the ref that gets him slapped with a technical foul……..And Klay’s the famously most laid back all-star in the entire National Basketball Association.” The relationship between refs and players in the NBA has been degrading over the past couple of years. One Golden State Warrior head butted a ref. Another chucked his mouth guard at a ref. Generally, the Golden State Warriors are great examples on the court. The only times they have problems are when refs call fowls on them. Even Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors coach, gets into fights with refs. His daughter often texts him wondering what in the world he is doing. Steve admits that he says things to refs that he would never say to anyone else.
But it is not just the players that have a problem with refs. The fans do to. To quote Lewis, “ It’s the fans in every arena who spend meaningful amounts of their time looking for the refs’ mistakes on the JumboTron. It’s the cable sports channels playing and replaying the refs’ mistakes so their viewers can tweet and retweet about them. It’s this entire infrastructure, seemingly built to focus attention on whatever mistakes the refs make for the sole purpose of generating outrage.”
While referrers are people, and can make mistakes like anyone else, referring is actually better now than it has ever been in the NBA’s history. The NBA has built a state of the art replay center where every call is recorded and able to be reviewed down to the smallest detail. This state of an art room is connected to stadiums by fiber optic cable. It cost $15 million dollars to build. Not only has the NBA invested in technology to ensure fairness they have also invested in training their referees. Joe Borgia runs the Replay Center, but he has a boss as well. Michael Lewis tells us a little about Borgia’s boss, “Joe Borgia calls his boss the general, because she actually was a general and an Air Force pilot. Her name is Michelle Johnson, and before she supervised NBA refs, she ran the Air Force Academy. It sounds like overkill to use a general to make sure basketball games are well reffed. But the NBA thought it needed overkill.”
Behind the scenes, the NBA has invested , time, talent, and treasure, to make sure the game is as fair as possible. And yet for many fans this is not enough. To quote Lewis, “Look, there’s no way any basketball referee is going to be perfect. But there’s also no way these refs are anything but more accurate than they’ve ever been. I mean, even home court advantage means less than it used to. And yet these refs are treated as if they’re trying to rig the games.” Lewis ends his story by asking his Son if he has anything to say to the referrer to the world. Walker replies, “Don’t pick sides, unless it’s my side.
I think Walker’s statement, “Don’t pick sides, unless it’s my side,” reflects the human tendency to define fairness as what is fair to us personally and our team rather than what is fair for the common good. We see unfairness in the other team but when the spotlight is turned to us and our favorite team, celebrity, or politician, do we move the goal line and change the standards because we are more concerned about winning than playing by the agreed upon rules? Referrers are only human and in every area of society they do need to be held accountable. But as Romans 13 says the civil authorities are ministers of God and they do not bear the sword in vain. When our attitude towards referrers is one of blame, disrespect and conspiracy theories, the game of society starts to collapse. The work of the civil authorities has always been to balance individual good with the common good. And while the civil authority can fall into tyranny, the Apostles give us an example of peaceful resistance even then. They don’t become bitter that the leaders of their society rejected the Gospel and persecuted them. Jesus tells us we will be hated by the world. So why should be feel bitter or disappointed when Jesus told us what to expect? Instead of being bitter Jesus tells us to rejoice in our suffering. And that is what the Apostles do. They rejoiced in their suffering, that they were deemed worthy to suffer dishonor for the name that is above every name, the name of Jesus. We do not overcome the evils of this world by complaining about the evils of this world. No one ever changed the world by complaining. We overcome the evils of this world rejoicing in the joy of the Gospel.
“ So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God.” Gamaliel proved to be correct in the long term about the disciples of Jesus. As Alan Kreider argues in his book The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom. The book of Acts was written around 60-90 A.D depending on who you ask. Christianity wasn’t legalized by Emperor Constantine till 312 A.D. To quote Kreider, “ If, as many scholars now agree, at the time of emperor Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in 312, approximately 10 percent of the imperial population belonged to the Christian church, then during the previous three centuries the churches statistically grew at an average of 40 percent per decade. Despite disincentives, despite the scorn of the powerful, despite persecutions, the early Christian movement was growing. Something was deeply attractive about it.” (Kreider, pg 10).
Perhaps today you lack in money, power, or prestige. But there is an unstoppable power in Jesus’ name. But he does not give us a blank check in the use of his power. His power serves his brand, his power serves his love. As Jesus says in Luke, “ One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11). Though Jesus was the only begotten son of God he learned obedience through what he suffered ( Hebrews 5:9). And he asks us who minister in his name to learn obedience through what we suffer. For we will not know when to disobey authority until our default is to obey authority. And when we do learn obedience we will be trusted with the power of his name, a power greater than all the power and prestige the world has to offer. And when we learn to minister in the power of the name of Jesus his name will be exalted on Earth as it already is in heaven and the earth shall know the glory of the Lord in the land of the living, the earth shall know that we the church, the people of God, are unstoppable
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.