2nd Sunday in Lent February 25, 2018
155, 151:1-2,6-7, 363, 146:3
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
#2) The First Petition
“Hallowed be Thy name.”
What does this mean?
God’s name is certainly holy all by itself, but we pray in this petition that we also keep it holy.
How is God’s name kept holy?
God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as children of God also live a holy life according to it. Help us do this, dear heavenly Father.
But whoever teaches and lives contrary to the Word of God dishonors God’s name among us. Keep us from doing this, heavenly Father.
It’s the favorite three letter answer in every confirmation student’s vocabulary: “God.” With that simple three letter word, we sometimes think we have the answer to everything. However, there is so much more to God’s name that just that three letter title. In order to understand what we mean by the “name of God” we need to think beyond letters, sounds, and titles. The name of God embraces His very self-revelation of who He is and what He promises to do.
Think of that moment in every parents life where mom or dad look at what their child is doing and says, “Who’s kid is that?” Maybe its a baseball game where their little boy is sitting out in right field picking flowers and playing with bugs. Maybe its a report card their daughter brings home which shows lack of effort and concern. Maybe its an embarrassing choice that lands their child face-first in the mud. Or maybe its something more serious and disappointing. Maybe its something serious that happens while their boy is away at college. They are left wondering, “Who’s kid is that?”
Our parents give us a first name and attach to it their own name. So the last name and the family you belong to carries with it more than just a title. It is a relationship. It carries with it something from the past and passes on expectations for the future. It inherits a reputation. And when that reputation or family bond is harmed, the “name” is also harmed.
In this sense, “the name” is more than just a title. It includes the person’s very identity. It expresses expectations for who this person is and what they can be counted on to do. As Christian parents see their teenage son going out the door at 8:00 on a Friday night, they say, “Don’t forget who you are.” By this they mean, “Don’t go out that door and suddenly become someone else; don’t let yourself become something you are not.” In other words, “You belong to Christ. You are baptized into Christ. Don’t forget your name. Don’t forget who you are.” In this way we also pray to our heavenly Father, “Hallowed be Thy name.”
In Exodus 20, God gave His name to the people of Israel. Moses has led the people to the foot of Mount Sinai. Just before delivering the Ten Commandments, God delivers His name to them, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out to the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2)
God not only will be their God, but He wants them to know Him by His personal name: “the LORD.” This is similar to how you might call me “Pastor David.” This includes both my office: “Pastor,” and my personal name: “David.” So they will know Him as “their God, the LORD.” This includes both His office: “God,” and His personal name: “The LORD.” This personal name reminds them that it was not just any old god that they are worshiping. Rather He is the God who rescued them from land of Egypt and freed them from the house of slavery. Without the name, they are left calling on a generic god that cannot help them. This is why God says, “don’t take my name in vain” (cf. Exodus 20:7), and He places it second in importance only next to idolatry.
God wanted to be sure He was distinctly distinguished from the other gods and idols of the nations. In pagan worship, the idol represents the means to access a god. Without the idol, there is no way to commune with the god. But God again and again, instructs the people not to use idols. As He comes to the conclusion of the ten commandments, He says, “Do not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold… An altar of earth you shall make, and you shall sacrifice on it your offerings… In every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you, and I will bless you” (Ex. 20:24, tr. mine, DLWP).
Don’t make a statue of gold…rather make an altar of earth and call upon My name. In place of the idol of gold, God directs them to do two things: build an altar for sacrifice and call upon His name. The name of the LORD then is the basis for access to Him. In this is the promise of both His presence: “I will come to You,” and His blessing: “I will bless you.” In His name, the LORD introduces Himself to the Israelites and initiates a relationship with them. He reveals who He is: the God who saved them; and He reveals what He promises to do: be with them. Hallowed be His name.
In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus takes what was promised to Israel and brings it to us. Like Moses, here we find Jesus meeting with God to pray for His people. Like Moses, Jesus mediates God’s relationship with His people. But even more than Moses, Jesus is the very name of God incarnate. In visible, physical form, He reveals who God is.
John 17 brings us the longest recorded prayer of Jesus ever in Scripture. It is a special prayer Jesus speaks in the upper room on the night before He goes to the cross. And what He is focused on first of all is God’s glory. The revealing of the name of God and His glory is the revealing of Jesus. Jesus reveals the presence of God in a visible, physical, incarnate way. This allows us to see God’s glory for ourselves and to know who God is in the most personal of ways. We come to know God as the One who lays down His life for us.
So Jesus prays first for Himself, “Father…glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” (John 17:1) Jesus knew His Father better than any of us. He calls on Him as “Father” and prays that God’s glory, that is, the revelation of His presence would become known through His work on the cross.
