THE LORD’S PRAYER II: “HALLOWED BE THY NAME”
THE LORD’S PRAYER II: “HALLOWED BE THY NAME”
March 4, 2018
I have begun a series on the Lord’s Prayer for Lent. Last week we saw that that Jesus taught us to address God as Father. In so doing, Jesus bridged the gap between the transcendent and the immanent. He took the distant and remote God and made God “up close and personal.” By putting the words “Our Father” on the human tongue, he taught us that God is not only up there, but he is also in here. God is not only above us, God is supremely with us.
And now today we turn to the first of the three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” Although we don’t use the word “hallowed” in everyday conversation it has a long and venerable history in the English language. The oldest English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in the 14th century finds the words, “Halewed by thy name.” The word “hallowed” was continued in Tyndale’s translation in 1525, in Coverdale’s translation in 1535, in the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and the King James Version in 1611. In modern times “hallowed” was included in the Revised Version in 1885 and the Revised Standard Version of 1948. “Hallowed” has such a long and honorable lineage, that even the most respected modern translators have felt that there is nothing better.
In the Greek text the word translated as “hallowed” is “hagiazein,” which is a form of the Greek now “hagios.” “Hagios” is usually translated as “holy.” The English word “hagiology” is derived from “hagios” and hagiology means literature about the lives of the saints.
The basic meaning behind the word “hagios” is the idea of difference. That which is “hagios” is different from ordinary things; it belongs to a different realm; it has a unique quality. That is why Leviticus calls God “holy,” for God supremely belongs to a different sphere of being.
What “hagios” means becomes clear when you see other ways it is used in the Bible. The fourth of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath and keep it “hagios”—keep it holy. That is to say that the Sabbath day is to be regarded and observed differently from any other day of the week. When a Jewish priest is consecrated, he is considered “hagios”—set apart from other persons for special and sacred work.
The word “hagios” then, suggests an attitude of reverence, for reverence is the characteristic attitude toward that which is uniquely different, that which belongs to a higher sphere than our own. So the prayer can be translated, “Our Father, in heaven, may you be given that unique respect and reverence which your nature, your character and your personality demand.”
Now this leads on to a practical question: How do we in specific ways show reverence to God, hallow God’s name? As I try to answer this question, at least three different approaches come to my mind. First, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when our beliefs about God are accurate and in accordance with God’s nature as revealed in Scripture. Second, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when our life points others towards God. Third, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when we serve our fellow human beings.
Now, the first approach to this question has to do with what we believe about God. There is as much misunderstanding about God’s nature as understanding..
“In a short but readable book called YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL, New Testament scholar J. B. Phillips points out all the warped notions people hold about God. Some people see God as that GUILT-PRODUCING-VOICE-OF-YOUR-CONSCIENCE. (“Terry, you shouldn’t do that! Bad! Bad! Bad!”) Other people worship the God who is thy ALLY of the Nation. The leaders of the nations try to baptize their politics with the blessings of God. The Nazis were big on this and some Americans think that God blesses every single act of national policy, right or wrong. Book Title: The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusions of a Manageable Deity.
Then there are the people who believe that God visits humanity with disease, with suffering and with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. (“Oh, it’s terrible, but whatever happens is God’s will, and God knows best.”) I suppose there is some comfort in this convoluted logic, but it’s sore comfort at best.
To allow such misrepresentations of God to walk into the doors of the church not only fails to hallow God’s name, but also is the reason why thousands of thinking men and women have been repelled by the church and its teaching. If this isn’t God, then what is God like? God comes into focus for us in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. If we want to really know what God is like, we start out by learning what Jesus Christ was like. As the Scripture says, God was in Christ. . .” So, the first approach to hallowing God’s name is by expanding our view of God. Is our God too small?
And second, we hallow God’s name when our daily conduct glorifies God and points other people toward God. How does the old line go, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”
When we were in Israel in the early 1980’s most of the people I traveled with were for the first time thrust into a Muslim culture. Even though Israel is a Jewish state, the Muslim influences are strong. And of course one of the cardinal practices of Islam is prayer five times a day. A Muslim’s day is punctuated by these disciplines of prayer, so that if you are a Muslim, your life is lived between intervals of prayer. It occurred to me that I would be a far finer Christian if I had a similar discipline. At any rate, we were all impressed by this Muslim regimen. Our bus driver, Omar, and our guide, Mohamed, were both Muslims, and we really struck up a friendship with them both. We gained a profound appreciation for their faith and for their people. One of the songs our own group sang over and over again during our trip was that beautiful chorus that goes “Alleluia.” We sang it everywhere—in Jerusalem—by the Sea of Galilee, on the shores of the Jordan River. And wanting to include our Arab friends in our group, I made up a chorus, substituting the words “Allah Akhbahr” for the words “Alleluia.” Allah Akhbahr means in Arabic, “God is great.” So we sang “Allah Akhbahr” and afterwards I asked Mohamed if Muslims knew the song and he said they did, and I said, “How do you sing it?” And he answered, “We sing ‘Alleluia.’”
