SERMON: Hallowed be they Name
When you hear the word “hallowed”, what comes to mind? What kind of emotions surface when you hear the word “hallowed”?
We don’t use the word “hallowed” frequently in everyday speech, except when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Many people do not have an idea of what “hallowed” means. It is no wonder that many I read of many instances where children prayed, “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name.”
Sometimes the word is used to refer to an honored space when referring to these “hallowed halls” where generations of people were taught. Or in “hallowed ground” as in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in the memory of the soldiers who fought at Gettysburg: “… we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
A well-known use of “hallowed” is in the word Halloween. It comes from the same root word as hallowed. Before Halloween was all about kids walking around the neighborhood to get a bag full of candy, the name had a deeper meaning as a combination of the words “hallowed” and “evening”. This is because October 31st is the night before All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day, which is celebrated on November 1st. Just like the word “hallowed”, the word “saint” itself is another word that means “one who is holy.” So, according to the name, the real meaning of Halloween is All Saints Eve.
Some people find the concept of holiness alienating. They understand holiness as a moral code with a long list of commandments of what you shouldn’t do. And it is usually the fun things that should not be done. It leaves one with a feeling of being judged, unholy, and worthless. God is judging us from far away, holy, and expecting us to follow this moral holiness code. People fear God and feel alienated.
Many Christians don’t think much about the expression “hallowed be Thy name”. It just sounds like a religious way of saying “your name is holy.” That seemed like an excellent way to start a prayer: address God and say, “Father, your name is holy,” and then get on to the requests. But the first request in the Lord’s Prayer is not “Thy kingdom come.” The first request is “Hallowed be Thy name.”
The Lord’s Prayer has three “YOUR” petitions and four “OUR” petitions. The “YOUR” petitions; or if we prefer the older King James language, “THY” petitions are: “Hallowed be THY name, THY kingdom come, THY will be done.” The first three petitions are very ‘vertical’ in nature.
The four “US” petitions are: “Give US this day our daily bread. Forgive US our debts, lead US not into temptation, and deliver US from evil.” Here we are directed to ask the Father for those things that pertain to our life together in this world. These petitions are all very horizontal in nature. So, three “YOUR” petitions and four “OUR” petitions.
It is meaningful to notice that the “THY” petitions come first. Isn’t it true that our usual sequence of prayer is the other way round? We begin many times with the “US” petitions.
With this prayer, Jesus is ‘reorienting’ the direction of our life. “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). Our image of God and focus on God makes all the difference in our lives! Jesus removes the focus from us and turns our attention to God.
To develop a healthy perspective of our lives and our situation, we must first move the focus to GOD. It makes us aware of who God is, and liberates us from the downward spiral of being caught up in ourselves and our issues.
There is this beautiful story of a Monk that decided to meditate on the Lord’s Prayer because he had so many personal struggles. He meditated on “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be they name…” for days, not needing to go on to ask for more. Just being aware of his Holy Loving Divine Parent was enough and deeply fulfilling!
The word “HALLOWED” is how the literal Greek words “may it be, made holy” is translated. (Close to the word sanctified) What is missed in most English translations is that this is a request for God to act: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallow your name! (That is why some translations use “Reveal who you are”. It is not only a declaration as many think it is. It is a request to God that God would see to it that God’s own name be hallowed… ”be made holy”.
The German theologian and philosopher Rudolf Otto wrote an influential book in 1917, Das Heilige, which appeared in English as “The Idea of the Holy”. He writes that while the concept of “the holy” is often used to convey moral perfection, it contains another distinct element beyond the ethical sphere, for which he uses the term numinous. Numinous (noo muh nuhs) is a term derived from the Latin numen, meaning “arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring. He explains the numinous as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.” This mental state “presents itself as Ganz Andere; Wholly/Totally Other, absolutely in a class by itself and incomparable with anything else.” It describes the awesome power, and presence. and realization of divinity. That is what we experience when God reveals God’s Holiness!
Otto argues that because the numinous is irreducible and unique, it cannot be defined in terms of other concepts or experiences. It cannot be taught; it can only be evoked. He describes holiness in Latin words, mysterium tremendum, a tremendous mystery! God is a reality we cannot grasp with our minds. God is a Reality that leaves us in AWE and speechless.
To develop perspective and depth in our lives, we need to stand in awe of this Reality again and again. We need an experience or awareness of the Holy One. This experience of the holy may sometimes sweep like a gentle tide pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, thrillingly vibrant, and resonant. It can develop into something beautiful and pure and glorious.
The Hebrew word for holiness is kiddushin, which also means marriage. When something is holy, it is consecrated, set apart; yet it is set apart, not for isolation, but for a personal and interpersonal purpose; not for distance, but for intimacy. The tremendous mystery of God as the Gans Andere/Wholly Other, becomes an intimately personal experience of God. True Holiness does not alienate, it intimately connects.
The revelation of God’s name is part of the intimacy. In Jewish culture, names were not simply a way to call a person; rather, names were meant to reflect a person’s character, show the essence of their identity, and declare that person’s destiny. God’s name communicates who God is. Jesus was not only declaring that God is holy, but He was also asking that God actively “hallows” His own name. To “REVEAL WHO YOU ARE…”
But how does God hallow God’s own name and Reveal who God is?
