“Back to the basics: Hallowed be Thy Name”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
It was June of 1991, and the Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, had already won three out of four games in the NBA finals. Now in the fourth quarter of game five, the Los Angeles Lakers were ahead by three points--93 to 90. But when the Bulls went on a 9 and 0 run, they quickly pulled ahead, and left the Lakers in the dust. Later, when the buzzer finally sounded to end the game, the Bulls won that championship, the first they had ever won, 108 to 101.
Then what? As a huge mob filled the court, the players fought their way towards the locker room where they were welcomed with cheers, laughter, high-fives and loud, popping bottles of champagne. And as Michael Jordan cried and hugged the big, shiny NBA championship trophy, he said, “I’ve been waiting seven years for this and I thank God for blessing us to make it possible.” And Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen shouted, “We won it! We won it, baby!”
And that’s when something strange happened, something that had never happened before. Forming a tight circle and holding hands, the players knelt down and prayed the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And as cameras rolled on live, national TV, they said, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
It’s easy to say that the Lord’s Prayer is the best-known prayer in all the world. No other prayer is prayed by so many people, in so many places or in so many different languages. Every Sunday, in churches all around the world, from the mud huts of equatorial Africa to the great cathedrals of Europe, from the white clapboard churches of rural America to the house churches of Hong Kong, Christians of every color, every race and every denomination pray the words of this prayer as part of their time of worship.
For two thousand years and counting, believers of every time and place have pondered its meaning. Like an inexhaustible well, the deeper you go, the more you find. And though it’s so very brief and simple, it’s the most beautiful, the most powerful, and the most profound prayer that anyone could ever pray. It’s so perfect, it couldn’t have been composed by anyone but God Himself.
And it’s made up of seven petitions. The first three focus on God--His name, His kingdom and His will. And the last four focus on us--our bread, our forgiveness, our strength and our protection.
Nothing needs to be added to it and nothing should be taken from it. It touches our past, our present and our future. It’s a majestic work of art.
And it all begins with this: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
As the Bible makes so clear, when Jesus prayed, He prayed as only the Son of God could. He prayed habitually, intimately and fervently. In fact, His whole life, from beginning to end, was one long, perpetual prayer.
He prayed early in the morning and He prayed late at night. He prayed in public and He prayed in private. He prayed alone and He prayed in the company of others. He prayed for Himself. He prayed for His disciples. He prayed for His enemies. He prayed for His glory and He prayed for His Father’s glory. And even now, He still prays for us and for our church.
And where did He sweat great drops of blood? Not at Pilate’s judgment hall, nor was it as He staggered up Calvary’s hill.
It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Bible says that “with strong crying and tears, He made His prayers and petitions known to God” (Hebrews 5:7).
As one author wrote, “Jesus is not just any kind of Lord. He’s a praying Lord.” To put it another way, prayer was the oxygen that He breathed.
So it’s no surprise that, one day, as He was praying, His disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Just as we would ask a banker, “Teach us how to invest,” or a professional golfer, “Teach us how to putt,” or a scholar, “Teach us how to do research,” they asked Jesus, “Teach us how to pray.”
So Jesus said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may 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 the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “Here now the great need exists for which we ought to be most concerned, that this name have its proper honor, be esteemed holy and sublime as the greatest treasure and sanctuary that we have; and that as godly children we pray that the name of God, which is already holy in heaven, may also be and remain holy with us upon earth and in all the world.”
It’s been said that, out of the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, this one, “Hallowed be Thy name,” makes the least sense to us of all, and the phrase we pray the least. For while almost all of us will pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” and many of us will pray “Deliver us from evil” and still others will pray “Thy will be done” and “Thy kingdom come,” few of us, if left to ourselves, will ever pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.”
So why did Jesus say, “When you pray, say…’Hallowed be Thy name’?”
First, let me ask, what does it mean to “hallow”? It is a rather strange word, if you think about it. It’s not part of our usual vocabulary. The only time we speak it, outside of the Lord’s Prayer, is at the end of October when we celebrate Halloween, also known as “All Hallows Eve,” or if you’re a Harry Potter fan and happened to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Visit Harvard or Yale and you’ll see “the hallowed halls of ivy.”
