Hallowed Be Thy Name

Hallowed Be Thy Name

February 18, 2024 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

St. Luke’s UMC

February 18, 2024

Lent 1

The Lord’s Prayer

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

Exodus 3:13-15; 20:7


Some years ago when I lived in a parsonage beside the church, I had a routine of going to the office to print my sermon on Saturday night then walking into the sanctuary to pray at the altar. It was usually silent and dark and I didn’t turn on any lights. Well one night as I was there kneeling in the quiet, a voice suddenly blurted out, “What are you doing?” I’m not talking about the voice of God. Literally a woman spoke. She was sitting on the organist’s bench. I nearly jumped out of my skin. She had been picked up on the interstate by a sheriff’s deputy. Obviously in need of assistance the deputy simply dropped her off at the nearest church. She found an unlocked door and made her way to the sanctuary and had been sitting there quietly. I called a couple in the church who came and got the woman into a hotel for the night and then helped her find assistance the next day.


I think of that woman from time to time and wonder if God might have actually been speaking through her, especially when my prayers become routine and just a jumble of words. What are you doing? What are you saying? What do you mean by these words?


It’s perhaps a good question to startle us when saying things like the Lord’s Prayer. What are you doing? What are you saying? What do you mean by these words? Those are questions I hope we will keep with us in this season of Lent as we study the Lord’s Prayer. For many the Lord’s Prayer is just something we say and mumble through in the service, but it is a prayer Jesus gives us that is meant to be so much more.


Some in our church tell about how the Lord’s Prayer has been very meaningful to them. Two weeks ago when I preached about anxiety, one member came through the communion line and whispered, “When I get anxious, I say the Lord’s Prayer and I always find peace.”

   That same day MaryAnn Moman told about conducting a funeral for an elderly woman. Her husband’s memory is very faint and he seemed confused through most of the service, but when the Lord’s Prayer was said, suddenly there was recognition and his lips began moving, and he became calm.

   Just the other day I met with a woman who several years ago had some health setbacks. Doctors didn’t know what to do for her. She ended up in a nursing home though she was only in her fifties. She felt God say to her one day, “You have to get up or you will die here.” So she did. Morning devotions became a big part of her turnaround, and central to that was the Lord’s Prayer. She told me in my office, “Its not overstating the case to say that prayer has saved my life.


So we are certainly not talking about a jumble of words. We are talking about words that need to be understood. We began on Ash Wednesday looking at the opening address, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Today we look at the next line in the prayer that is probably the least understood in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.”


 Scholars say that if we translated this phrase most accurately it would go like this: “God, make your name hallowed,” which means holy. What does that mean? What does it mean for God’s name to be made holy? And how does God hallow, or make holy, God’s own name?


The two key words to understand are Hallowed and Name. Let’s begin with the latter. A person’s name in biblical times was more than a label. One’s name communicated the presence and character of that person. It like in Old England when a courier would read an edict and say, “In the name of the king…” It meant the power and authority of the king was present in that hearing. For us we might think of going to the local BMV office where there are two pictures: the president and the governor. It means that the authority of those offices are present in that room. As William Barclay said in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer: “The name stood for the whole character of the person.”


So let’s think of the name of God and what it means. To do that we have to travel all the way back to Mt. Sinai where Moses has gone to see a bush that is burning but not burning up. He experiences God who tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to set God’s people free. Remember what Moses said to God? What is your name so I can tell them? In other words, I am not going without some authority, some symbol of power that is with me. I need to begin, “In the name of the King of the Universe. So, I need your name!


God says, “Tell them my name is Yahweh, which means, “I Am who I Am.” Makes me think of Popeye, “I yam what I yam, that’s all I yam!” Everett Fox in his commentary on Exodus says another way to interpret the meaning of God’s name is this way: “I will be there, as I will be there.” That has a different twist doesn’t it? God will be there. That says something about the character of God. God can be counted on. We can depend on God.


But that understanding of God’s character reveals what it means to us to count on God and whether we find God’s character to be true. There’s one of two ways to go through life putting ourselves at the center and God revolving around us, or putting God at the center and us revolving around God. If we asked which of these two is better, I’m sure most of us sitting here in church would say, “Well of course, it’s much better to put God at the center.” But we don’t live here. We live out there. And the temptation out there is to do the opposite.


This past week was the anniversary of Galileo’s trial before a church inquisition in 1633. Galileo believed like Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun. The Church said, “That’s heresy. Just look up! The sun rises and sets. The sun moves, not the earth. We are the center of the universe. But Galileo said, “No, the sun is the center and we revolve around it.”


Even good church people struggle not to be the center of the universe. And if the church can tempt us to do that, how much does the rest of society! It’s hard to resist. Even if we don’t consciously believe we are the center, we can unconsciously live it. We can live with a belief that says God will be there to protect me from bad things. God will be there to step in when I need God. That way I can continue to be at the center and God is there to give me the life I want. And when that belief takes hold whether consciously or unconsciously, our faith will stay in frustration mode.


