The Greatest Prayer Week Two - "Hallowed Be Thy Name"

I am continuing my sermon series on the Lord's Prayer this week---moving into the second line of the prayer: "Hallowed Be Thy Name."

As I pondered that line this week, I asked myself "What's in a name?"  Naturally, I googled to find a good website that revealed the meanings of names.  I picked because I liked the title. Why don't you click on it, and enter your own name just to see what it says.  I'll wait.

Were you surprised?  Was it pretty much what you've always known?  Most of us have a pretty good idea what our names mean.  It's not something that we walk around shouting from the rooftops, nor do we plaster it on tee-shirts and wear them every where we go.  We just sort of know what our names mean.  I bet that you probably can't even remember when you first learned the meaning of your name.

But you did.  Someone told you, I bet.  You may have read it somewhere, but almost certainly before you could read you were told the meaning of your name.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Hallowed be thy name," to God, he was teaching them how the very name of God reveals a great deal about how God desires us to live.  As we'll be learning, the word "hallowed" means "to make holy."  Jesus wasn't asking God to make his name holy.  It already was holy.  What Jesus was asking was that God's holiness would be revealed and then emulated by God's people.  I'll say that again in English:

A Holy God Desires Holy Living.

In Exodus 3:7-14 we have the story of the call of Moses by the burning bush.  Moses spent 40 years running from God only to find that God was present even in the wilderness he'd fled to escape.  Moses encounters a bush that is burning, but is not burned.  As he approaches, God speaks from the bush and tells him that he needs to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground.  I love the imagery here.  It sets up the paradox that will follow when God reveals his name to Moses... sort of.

First, the bush is burning... but not consumed.  This doesn't make sense.  It doesn't happen.  Anything that is burned is consumed, everyone knows that.  Then God tells Moses that he can stand on the ground near the bush, but only if he does so in bare feet.  So, he can stand, but not really.  On top of all of this is the location of this scene---the Sinai wilderness.  This was a land that belonged to no one.  No one claimed it.  Not one single tribe, not one single individual.  It was no-man's land.  And there was God right in the middle of no-man's land. 

When God tells Moses that he must go and lead God's people out of Egypt, Moses is fairly skeptical. 
After all, he was a wanted man.  A man with a past that far too many Israelites would remember all too well.  Moses had also been away for 40 years.  While he'd run away the people he was returning to lead had languished in slavery.  Naturally, Moses wanted a trump card to be able to give to the people so they would believe him.

So he asked for God's name.  In the ancient world, the names of gods were carefully guarded.  To have the real name of a god was to have power over him/her.  Egypt's sun god Ra was tricked by his daughter Isis into revealing his true name.  He was bitten by an asp that she arranged to attack him and she told him that the only way he was going to be healed was to reveal his secret name to her.  He gave her all sorts of other names at first, but finally relented.  The ancient text does not reveal what the name was, but Isis spoke the name aloud and Ra was healed.  Isis then had power over Ra as a result.

Moses wanted the secret name of God.  He was still thinking like an Egyptian.

God surprised Moses by simply saying.  "I Am Who I Am."  "Tell them 'I Am' sent you."  Essentially what God was saying to Moses was that his name was "the unnameable one."  The name that God revealed to Moses was a warning that we cannot ever fully name God.  The name is built from the Hebrew word that means "to be."  In addition to telling Moses, "You can't name me."  God also wanted Moses to know that he was "What was, is and will be." 

The ancient Hebrew people translated God's name Y-h-w-h. It was never pronounced---they used "Adonai" instead of speaking God's name.  Eventually vowel sounds were added and now we typically write the name of God, Yahweh.  There are some rabbis who have taught that the name of God is actually the sound that a human being makes when he/she breathes in and out.  In other words, every time you breathe you speak the name of the unnameable.  And when you cease to speak God's name with your breath, you cease to be. 

The ancient Hebrew people believed that the very name of God spoke of power, fidelity and presence.  God's name was a name of Deliverance, the One who makes the impossible, possible.  For the Israelites  it meant new life outside of the deathliness of Egyptian slavery

When Jesus said in The Greatest Prayer, "Hallowed be thy name" he was lifting up this very Hebrew understanding of God's name and the holiness that it represented.  Hallowed comes from a Saxon word for "to make holy" I mentioned earlier that Jesus wasn't asking God to make his name holy.  God's name was already holy.  What Jesus was asking God to do was to make his name known in all the earth.  God had commanded those whom God had called to "Be holy, as I am holy."  Jesus calls his followers into a life of example.  When we pray "Hallowed be thy name," we are praying that God would use us--followers of Christ--to be living examples of holiness.  We are praying that through us, the whole world will come to know and revere the name of God, and live holy lives. 

What does this mean for you and I?  Simply this:  A Holy God Desires Holy Living.  No matter how flippantly we "name" God in our worship, no matter how familiar we claim to be with God, no matter how we try to give God names that fulfill our desires and our wishes for God... God is unnameable.  God is holy.  God is other.  We can't possibly speak of God. 

And yet, God loves us and desperately desires for us to live lives that reveal God to the world. 

If it's true that when we breathe, we speak the name of God... then we have a constant reminder of the call that is upon our lives.  A Holy God Desires Holy Living.  What are we doing that dishonors the name of God on our lips as we breathe the very gift of life that God has given us?  What do we say in between breathing God's name that is the opposite of holy, the opposite of Godliness? 

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Remember you are called, remember you are chosen. 

Hallowed be thy name, O God.  Hallowed be thy name.


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