Next He prays for His disciples, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given me…Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:6,11) He prays that God’s glory would also become known to the disciples and through the name of God, the disciples would remain united in faith.
Finally, He prays for all future believers, “I have declared Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) He prays that God would be made known to future believers by the Word of the apostles. Jesus will keep on declaring who God is so that the love of God would come to us also.
Jesus then is the one who mediates God’s name. If it weren’t for Jesus, we would remain disconnected from God. God would forever be that parent who is never satisfied and who we cannot come close to. He would be constantly disappointed at the ways we’ve misrepresented Him and marred His holy name. God would have every right to say, “Who’s kid is that?”
But Jesus now reveals God as the loving and forgiving God. He comes to our world to suffering for our sins and rising from the dead to free us from guilt and failure. This glorifies Him and reveals the glory of God in Him. He then is able to establish our relationship with God. He stands between God and us. He prays for us to God and He brings back the blessing of God’s name to us. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us this and teaches us to pray to the Father through Jesus Christ.
The Name is what gives us access to the holiness of God so that we can receive His Holy Spirit and be sanctified. This happens for us in our baptism. There in the water and the word, God introduces Himself to us. Only now He is not known to us as “the LORD,” but as the “Father.” We are baptized into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This establishes our relationship with Him as His dear children. He promises to come to us and to bless us just like He did for His people of old. He washes us and makes us holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. We now know God and have access to Him in the most personal of ways.
Nothing we do creates this relationship. No effort or accomplishment on our part makes this happen. Rather it is by God’s grace. It is by grace that we have been rescued and adopted into the family of God. It is by grace that we are called holy by Him and that we have access into His presence. His name is an expression of who He is and that cannot be added to or changed. When we pray “Hallowed be Thy name,” we are not making God’s name holy. It is holy all by itself. And we are holy only because of our connection to His name and promise. What we are praying is that we would keep His name holy.
It is like a parent who says, “Who’s kid is that?” There is nothing that boy needs to do to become their child. He will always have their last name. However, there are things he can do to tarnish that name or to cause harm to the good things that they have given him. He can dishonor the family name by what he does. How many parents have said, “We didn’t raise him that way.”
God’s name is holy and by our connection to His name, we are holy too. The waters of baptism and the blood of Christ have sanctified us and taken away all our sins. There is nothing more to be done to gain the status of “sainthood.” But there are things we can do to bring tarnish that name and to cause harm to the blessings we have been given.
To keep God’s name holy then is to defend holy ground. As Moses took off his shoes when he approached the burning bush, so we are careful to maintain God’s holiness when we approach Him. To walk on that holy ground is not to make it holy, rather it is to avoid bringing any of our impurities onto His holy territory. We are not on a crusade to conquer more territory, but we are called to defend the holy ground we already have been given.
This ground involves our fellowship in the Church and our faith lived out in daily life. The holy ground is defended by (1) right teaching and (2) living a life of repentant faith consistent with the gospel. In the fellowship of the Church we fight off any teaching that would dishonor or defile His holy presence. Anything that would call into question the firmness of God’s word must be done away with. Likewise, we keep God’s holy name when we guard ourselves against persistent sin. We can’t create faith, but we certainly can destroy it. When we get caught up living a life contrary to God’s word, God’s name is not hallowed. It is as if we are heading out the door each day with God reminding us: “Don’t forget who you are.”
Yet there are times when we do forget. We compromise the word. We compromise ourselves. Which is why it is all the more important that we remember God’s holy name. We must remember who God is, so that we can have the courage to return for forgiveness again. We must remember, He is our Father. He is the Father who awaits the return of His prodigal son.
The Father watches for His long lost son. His son has wandered off, rejected His family name and literally dragged it through the mud with the pigs. The Father has watched as His reputation has been ruined and His inheritance wasted away by a son who disowned Him. But the son his rock bottom. He finally decides that he will return home to grovel for a position as a servant. The Father has been watching for him. And when He sees His son returning, before any words can be exchanged, the Father is running out to greet him. His Father does not disown Him and cannot forget His name. His holy name and promise cannot be destroyed, no matter how we have abused it. The Father welcomes him back with grace and joy. He celebrates the return and says, “Kill the fatted calf! My son has returned!”
In this way, God’s name is hallowed. His saving grace and glory is revealed. His saving deeds are received by faith. And we pray in this petition that it would be kept holy among us also.
How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as children of God also live a holy life according to it. Help us do this, dear heavenly Father. But whoever teaches and lives contrary to the Word of God dishonors God’s name among us. Keep us from doing this, heavenly Father.
Hallowed be Thy name. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“The First Petition” and Explanation are from “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, A Handbook of Christian Doctrine,” by Michael A. Sydow; Published by the CLC Board of Education and Publications, 2006.