GOD HOLLOWS God’s name in all creation! Nature hallows God’s name to bring glory and honor to God. When we see the beauty, power, majesty and wonder in creation we are filled with awesome wonder:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
thy power throughout the universe displayed;… mysterium tremendum…holiness
The Celts used the beautiful expression of “thin places” in Celtic spirituality, where people felt the holiness of the divine in specific spaces or particular objects.
When Moses entered the “thin place” of a burning bush, the numinous, mysterium tremendum, of God’s holiness was so close, he took off his shoes in the presence of holiness.
We can sometimes experience holy awe entering a sanctuary or cathedral, getting “a feeling of luminosity out of the numinous”. We sense these thin places sometimes in sacred places of worship, or sacred symbols, stained glass windows, statues or candles.
God reveals God’s holiness through art and music. I wish I could hear from everyone which music evokes the intimate tremendous mystery of God’s holiness… Maybe in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s The Creation, Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja, and even in so-called “secular music”. For me, the Van Gogh experience was an awe-some experience of God through art.
The intimate holiness of God is often revealed through the ordinary and mundane. Through another person’s eyes, the holy beauty of a flower or a bird bathing in a puddle. But also, through everyday fruits, vegetables, bread and wine.
But we need to remember that the most sacred lies not in the bush, building, bird, bread, or music, but in the mystical union with our Divine Parent in this hallowed space! Sacramental nature!
Eze:36:23 says I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.
God hallows God’s name when we live in a way that reflects God’s goodness, majesty, beauty, and love. When we pray for God to hallow God’s name, we are praying, “May your name be hallowed in and through us—in our lives, our words, our thoughts, our actions“. God hallows God’s name in our praise.
But, how can we be holy? God is holy! How can we ever glorify God through our lives?
Ezechiel 36:24 I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.
1 Tess 5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
How can we ever transform ourselves into holiness? We can’t! The Lord alone is holy, and only GOD sanctifies. When the Holy One acts, He sanctifies in grace. His holiness shows in his boundless love for each of us. His love longs for the most intimate union with us: He in us and we in Him. If He stays in us, He radiates from us. This is holiness.
Protestants know the language of grace well and often use it to explain how one is saved. But what about becoming holy? Is that then our responsibility? Scripture makes it very clear that salvation and sanctification are both fully graced.
Luther once explained this saying that one doesn’t need to command a stone that is lying in the sun to become warm; it becomes warm – quite of itself. If you go out into the sunshine, or better, if you put yourself under the LIGHT, you can be sure that these spiritual energies and blessings will also flow into you. This will happen all by itself, and you won’t have to go on f
orcing and p ushin g yourself artificially with ideas about duty and the Law.”
The solution to a holy life lies not in ourselves but outside of ourselves (being exposed to the Ganz Andere, Wholly Other), in that fellowship which we have with God. Luther once said that a Christian is a man “who runs out of a dark house into the sunshine.”
As believers who hallow God’s name, we acknowledge God as our Divine Parent and surrender our lives to God to be drawn spontaneously and before we are aware of it into a great healing process, and we become a new person. We cannot become a new person by deciding to become one. We can become a new person only when God allows Godself to be incorporated into this living process of fellowship with God.
In many ways, the prayer to hallow God’s name is the positive side of the Third Commandment, “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance” (Exodus 20:7) or, as many of us memorized it, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (KJV). In our lives, we hallow God’s name by what we say and how we live.
“Hallowed be your name” asks God to reveal God’s essential character to us as the Wholly Other that is intimately experienced as the tremendous mystery that includes and goes beyond thoughts, words, emotions, physical sensations … all-embracing intimate holiness! By praying “Hallowed be thy name”, we open ourselves to the mystery of God’s self-revelation in us and around us!
Take off your shoes! – Macrina Wiederkehr
My bare feet walk the earth reverently
For everything keeps crying out,
Take off your shoes
The ground you stand on is holy
The ground of your being is holy.
When the wind sings through the pines
Like a breath of God
awakening you to the sacred present
calling your soul to new insights
Take off your shoes!
When the sun rises above your rooftop
Coloring your world with dawn
Be receptive to this awesome beauty
Put on your garment of adoration
Take off your shoes!
When the Red Maple drops its last leaf of summer
wearing its “burning bush” robes no longer
read between its barren branches, and
Take off your shoes!
When sorrow presses close to your heart
begging you to put your trust in God alone
filling you with a quiet knowing
that God’s hand is not too short to heal you
Take off your shoes!
When a new person comes into your life
like a mystery about to unfold
and you find yourself marveling over
the frailty and splendor of every human being
Take off your shoes!
When, during the wee hours of the night
You drive slowly into the new day
And the morning’s fog, like angel wings
Hovers mysteriously above you
Take off your shoes!
Take off your shoes of distraction
Take off your shoes of ignorance and blindness
Take off your shoes of hurry and worry
Take off anything that prevents you
from being a child of wonder.
Take off your shoes;
The ground you stand on is holy.
The ground you are is holy.