So our daily conduct can be a means of glorifying God and showing reverence to his name. And what’s more, our daily conduct directs others either toward God or away from God. Our friends and our neighbors are daily evaluating our faith and our values.
If you will pardon an out-of-season illustration, each Monday morning during football season teams in the NFL sit down in their film rooms to view the film of the previous day ‘s game. Missed assignments and bungled plays show up large and clear. Now, bear in mind that this is a silent movie. The players have no chance to reach for a microphone to explain away why they did what they did. The only voice heard in the room in the voice of the coach who might say to the projectionist, “Let’s back up and run that play again. Let Randy see how the rest of the team was running a screenplay right, while he was running a screenplay left.” So, there you sit. What you meant to do on the busted play you never did because you thought you heard a whistle and stopped, or maybe you slipped on the astro-turf just as you were pulling out of your stance. But you can’t say it. No mental reconstructions are allowed. You just look on and watch as the action is played back and forth. This is the way our neighbors measure the quality of our Christian lives—the story of our lives minus speech.
What would it be like if someone watched a silent movie of our lives? Would there be any difference in our behavior from our neighbors? Any difference in the way we spend our money from the way they spend theirs? Any appreciable difference in the way we spend our time and the way they spend theirs? Any discernable difference in the causes we give yourselves for and the causes they are involved in? God’s name is hallowed when our own lives so honor God that our neighbors are drawn to faith.
Finally, we hallow God’s name when we are engaged in some form of service for hurting people. The God of the Bible is a God who is a partisan for the poor, an advocate for the marginalized. And when we are engaged in helping those who cannot easily help ourselves, we are allies in God’s cause.
The Quakers have so much to teach us in this area. “Holiness” is emphasized in the life of Quakers, but holiness for a Quaker always comes down to holy deeds. Through their service arm, the American Friends Service Committee, holiness is demonstrated in concrete action. When the last World War ended, there were five army dumps in France, filled with machinery of many kinds and all conditions of usability—too good to throw away but not good enough to haul back to the United States. The Quaker relief units, which had been working France, came forward with a proposition: They would give 200,000 francs to the U.S. Army for the machinery and supervise the cleaning up of the five dumps, each as large as a small truck farm. The army officials were ecstatic to have one less responsibility and accepted the offer.
Then the Quakers approached the French government. If all these thousands of partly damaged spades, saws, axes, hammers, trucks, ambulances, tractors, and motorcycles were sold to the French people who so desperately needed them, would the officials give free transportation on the railroads?
Much red tape, of course, but finally permission came. Then one more request: Could 200 German prisoners be spared to help distribute the goods? Yes, the prisoners could be used, but only if they were guarded. But guns were an anathema to Quakers, and so they suggested that if one man escaped, they would return the other 199. The French government gave consent: There were, after all, advantages in having 200 less prisoners to feed.
So the prisoners were set to work, and not one failed to turn up when the project was completed. And the machine-starved French people gratefully bought the junk material at a fraction of its value. Even at those prices there was a net profit of 2,000,000 francs.
The Quakers took the profits from this project and did two things with the money: They built a hospital at Chalons, which they presented to the French government; second, they gave wages for the prisoner’s faithful work. They couldn’t pay the prisoners directly, for the prisoners had to return to a dreary wait in prison until repatriation came; but the wages were taken to the German prisoners’ families, accompanied by a personal visit by a Quaker to the men’s home in Germany. Service is the mark of the Quakers and should be the identifying characteristic of your life.
Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. God’s name is hallowed when our beliefs about God are consistent with the picture of God as painted by Jesus Christ. That’s right belief.
God’s name is hallowed when our lives point others to God. That’s right witness.
God’s name is hallowed when human life is hallowed. That’s right service. To answer our original question, how do we hallow God’s name? With right belief, right witness, and right service.
Now, there’s only one other thought that remains. How do we pull it all off—how do we cultivate that kind of interior life to make right belief, right witness, and right service flow from our lives naturally and spontaneously? The answer lies in one of those paradoxes that seems to be characteristic of all spirituality. For nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer is there a petition to God to make us more sanctified—to make us more devout. Not a single phrase asks God to help us make progress toward spiritual maturity. It’s not “hallowed by my life,” but “hallowed by thy name.”
The paradox is that if we want to be better persons, we shouldn’t begin with ourselves, but rather begin with God. Everything depends upon that relationship. For if the center is correct, the circumference will be correct. If the relationship with the Father is right, then our interior lives will be set right.
Martin Luther boiled this thought down with this image: “No one,” Luther says, “needs to command a stone which is lying in the sun to become warm; the stone becomes warm quite of itself.” If we place ourselves in the sunshine of God’s presence, then the kind of life we want comes of itself. Right belief, right witness, and right service will then flow freely from us.