27 September 2020

Hallowed be thy name.

Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father to ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου/aghiasthíto to ónoma su, “sanctify” or “make holy” or “hallowify” (to coin a word) “the name of yours.” The Book of Common Prayer and KJV went with “Hallowed be thy name,” which means the same thing, but Christians commonly misinterpret it to mean “I sanctify your name,” or “I praise your name.” We think this is praise and worship on our part. It’s not. It’s a request for our Father to make his own name holy. For him to act.

Part of our presumption comes from a way-too-common Christian misbelief that our prayers aren’t really about asking God to do anything. Because, the attitude is, God doesn’t actually answer prayer. He sits on his heavenly arse, watches us humans stumble around, reminds us to read our bibles, but isn’t gonna intervene in human affairs till the End Times—if they even ever happen. Besides, he’s already planned out everything he’s gonna do, so all our after-the-fact prayers won’t change a whiff of it. So what’s the point of prayer then? Changing us—changing our attitudes about God by reciting various truths about him, like we do with our worship music, until these ideas finally sink in and transform us.

(As if this even works with worship music. Just look at all the Christian jerks whose favorite songs, so they claim, are hymns. But lemme stop here before I rant futher.)

Thanks to this mindset, Christians imagine “Hallowed be thy name” is just another reminder to think of God’s name as holy. To not take it in vain. To glorify and worship him, and tell other people how awesome and mighty he is. To remember God is holy—and because we so often misdefine holy as good, to also remember God is good. Or because we so often misdefine holy as solemn, to remember to treat God as formal.

We really do botch the meaning of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer, don’t we? It’s why Christians can recite the Lord’s Prayer the world over, sometimes every single day, and still not behave any more like Jesus than before.

So to remind you: Holiness means something’s not like anyone or anything else, because it’s distinctly used for divine purposes. It’s weird. Good-weird, not weird for weirdness’ sake, not twisted, not evil-weird. When we pray for God to make his name holy, we want him to not be like any other higher power, any other mighty thing, any other force in the cosmos, any other god. We want him to stand out. He’s not like anything or anyone else. He’s infinitely better.

Now. Does recognizing the Lord’s Prayer is about actually asking God for stuff, and that it’s not merely about changing our own attitudes, mean our attitudes don’t need to change? Of course not. If we want God to make his name holy, part of that means we need to make his name holy too. Stop treating God as if he’s just anyone else. He’s not.

And no, I absolutely do not mean we should treat him more formally, more solemnly, with more ritual and ceremony and gravitas and all that crap we do to suck up to people in authority. God’s uniqueness is reflected by two things about him: He’s almighty, of course. And, more importantly, more relevantly to us, his character: He’s infinitely good. Infinitely gracious. He infinitely loves us. Has infinite patience with us. He’s infinitely kind. Infinitely faithful. He’s not like anyone else because, unlike everyone else, he’ll never, ever fail us.

So don’t put him on the same level!

When God sanctifies his name.

The LORD told Ezekiel he was gonna sanctify his name:

Ezekiel 36.16-23 KWL
16 The LORD’s word to me, to proclaim, is,
17 “Son of Adam, when Israel’s house dwelt on its land, their ways and deeds were unclean,
like filth is unclean. Such were their ways to my face.
18 I poured wrath on them, on the blood they poured out on the land with their unclean idolatry.
19 I scattered them by the gentiles scattering them in many lands, according to their ways and deeds.
20 They went to the gentiles—and wherever they went, they wounded my holy name,
by telling them these are the LORD’s people leaving his land.
21 I care about my holy name, which those of Israel’s house wound among the gentiles they go to.
22So tell Israel’s house: ‘So says my master the LORD’: Look, Israel’s house,
I do this because of you, for my holy name which you wound to the gentiles you went to.
23 I sanctify my great name, wounded among the gentiles, which you wound in their midst.
The gentiles know I’m the LORD,” declares my master the LORD, “when I’m sacred to you in their eyes.”

Israel hadn’t followed the LORD like they promised him, so the LORD expelled them from his land by letting the neo-Babylonian Empire conquer and scatter them. And everywhere they went, they told these gentiles they were the LORD’s people—even though they absolutely didn’t act like the LORD’s people, which was the entire reason the LORD expelled them. They weren’t holy. They were nasty.

So what do you figure it does to the LORD’s reputation, when he’s known as the God of a nasty people? How holy does it make his name sound?

The people of the United States like to imagine we’re a Christian nation. So how Christian do we sound when we murder one another, our cops murder our citizens, we break treaties with our allies and let them be murdered, we torture our enemies and imprison them forever without trial, we regularly pay lip service to Jesus but ignore his orders to love one another and help the needy and cure the sick, and demonstrate we trust money far more than we do him?

In the context of Ezekiel, praying “Sanctify your name” carries a whole lot more weight on it than passively expecting God to make his name famous. Apparently we have to live like we’re actually his kids, and show through our ways and deeds we actually do follow Jesus. Being all talk isn’t gonna cut it with him.

God’s holy. He doesn’t act like pagan gods, which aren’t far different from the people who invented ’em. He’s actually good. He keeps his promises, cares for his kids, and stands out from everyone else by the way he follows through on what he says. (Not what we imagine he says; not what we wish he said, and psyche ourselves into thinking he said; what he actually says.) He expects his followers to truly follow, and be holy like he is.

When we’re not, but declare ourselves Christian all the same, we’ve done the same thing the ancient Hebrews did. We wound his name. Or as the KJV has it, profaned his name: “The LORD” doesn’t mean anything to pagans who aren’t impressed by his people, who are really no different than they. “Jesus” is irrelevant when his people aren’t reverent.

So if we’re gonna ask God to sanctify his name, it means we have to sanctify it too. We gotta be holy, and not be the embarrassment to our Lord we so often are. He expects better of us. Let’s do better.