Other than that, the only one I know who’s ever really used it was Abraham Lincoln. Standing on the field of the Battle of Gettysburg, he said, “We cannot hallow; we cannot consecrate, we cannot dedicate this ground.” Why? Because it was already hallowed by those who fought and died there.
So what does it mean to “hallow”? It means to dedicate, to consecrate, to esteem, to prize, to honor, to adore as something that’s infinitely holy. To hallow is to set someone or something apart from everything common, everything profane, everything earthly, everything human and everything temporal.
When we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we’re saying, “God, though You are my Abba Father, my dear, tender-hearted, compassionate, loving, heavenly Father, closer than anyone could ever be to me, who knows me and loves me and understands me more than anyone else, I also acknowledge Your glory and the fullness of who You are and what You’ve done, and I want to set You apart from all else. You are not subject to me, but I am subject to You. You live in a different place and in a different life than I could even begin to fathom. I want You to be set apart. I want You to display Your glory.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
And how do we not hallow God’s name?
When we smile and laugh at things on TV when we really ought to blush. When we secretly envy those who do what we know we should never do. When the Bible becomes a closed book and prayer becomes a burden. When we value the approval of others more than we value the approval of God. When we hold grudges for days, weeks, months and even years. And when we gossip about the sins of others and fail to recognize our own.
As Luther wrote, “Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
And what is His name? His name is “Altogether Lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16), “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), “Captain of our Salvation” (Hebrews 2:10), “Desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7), “Emmanuel (God with us)” (Matthew 1:23), “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11), “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), “Head of all principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:10), the great “I Am” (John 8:58), “the One who justifies” (Romans 3:26), “King eternal” (I Timothy 1:17), “Lamb without blemish” (I Peter 1:19), “Lord of the living and the dead” (Romans 14:9), “Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 15:3), “Lord of armies” (Isaiah 54:5), “Merciful, faithful High Priest” (Hebrews 2:17), “Name above every name” (Philippians 2:9), “Only wise God” (I Timothy 1:17), “The Chief Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20), “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
His name is Jesus. Wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, here in Bethlehem God now has hands to touch, feet to walk, eyes to see, ears to hear, and lips to speak.
We see him reach out to a leper, and we know that no one is too dirty for Him. We see Him pause to speak to a beggar, and we know He’s never too busy for us. We see Him feed the multitudes with fish and bread, and we know He can supply our needs. We see Him with a towel and a basin, and we know that no job is too menial for Him. We see Him hanging on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth, beaten, bruised, bloodied, mocked, scourged, spit on, scorned, despised, rejected, crucified. And we hear Him cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and we begin to understand the depths to which He would go to make us right with God.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
Not quite eighty years ago, back in 1944, the world’s most complicated clock went on display for the very first time in Copenhagen, Denmark. Devoting forty years of his life, a one-time locksmith, self-taught astronomer, physicist, and engineer by the name of Jens Olsen planned it and built it. Complete with more than fifteen thousand moving parts at a cost of one million dollars, it sits in an airtight, humidity-and-temperature-controlled glass case in Copenhagen’s City Hall.
And like I said, it’s complicated. With its ten faces and 445 toothed wheels that move anywhere from once every ten seconds to once every 2,500 years, it’s able to compute the days of the week, the month and the year, the position of the planets, the phases of the moon, as well as the sunrise and sunset.
And if all goes well and it continues to be properly cared for, it will calculate the position of the stars for the next 25,700 years.
But there is just one problem with the clock--it isn’t accurate.
How do they know? Because when they measured it against the clock of the universe, with all its myriad parts, from atoms to suns to planets to stars, they discovered that, for all the time and money that Jens Olsen spent on it, it’ll lose one second every three hundred years.
And who created this incredible, complicated universe? God did. Our Father in heaven did, and holy is His name.
We thank You, Father, for the grace You show and the strength You give. Grant that we may honor and adore You as we should, for holy is Your name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen