The Lord’s Prayer – Hallowed be your name

I never cease to be amazed at the names that people give to their children nowadays. In primary schools today you’ll find children called Woody, and Riley used as a first name. Of course, people are entitled to choose whatever name they wish, and perhaps it’s old tick-in-the-muds like me that struggle to understand that changing patterns of names.

Last week we considered where God is, when we pray to our father “in heaven”. Rather reversing the Royal Mail protocol, having dealt with god’s address, this week we’re considering God’s name: “hallowed be your name”.

It’s very easy to think that God can just be an idea, or an intellectual concept, if you like God is thought to be the sum of the highest and best aspirations of humanity, or a way of thinking about morality, or the expression of that experience that each of us has when we are alone with our thoughts. But when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say something different. We say that God is personal, God lives and acts, God has a name.

In the Hebrew Bible, God appears to Moses in the burning bush. Moses asks, ”who are you? Who am I supposed to say has sent me when I return to the Israelites?” Moses realises that he is not in the presence of a concept, of some amorphous blob of spirit. He is face-to-face with a unique God who has unique ways of doing things.

This God who appeared in the bush has heard not only the cry of an oppressed people. Moses is rather surprised, who wouldn’t be, and asks, “are you a concept like ‘liberation’, or ‘self-esteem’, or ‘freedom’?” God’s first answer is a conversation stopper: ”I am who I am,” or ”I will be present to whom I am present.” Last week, I said that ‘in heaven’ meant that God was located, and not just floating everywhere, but it wasn’t a postal address. In just the same way, “I am”, is a name, but it’s not a title, first name, and surname, as most of us have.

When he heard God’s name, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God, and who wouldn’t? We are unable, like Moses, to look at so holy a God, yet we are still called to join with all creation in praising God: as the Westminster Catechism puts it, “to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever”. All creation is called to hallow the name of God, to learn the melody of adoration. When we pray “hallowed be your name”, surely we are learning to hallow the name of God, to praise God. An din praying “hallowed be your name”, we’re also being hallowed by God, commissioned to live our lives in such a way as to make visible to all the world that God reigns, that God has a rightful claim to all of his creation.

The Second Vatican Council described Christian worship as ”the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful”. As we glorify God in worship, we are in turn made holy in everyday life. As we praise God, we become formed in God’s image, as Augustine said, “we imitate whom we adore.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes the rather astounding claim that we should, ”be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect”. It doesn’t mean perfect in the sense of without errors, or blemish, but more a sense of completeness, the goal, the completion, perfection in the sense of ultimate maturation: reach full maturity in God. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we can come more closely to resemble the One to whom we pray.

I’ve often heard people say that Christianity is mostly about trying to do the right thing and to live a good life. It’s quite correct that Christians are called to live good lives, and to do the right thing, but to think of it just like that is to put the cart before the horse. Christianity is not mainly a matter of what we do and how we live, but first a matter of what God in Christ has done. We can’t really know what good lives and deeds are until we first know who God is. So when we pray, “hallowed be your name”, that is what tells us how we ought to live. What better foundation is there than to begin with prayer, to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and bend our lives towards God?

In many ways, the Lord’s Prayer is like a bomb, ticking in church, waiting to explode and demolish our temples to false gods. It may have slipped past you, but when we pray, “hallowed be your name,” we’ve made a revolutionary claim. In the face of all that is at such variance with God in our world today, praying God’s name be hallowed is to challenge so much.

When we pray, “hallowed be your name,” we’re both asking God to make his name holy, and pledging ourselves not to misuse God’s name. This is what the Ten Commandments were on about when they talked of not taking the name of god in vain. The German soldiers who went into battle in World War Two bearing Gott mit Uns (“God with Us”) on their helmets were but one of the many examples of taking God’s name in vain. Yet, we can be formed by praying, “hallowed be your name” so as not to think that we can put a leash on God, or drag God into our crusades and cruelties. God cannot be jerked around in this way. God’s name is not to be used as a rubber stamp for our causes. When we pray “hallowed be your name” we’re protecting ourselves from all that is destructive in our world.

There’s a story told about a young student who was offered illegal drugs. “Go ahead, try it. It’ll make you feel good,” he was told. He resisted, and the persuasion went on, ”nobody is going to know that you tried a little dope, got a little high.”
”That’s not the point,” said the student, “the point is that my mother cleaned houses and washed floors to send me to this college. I am here because of her. I am here for her. I wouldn’t do anything that might demean her sacrifice for me.”
That comes close to how I think God hopes we’ll react to him.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray “hallowed be your name”, it’s not just about naming God, and discovering who God, but also who we are. “Hallowed be your name” is a reminder that we are not our own because we belong not to ourselves, but to God. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, ”what is your only comfort, in life and in death?” The answer is ”that I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Each of us has been named by the God whom we name in prayer, forgiven, loved, and free.

I’m going to end with a reflection from the famous writer Anon:
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture on the rocks,
I am the beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of the plants,
I am a wild boar in valour,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance in battle,
I am the God who creates in the head the fire.
Who is it that throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?

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