March 1, 2020 “Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name ”
The message for Sunday, March 1, 2020, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name” by Pastor Erik Goehner, heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 Worship service.
“Our Father who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name” March 1, 2020
There were two young boys in elementary school who got into a discussion about what God’s name was. One boy insisted that he knew that God’s real name was Harold. The other boy said that Harold did not sound like God’s name, and how could his friend know anyway? The first boy said he had proof from the Bible that God’s name was Harold. When the other boy asked where in the Bible it said that, the first boy said it was in the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name.”
During the six Sundays of the season of Lent we are going to do a series looking at the Lord’s prayer. It is a prayer that we pray every week. It is a prayer that many of us can say from memory. But how often do we stop and think about the words that we are praying? How often do we reflect upon what it is we are saying and how it might affect our lives?
Let’s begin with the first line of the Lord’s prayer. The first part of the prayer may not talk about the name of God being “Harold” like it sounded to the young boy, but it does talk about the name of God being Hallowed. When asked what does it mean to Hallow God’s name, Martin Luther said that God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. To hallow something means to set it apart, to make it special, to consider it sacred and holy.
John Crossan points out that the word “name” can mean identity or reputation. Name as identity is what is on our credit cards, driver’s licenses, and passports. It is what we have in mind when we speak of identity theft as stealing a person’s name. Name as reputation is what we mean when we say somebody has a good name. Your identity is internal to yourself, but your reputation is how others see you, judge you, or assess you. It is what the Biblical book of Proverbs means when it says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Your good name is the favorable view others have of you. When we hallow God’s name, we are promoting a favorable view of God to those from within the faith, and to those from without the faith. We are affecting the reputation of God in a positive way.
In the Jewish tradition, the idea of “hallowing or sanctifying” the name of God is called Kiddush HaShem. The rabbis of Jesus’ time closely studied the scriptures and made an interesting observation in regard to this concept. Out of all of the ten commandments, only one carried with it a grave threat of punishment. Surprisingly, it is not the prohibition against theft or murder, but rather against taking the name of the Lord in vain! The scriptures say “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7 NASB).
The rabbis believed that this commandment may also have a much greater meaning. They pointed out that the command literally says, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord for an ‘empty thing,’” and they interpreted that to mean, to do something evil in the name of God which would give God a bad reputation. In Levitcus 19:12, this is called “profaning the name of God,” and is referred to as Hillul HaShem in Hebrew. It is to do something evil, and associate the name of God with it, which is a sin against God whose reputation suffers as a result.*
Does it seem strange that this commandment, which we interpret as a prohibition against swearing, is the only one that God promises to punish? Aren’t other sins equally or more serious?
To answer this question, it may be helpful to look at the concept of how brand names can affect a product’s reputation. Brand names are simply words, and learning a word entails a lot more than mapping a meaning to a sequence of sounds. It involves a whole network of associations, which affect how we think and feel about that word.
Take “cat,” for instance. At face value, a “cat” is a four-legged feline mammal that is a common household pet. But suppose that your next-door neighbor had a fluffy and very sociable cat when you were growing up. As a result of this, you might associate the word “cat” with positive emotions, like affection. Alternatively, if your neighbor’s cat always hissed at you, you might associate the word “cat” with negative emotions, like fear. Either way, the word “cat” makes you not only think about cats, but how you feel about them, too.
This concept is called “implicit-association.” Throughout the years, we cultivate positive and negative connotations about certain words that are so ingrained in our brains that we don’t even realize it. So the first time we hear a brand name, we have no preconceived conceptions about it, which means a company has an opportunity to shape their customers associations with their brand.
Let’s take a real-life example. Even though we’ve formed concrete feelings about the word “shoe,” when we hear about a brand called “Nike” for the first time, suddenly we’re blank slates again: we learn to associate positive or negative connotations with the word “Nike” based on our experiences of their products.
So, if your brand delivers a quality product, gets good press, and aligns with your customers’ values, then your customers will begin to associate your brand with positive connotations – just like you did with your neighbor’s fluffy cat when you were a child. If somebody automatically associates your brand name with positive emotions, you’ve earned yourself a customer for life.**
Let’s take this psychological process and apply it to what happens with the disciples in today’s Gospel story from the book of Matthew. Jesus has gone to pray by himself and has sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the lake in a boat on their own. Part way across, a huge storm whips up and is battering the boat the disciples are in. Jesus must have had a sense they were in trouble so he goes out to them, and the incredible thing is that he does so by walking on the water! He even invites Peter to walk on the water too! The experience doesn’t last long, as Peter soon begins to sink, but Jesus pulls him back up and they get into the boat. Once they are in the boat, the winds and the storm cease as if they are stopping on cue in connection with Jesus’ actions.
Notice what the disciples do when things have calmed down. They are awe-struck and in shock. They have had an unexplainable experience in which they have seen the power of God associated with the name of Jesus. So what do they do? The scripture tells us that those in the boat worshipped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The disciples hallow the name of Jesus. They associate his name with the title “Son of God.” This experience of associating the name of God with the name of Jesus will make them his followers for life.
A key piece of hallowing the name of God then, is getting people to have powerful, positive experiences with that name. Perhaps this is why the ancient rabbi’s took sanctifying the name of God and not using it in vain so seriously, because they knew the very reputation of God was riding on the kinds of associations people made with that name. If those associations were negative because God’s followers were profaning the name of God, then people’s image of God would be negative and they would be less likely to believe.
God’s reputation in the world has been slandered, and evangelism has been seriously hindered because of the evil actions of those who bear his name. There are horrible things throughout history like the Crusades and the holocaust that have been done in the name of God or by people calling themselves Christian and these things have turned people away from Christianity.
Even in the lives of average people, this can happen. How many stories have we heard of people who were treated unfairly by church members, and have never returned to the church? They have said in their hearts, “I don’t want anything to do with you or your God.” When a church-goer is dishonest in business, rude to his neighbors, or regularly uses profanity, it is a witness against Christ to the world around us.
This is why it is so important that we hallow the name of God in the things that we say and do. This is why it is so important that we look to make the name of God holy, because it affects people’s associations with the kind of brand of Christianity that we are practicing. It affects the reputation of Jesus in the world and whether or not people will want to follow the way of Christ.
Making God’s name holy can happen in all kinds of big or small ways. The Rev. Titus Baraka is a local coordinator for a Christian non-profit which works to bring clean water systems to villages who are in need. Whenever they complete a project, he makes a point to explain that the water systems were brought in the name of Jesus Christ, who brings living water to the world. He also explains that the water is not only for Anglicans, Protestants, Catholics or Muslims, but for everyone in the community.
After one such presentation a local water committee member stood up to make the following remark: “When I see that you have come here at great expense… when I see the way you do your work… when I see that you want to show love to people you don’t even know, I realize that you serve a great God. It makes me want to become a Christian.”
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. We serve a great God whose name is holy. May our lives proclaim the holiness of sacrificial love which comes through Jesus Christ. Amen.
* Lois Tverberg, “What Does it Mean To Hallow God’s Name?” June 16, 2019, www.engediresourcecenter.com
**Molly Reynolds, “Why Brand Names Are So Important, According To Science”
September 10, 2017, www.huffpost.com