Remember the movie Bruce Almighty? God gives to Bruce, played by Jim Carey, God’s power because Bruce thinks he could do a better job than God running the world. One night Bruce gets overwhelmed by all the prayers coming at him, so he just gives everyone a yes. All prayers are answered the way people want. And what happens? It causes total chaos. Even Bruce making the moon bigger to impress his girlfriend causes a tsunami in Japan.


You see, God created the world with laws and principles that make the world a good place to live, but it doesn’t mean it is a world without the possibility of pain. If God stepped in to prevent every pain from happening to us, eventually the world would become a chaotic place.


But its in times of pain that we really come to experience the character of God. God will be there as God will be there. God will show up to comfort and heal and help us, and never stop working so that even through pain God can create good. This is how God works. This is God’s character. This is what the name of God means, that the character and power of God will be revealed.


So that is a little of what is behind the “name” of God, but what does it mean to pray: God, make your name hallowed? Hallowed is the other word we want to consider. It  means to make holy or sanctified. To be made holy in the Bible is to be set apart, to be made distinct. God said “Keep the Sabbath holy.” It means keep it distinct, different from other days. God called Moses to ordain Levites as priests as holy to God. This means they are set apart for special duties.


When we pray “Hallowed be thy name,” we are saying, “God keep your character distinct, set apart. Show yourself to be different?” How does God do this? Theologian Robert Guelich points out that “the holiness of God’s name is bound up with the character and conduct of God’s people.” (The Sermon on the Mount, p310)  That means that God’s character is revealed in us.


You could say that this part of the Lord’s Prayer is a positive version of number three of the Ten Commandments: “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Given what we’ve said about God’s name, this means, “Do not impugn the character of God.” We often think of this as literally using God’s name in cursing, or the behavior of vile people. Certainly that could include this. But the deeper way God’s name, or God’s character, gets impugned is in the conduct and behavior of people, especially godly people.


This week a 63 year-old United Methodist pastor in Connecticut was arrested for making methamphetamine in the parsonage. It’s almost like a living episode of Breaking Bad. In fact, pictures of the pastor show that he looks similar to that actor, Brian Cranston, who played in the show. When religious leaders in whom people put their trust do things that harm and hurt others, certainly God’s character is impugned. But it can be impugned in more subtle ways.


William Barclay writing more than 60 years ago said some Christians who are the staunchest in their beliefs can misrepresent the character of God. Such as when “God is presented as a God of battles and a kind of nationalistic ally…when people have drawn a picture of God to suit their own theories of racial superiority…when people use their ideas about God to erect their own barriers of social progress and make religion an argument for maintaining the status quo. (The Beatitudes and The Lord’s Prayer p185)


Do you know any Christians who can be the most sure in their faith and still impugn the character of God? Maybe people who get so convicted in being right, that they use this as justification to harm and shame or ostracize others? I wonder if that is why reverence for God and even the idea of holiness seems so out of fashion today? We don’t want to appear hypocritical. We don’t want to be like those who talk so much about holiness but can be mean-spirited and judgmental. So we move away from holiness. That’s been a developing trend in church in the last 50 years. Why do we need formal altars in churches? Why do we need to dress up? Why do we need sacred spaces, isn’t God everywhere?


I have been an advocate for such changes, but I wonder, and maybe this is me just getting older and becoming more of a fuddy-duddy, but I wonder if such efforts haven’t come at a cost. When we lose any sense of holiness, of the sacred, of reverence, does something else get lost within us? When we don’t revere God in any outward way, do we lose the reverence for God inwardly? The point is not just to revere things. We can do that and still impugn the character of God. But when we do make room for the holy, we realize that what’s important is not buildings or rituals, its people. God wants us to be different. God wants us to be holy. This is what Peter meant when he wrote: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) It comes back to conduct. Character. Who we are. The holiness of God’s name is bound up in the character and conduct of God’s people.


Hallowed be thy name. If I read that in the RSV, Rob’s Standard Version, it would sound like this: “God stay true to your character until your character becomes true in us.” (Rob Standard Version)


I know I just told a Carver McGriff story on Ash Wednesday, but I want to end with another one today. Some of you have perhaps heard it before. One time when Carver was in high school he was eating breakfast and his dad corrected him about something. Carver overreacted and smarted off to his dad in a rather hurtful way and then just left the table in a huff to go off to work at his job at the LS Ayers store.  He got things ready to open and then after the front door was unlocked, he heard the bell above the door ring recognizing the first customer of the day had arrived. Only it wasn’t a customer. It was Carver’s father. He walked over to him and said, “Carver, I’m sorry.”


Carver was dumbfounded. He knew his dad had nothing to apologize for. He was simply trying to help Carver and Carver was the rude one. He was the one who needed to apologize.


Could this be a very earthly way of identifying with the opening of the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name? A God who stays true to God’s character, that is very different, very distinct and set apart, that “Father,” staying true to that character so it becomes our character?