The Lord’s Prayer: “Holy Inflation: ‘Hallowed be Thy Name'” (part 2 of 9)

Luke 11:1-4; I Peter 1:13-25

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he began by teaching them about the kind of intimacy God wants with us.  We talked about the meaning of the term Jesus used for ‘FATHER’ – Abba – ‘Father’ as a child would say it.  Until we understand it, the first request or petition of the prayer is surprising in the context of the closeness and intimacy of its beginning.  “HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME.”  Intimacy and awe at the same time?!

As we dig into the meaning of this prayer together, we will quickly see that these words can have a profound impact on our lives.  In truth, this prayer deals with the revelation of who God is and who we are in relationship to him.  Even though the words we study are so familiar, it is not an easy study.  To grasp the meaning of these statements takes some work.  This may be the most difficult petition to understand clearly.

Hallowed be your name.  In the Hebrew mind one’s name was equal to one’s person.  When you say someone’s name, their picture immediately comes to mind.  In addition to that, names were intended to be descriptive of the person.  This was so much the case that when Jacob (the deceiver) so radically changed, his name had to be changed to Israel.  This meant that they did not distinguish the name and the person.  Maybe the closest we get to this is when a name is a trademark. For example, what do you think of when you see this sign?  The trademark is identified with the product – a shoe.  They are one and the same.  That is similar to what we are talking about.  The use of God’s name was the use or misuse of his person.  To use God’s name in a casual, superficial, or cursing way is blasphemy.  It is among the worst of sins.  It demeans God. The Bible cannot rationalize using God’s name in a curse by saying that the speaker meant nothing personal.  Therefore one of the basic commandments of the moral law is, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”  As I mentioned last time, the Jews used the consonants YHWH to refer to God, not a complete word, out of fear that they might somehow refer to the person of God in an unworthy way.  We can feel in all of this the absolute demand for awe, respect, and even fear in the presence of Almighty God.  At first glance this looks like a contradiction to what we see in the intimacy of the beginning of this prayer.

When you pray, say, “Our Father, Abba, in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  The first thing we need to understand is that this is not a request that God or we make God’s name holy.  God is holy.  The word ‘holy’ means “separate for God” and is used as sacred, perfect, morally without flaw, pure, majestic, beauty and purity that is beyond us.  As creatures in the presence of holiness the only appropriate response is awe, wonder, praise, sheer adoration.  In the presence of holiness we feel small, want to bow down, must worship.  Here we confront what is totally beyond us.  Here human pride and arrogance are absurd.  Here human rebellion and sin are frightening.

God is holy, so the prayer means: “Let your name be celebrated, venerated, and esteemed as holy everywhere, and receive from all people proper honor beginning with me.”  The sense of this is captured in the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:23 where God tells Israel that his purpose through them is that the whole world will know the true God.

“Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.”

Our prayer is this: may all see your holiness through us.  The words we read in 1 Peter reflect this.  Our behavior shows something of the God we serve.  Peter said, (vs. 15) “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”  This holiness, this being set apart for God is defined in this passage as being self-controlled, obedient, living in the world but not belonging to it, and loving others.  As we take the words apart, we begin to feel a tension build between what seems to be God wanting us to share with him the most intimate details of our lives and the reality of dealing with a holy God.  I believe we want to continue to examine this tension very carefully.

The title of this message is HOLY INFLATION.  All of us who have to deal at all with money know what inflation is.  It means that our money is worth less, it will buy less than it did a few years ago.  If I go to the grocery store to buy the same groceries I did 20 years ago, instead of the $20 bill I needed then, now I need $100.  That is inflation – decrease in value.  HOLY INFLATION, devaluing the holiness of God is first of all sin – missing the mark with God, offensive to God, breaking trust with God, rebellion against God.  It also attacks the very heart of our ability to grow spiritually, to know the joy of walking in the presence of God.  What I hope I can make clear here is that the temptation toward “holy inflation” is one we all deal with.  Stay with me here.  If our spiritual life is about our relationship with God, this is about the center of that.

Jesus calls you and me to live in this tension – a kind of paradox – INTIMACY WITH A HOLY GOD.  It is a little hard to get our heads around.  However, it is the tension built into creation.  We are creatures and God is the creator.  Yet, we are creatures made in the image and likeness of God.  We are creatures (totally other than God) built for intimacy, for a love relationship with our creator.  This perfect tension was distorted in the fall into sin, and God calls us back to it in the redemption and restoration that we have through faith in Jesus Christ.

We have to admit that living in tension, in paradox, is generally uncomfortable for us.  We like things one way or the other.  We like clear, black or white, either/or ways of understanding life and the requirements on us.  I submit to you that living in the tension of relationship with a holy, sovereign God who we call “Abba” is the life experience of being what we have called “Reformed” or living in a Reformed biblical understanding.  It is holding in our hearts, minds, and feelings at the same time the sovereignty and awesome grace of our God.  Jesus leads us to experience it in what we have called the Lord’s Prayer.

“HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME.”  We pray that God will be seen as the holy God by everyone.  How then, does holy inflation happen?  How does God’s sovereign holiness get devalued by us.  It happens when we try to get comfortable by going too far on either side of that tension.  First, the intimacy side.  This closeness to God, this being known and loved is wonderful.  Here is someone who understands us and wants to hear our most private thoughts.  Our Holy Creator comes to us in Christ and says, “I love you.  Look at Jesus to see how much I love you.  I love you so much that if you will accept my love I want to live with and in you by the Holy Spirit.”   That is an absolutely overwhelming message, especially to people who at their core sense a feeling of worthlessness that they are spending their lives overcoming.  We receive that message on two levels.  Spiritually it says, “Because he comes to me I can begin to know God – his person, his plan and will for my life, God’s dream for me, his love.  I can eternally learn the love of a holy God that calls me beyond myself to him.”  The Heidelberg Catechism captures this spiritual message:

What does the first request mean?

Help us to really know you, to bless, worship and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy and truth.”

Along with this spiritual message from God, there is an emotional or psychological message.  You and I have value, worth.  We are called to be healed, redeemed, forgiven because God’s love makes us eternally valuable to him.  Therefore we can see ourselves differently.  God is living within us.  God is calling us to use the means he provides to experience healing and wholeness.  This intimacy with God changes the way we see ourselves.  It creates true humility.

This healing, life-changing, redeeming truth can get distorted when people cross the line, acting as if they have God in their pocket, as if God is subject to and the victim of their feelings and desires, as if God is at their beck and call.  The holiness and sovereignty of God is lost in their acting as if God is a kid down the street or some Santa Claus or cosmic slot machine.  Sometimes this feels like the God of religious TV – the God the evangelist can manipulate if you just touch your TV screen and send in your money.  It is like one author sarcastically wrote, “God created people in his own image, now many in the Christian church seem to want to return the favor.”

Another version of this holy inflation is seen already in the garden of Eden and in the “monism” of many religious philosophies today.  In Genesis 3 the devil came to Eve, “You know, Eve, God really gave you these rules about eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that you won’t be like God, knowing good and evil.”  The temptation was to confuse the image of God within with the separateness of a holy Creator.  It is the temptation to replace God with ourselves or the creation.

God comes to us.  We do not discover God.  Intimacy with God is a true relationship with one who is totally other.  The prayer, may your name be hallowed, is a prayer to know God so that as his children we can bless, worship and praise him in response to his power, wisdom, love, justice, mercy and truth.  Intimacy with God is not the holy inflation that reduces God to an image of ourselves.

On the other extreme, inflating, devaluing the holy, also happens with distortions in the other direction, when we ignore or devalue the intimacy side.  This is what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day suffered from and is all too common in the Christian church.  This was only a God to be feared.  Our holy God, then, is no longer Abba, but only high and lifted up, so separate that he only has to do with formal acts of worship.  This is God beyond relationship. This is a God to worship on Sunday and to rely on at funerals, but who is neatly put into a compartment that has nothing to do with work, with decisions, with daily relationships, or with the feelings of each day.  This God is too distant to be involved with our feelings and struggles.  This is God who is irrelevant.  This too is holy inflation – because the Holy One who loves us is our Father 24 hours a day.  This distant God is then some other God, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A healthy, spiritual, biblical, reformed Christian lives in the tension of Abba and awe – grace and sovereignty – open intimate love and holiness.  To go in either direction away from the tension devalues God.  It is extreme orthodoxy (not uncommon in the CRC) or making God into our image, acting as if God is waiting for our orders is holy inflation (not uncommon in evangelical churches).

The verses we read in 1 Peter show us the balance, the living in relationship with our sovereign and gracious God.  It is about worshiping faithfully and loving as we have been loved.  It is about reaching to be pure, “set apart for God” while living life to its fullest in his presence.  Jesus taught us to pray that our intimacy with our holy God will so affect our lives that others can see the Lord through us.  Or in Peter’s words, “Be holy because I, your God, am holy.”  Be set apart.  Live your identity as separate from God and belonging to him, his totally loved, adopted children.  We are praying that we reflect our Father, and that his holiness will shine through us.  Do we really dare pray that?  Do we reflect holiness in our relationships and the way we respect each other – relationships with parents, with children, with mates.  Do we look holy in the way we talk, in our work, in our play, in our sexuality, in our attitudes about money and the way we use it and share it?  Can we really pray this prayer?  I challenge all of us to think it through – awe and intimacy, being holy because our Lord is holy.  Does that describe you?  Me?  Us together in the Lord’s church?

Lets say the prayer on the overhead in unison: Abba in heaven, help us to know who you really are so we can worship you in spirit and truth.  And Father, don’t let us set you apart, rather set us apart for you.  Father, we are ready to be your children.  Amen.