"Holy is Your Name"
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
I conduct worship at several nursing homes in the North Shore on a rotating basis. I often wonder how much is being grasped, if those present even know we’re having a worship service…until I lead the group in the Lord’s Prayer. It seems comforting, something they can hold onto, a memory that cannot be shaken, a familiar ritual that helps bring us all into the presence of God.
Today we’re considering the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: "Hallowed be Thy Name." In John’s Gospel we see an instance where Jesus prays publicly, "Father, glorify Your Name." Then a voice thunders from heaven: "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."
The word "hallowed" means "holy." To "hallow" also means to sanctify, to be sound, fit or whole, to make special, to be perfect, free from defilement, uncontaminated. It means to have a different quality of being, to be extraordinary, set apart. God is separate from us in that He is undefiled. The opposite of hallow is to profane or disgrace God’s Name. This petition could be translated: "May Your Name be held Holy." In other words, "May You be revered and respected because of Who You are. May Your character and reputation be honored and kept untarnished. May nothing debase Your person." Our primary concern and our deepest passion should be that God would cause His Name to be revered.
To hallow God’s Name is to recognize, regard, respect, reverence, profess and proclaim God as holy. We don’t add to God’s holiness in prayer-we treat Him as holy. Although we have free access to God, when we take advantage of His open-door policy we speak to Him with reverence. "Hallowed be Thy Name" balances out "Our Father". In these two phrases we see both our close, intimate relationship to God, and the reverential honor we owe Him.
On Memorial Day it’s evident who respects our nation and who does not. When the flag passes, some stand, remove their hats and place their hand over their hearts in salute…and others keep their hats on, put their hands in their pockets and keep talking to their friends. In the same fashion, some honor God, while others dishonor Him.
Peter writes, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" (I Pet 3:15). We need to set God apart from everything that is common and profane, and give Him the place He deserves in our lives. We need to be conscious of God’s presence, then strive to do everything for His glory. Martin Luther posed a question in his catechism: "How is God’s Name hallowed among us?" The answer: "When both our doctrine and our life are godly and Christian."
Jewish worshippers regarded the Name of God as utterly sacred-so much so that when scribes copied Scripture they would use a new quill to write the Holy Name. It was considered irreverent to speak God’s Name aloud. There are many names for God in the Bible. Religious leaders took two names-Adonai, which means "the Lord God", and Yahweh, the Name "I AM" God gave to Moses-they took the vowels of the first, the consonants of the second, and came up with Jehovah, a made-up word, one they felt they could speak without offending the holiness of God.
Do we truly understand what it means to revere the Lord? The spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" captures a sense of the holy: "Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble." We are struck and overwhelmed by the awesome majesty of God.
By starting with God’s holiness in the Lord’s Prayer, we recognize that prayer is not primarily for our benefit. People today love to have their names highly regarded-they want to see their names in lights, on plaques, awards and in headlines. They are seeking fame and fortune. To this attitude David responds, "Glorify the Lord with me and let us exalt His Name together" (Psalm 34:3).
When Moses appeared before the burning bush, he heard the voice of God and removed his sandals, to signify that he was of the earth. This was an act of humility before a holy God. When Isaiah beheld a vision of the majesty of God, he cried out in fear, realizing that he was unworthy to appear before the Lord. At that moment he understood who God was and who Isaiah was.
This affirmation, "Hallowed be Thy Name", reflects the many prayers of king David, who declared the majesty and holiness of God before he made any requests. We see in most Biblical prayers worship prior to petition. This was true in the prayers offered at the Presidential Inaguration. Prayer begins with God, and His priorities. Gordon Hugenberger of Boston’s Park Street Church explainss: "The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is the indispensable foundation for all the rest. It points us to the ’chief end of man’ as defined by the Westminster Confession-’to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever’."
What’s in a name? Certain names evoke concepts, ideas. If I were to list a number of familiar product and company names, they would bring to our thoughts what those companies do and what their products represent-in terms of quality, reliability and reputation.
By revering God’s Name, we are making known His reputation, proclaiming Who He is and all He has done. We say that people have "made a name" for themselves. Our name is linked to our reputation. Psalm 102:15 proclaims, "The nations shall fear the Name of the Lord." The many Names of God in Scripture describe His nature and attributes; they explain Who He is:
Yahweh-He is immutable, unchanging
Elohim-Creator, Lord of Lords
El Shaddai-God Almighty
El Elyon-Sovereign Ruler
Jehovah-jireh-God will provide
Jehovah-shalom-God our peace
Jehovah-sabaoth-the Lord of hosts
Jehovah-shammah-God is present
Jehovah-tsidkenu-God our righteousness
Jehovah-rohi-God our Shepherd
Jewish families gave special thought to the names they chose for their children; they picked names that would reflect character qualities they hoped to see developed. Our early American Puritans did the same, choosing names such as Charity, Hope, Faith and Patience. We chose for our children the names Matthew, meaning "Gift of God", and Ruth, meaning "beloved friend". The one a disciple, the other a woman of integrity.
The Third Commandment tells us not to use God’s Name lightly, casually, or irreverently, in curse or in jest. We are to honor the Name of God in all we say and do. Gordon-Conwell Seminary professor Haddon Robinson proposes, "The essence of evangelism is that people everywhere will hallow God’s Name by allowing God to be God in their lives."
In our culture we have reduced worship to the level of entertainment. We hope that people "enjoy" church, that they "get something" out of the experience. Was the sermon inspiring? Was the music to our liking? Although we gain personal growth through what church has to offer, our purpose for being here is first and foremost to honor God. Jesus rebuked the money changers of the Temple saying, "This is a house of prayer and you’ve turned it into a place of commerce." I heard it said that for some people church is a performance, but at the end of the show the only applause that matters comes from God. We hallow God when we hallow His day.
One reason to pray this prayer is that we live in a fallen world which defiles and degrades the holy Name of God. Obscene blasphemy is commonplace. We should be in a world where everyone reveres God, yet we find ourselves surrounded by people who express hostility and indifference instead of reverence. We pray "Hallowed by Thy Name" in protest against those who revile the Name of God. We are praying that God will be regarded as holy in an unholy world. We are also distinguishing our worship as Truth. To worship an idol involves calling something holy that is not holy. In this sense, the Lord’s Prayer becomes an affirmation of faith.
What are we doing to "hallow" God’s Name? Do our prayers and our lives bring praise to God? When we converse, do we have holy conversations? Are we reaching towards praise in all we do? We offer God our praise by hallowing His Name and responding to His holiness. God wants us to be holy, as He is holy. He wants us to be saints-set apart from all that is profane. As a church, He wants us to present ourselves to the world as a community of faith, hope, and love.
Prayer: "Lord God-Holy, Holy, Holy is Your Name. God of power and might-heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. In our lives, Lord-be highly esteemed and glorified. In the Name of the blessed Trinity, the sovereign Father, the redeeming Son and the sanctifying Holy Spirit-Amen.