The Greatest Prayer – Hallowed Be Your Name
Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013 – Lenten Sermon 1 of 6
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
Today we begin our sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer. [Matthew 6:9-13] It is the only prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. So it’s the only prayer that he taught us. Christians have been praying this prayer for some 2000 years now which indicates its value to us.
I have led families in this pray at bedsides and gravesides. I have prayed this prayer at weddings and confirmation retreats. We end our Church Council meetings with this prayer and include it in just about every service of worship we offer. A few years ago we started singing this prayer in our congregation and will continue to do so as far as I know.
If you have ever had to confess your sin to a priest you might have been instructed to recite ten “Our Fathers.” It’s just a thought, but if you are getting through the ten “Our Father recitations” as quickly as you can…are you really thinking about what you are praying?
But singing it or saying it, what are we praying about? What are we praying for? We are so familiar with this prayer, we run the risk of it becoming just a rote exercise.
This series is entitled, “The Greatest Prayer,” because it is a prayer that says so much, with the brevity of so few actual words.
The prayer is also great because it contains such a grand vision for the world. I wonder if any of you have ever understood this pray in such a way…as a prayer that teaches us Jesus’ vision for the world? Jesus had a vision for how the world might be and he shares that vision through the petitions of this greatest of prayers. We will spend the next five weeks gaining an understanding of this vision that Jesus had for the world in which we live.
But this is also a prayer that is not just words to be prayed, but words to live by and words to live out. Jesus has a vision of how the world should be. And in this prayer he teaches us how we can bring about that vision through the actions of our lives.
Have you ever looked at the world and thought; “what a mess; it sure isn’t perfect.” Far from it, we say.
Jesus agrees and says … Let me share what the world should look like and be like … and pray with me that it comes to be.
I hope that by the end of our time together you will catch a glimpse of Jesus’ vision … of how the world should be, and begin to see your part, your role, in creating and sustaining that world.
The world needs transformation and Jesus teaches us how to transform this world – that God so loves.
Now, if you are sort of waiting around for God to change the world you are missing the opportunity to work with God. For this prayer teaches us that God works, with us, collaboratively, to change and transform the world.
In our current newsletter there was a quote that gave voice to this collaborating that God expects. It said, “Sometimes I want to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice in the world …when he could do something about it. But I’m afraid he might just ask me the same question.”
Jesus teaches us a great truth about God in this prayer. It is a truth about how God works in the world. St. Augustine [paraphrased] said it this way, “God without us, will not. We without God, cannot.”
The prayer is equally broken up into three “YOUR” petitions and three “OUR” petitions:
Your Name, Your Kingdom, Your Will, and
Our Bread, Our Debts, Our Temptation.
The first half has to do with the Divine and the second half has to do with humanity. And those three are connected with that beautiful and poetic line … “On earth as it is in heaven.” The closer reading of the original Greek is “As in Heaven, so on Earth.”
Does that mean that life here on earth should reflect life in heaven? You might say, “yes, in a perfect world, but we look around and know this world is far from perfect.
But what is Heaven? What is perfect? What are the contents of Heaven? We will discover that as we learn about God’s Name, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will; the first three petitions of the prayer. “As in heaven.” What does that mean?
One line that I will keep coming back to each week goes like this: “Heaven is in great shape – earth is where the problems are.” I think we can all agree on that. Right?
“Heaven is in great shape – earth is where the problems are.”
So let’s begin. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And Jesus begins by taking us to God, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Prayer opens us up to the reality of God. Jesus has us begin with God … God’s Name, God’s kingdom, God’s will.
So, we being with God’s name. God is no different than we are when it comes to that important aspect of what a name is. Our name is our reputation. Our name carries with it our reputation. We express this, in part, by saying that someone’s name carries a lot of weight.
If Bob, let’s say, is a man of integrity and honesty, then we are glad to hear that Bob is in charge of the funds for the Boy Scout troop. His name carries weight because we know Bob’s reputation.
And the opposite is also true. If we know John, to be dishonest and a thief, and we hear he is the new money counter at church, we would say, “John, why would they have him count money?” He has a bad reputation.
So, what’s in God’s name? What is God’s reputation? What is God about? What does God’s name stand for?
“Hallowed be Your Name.” To make Hallow means “to make Holy” or “to sanctify.” The Psalms speak repeatedly of God’s Holy name, and God tells Moses to tell all the people of Israel, “You shall be Holy, for I the Lord am Holy.”
God’s divine holiness is our model. We are to be holy as God is holy, which means that to hallow God’s name our actions must be holy actions just like God’s actions are holy.
Remember God’s Holy actions towards the ancient Israelites. It is one of the most remembered actions of God. “I am the Lord your God, that bought you up out of the land of Egypt.” In our sacred scripture, God is the deliverer, Redeemer, and Savior of the oppressed. God made holy the people of Israel by liberating them from slavery and oppression.
Hallowed be your name. We do that by being holy as God is holy. It’s because God acted that way that Israel must act likewise and be the deliverer of its own oppressed.
Here are two examples of how God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt must be continued in Israel’s deliverance of its own oppressed. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” [Leviticus 23:22]
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” [Leviticus 19:34]
When you hear, “I am the Lord your God,” think “That’s what my name stands for.”
We are to be holy as God is holy. That’s how we hallow God’s name doing the holy things that God would do and has done. The more we learn about God, the more we learn about God’s holiness God’s character, God’s passions. And the more we learn about God’s holiness, the more we know what our actions must be.
God liberates the oppressed, God saves the oppressed. God desires justice and righteousness. As in heaven, so on earth.
Over the next five weeks we will continue to develop a picture of God’s holiness and God’s Character and God’s passions. And as in heaven, so on earth. As God does, so do we!
Jesus has us begin with the name of God. With first knowing God’s reputation and then keeping that reputation holy by and through our actions.
Our Father in heaven, let me hallow your name … Let me keep your name holy … keep holy your reputation. If God welcomes the stranger, the alien, then so must I. If God liberate the captive, then so must I. If God has compassion for the poor, then so must I.
Part of Hallowing God’s Name is discovering what God’s name stands for. What is God concerned about? What is God passionate about? Then that is what I – we – must be about. And our actions keep God’s name holy – or not so holy perhaps.
On this Ash Wednesday, and during this season of Lent we are penitential and reflective, not to beat ourselves up and make ourselves feel bad, but rather to get to know God and what God stands for. Better than we know today.
God has created us in God’s very own image and we are to be holy as God is. The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray begins with God and has us open our hearts and minds to God, so that we might be holy as God is holy, so that our actions make sacred his name.
As we begin Lent, we do so following Jesus into 40 days and 40 nights of reflective and meditative time in the wilderness. During those 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus got to know God quite well and resisted the temptation to live life, on any other terms, but what God desired.
Did Jesus’ actions and life keep God’s name holy? Of course, we say. Do our actions and life keep holy God’s name? What’s your response: Yes, No, Sometimes, or I don’t know?
Jesus invites us to pray, first to know God, and then once we know God, to keep Holy God’s name.
So we begin the prayer, Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.
May it be holy indeed. Amen.