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The text for our consideration this morning is the same as it was last Sunday and will be for much of the summer. From Matthew 6:5-13: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I said it before and I’ll say it again, three times Jesus says, “when you pray…” “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites…” “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door….” When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do…” “When you pray…” “When you pray…” “When you pray…” Jesus assumes that you pray. Luther once said that “a Christian without prayer is as just as impossible as a living person without a pulse.”
But the assumption does not stop there. Jesus goes on to say, “Pray then like this…” He assumes that we need to be taught how to pray. Without His instruction, we do what everyone does who seeks God apart from His Word.
We imagine God in our image.
We will fail to comprehend God as OUR FATHER and ourselves as HIS CHILDREN.
And we will ask God for precisely those things which we do not need and fail to ask God for precisely those things that we do need.
Because His ways are not our ways and vice-a-versa.
But if we listen to Jesus, who is the Word of God, and do what He says, we will pray for precisely those things that OUR FATHER knows that we need and that He wants us to give to us and therefore when we “Pray like this…” we do with the utter confidence that He hears our prayer and will give us what we ask.
He is, after all, OUR FATHER. And a LOVING FATHER who is not going to give us what is harmful to us, no matter how much we may nag Him and carry on with Him. He is OUR FATHER, and in His love for us, is going to give us what is good for us, no matter how contrary that might be to what we ask for.
Here in the “the Lord’s Prayer,” the Lord gives us seven things to ask for, ‘AS DEAR CHILDREN AS THEIR DEAR FATHER.’ And these seven petitions can be divided into two groups.
The first three petitions are “YOUR” petitions; or if we prefer the older King James language, “THY” petitions. “Hallowed be THY name, THY kingdom come, THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Here we are directed to seek those things that pertain directly to the Father who is in heaven. Here, Jesus directs us to “lift up your hearts.” We are to desire that which comes FROM ABOVE. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is FROM ABOVE, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). The first three petitions are very ‘vertical’ in nature.
Then come the final four petitions which are all “US” petitions. “Give US this day our daily bread. Forgive US our debts as we forgive our debtors, lead US not into temptation but 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. They pertain to the things that we receive from God that pertain to our physical and emotional well-being in this world in which we live and move and have our being until that final day comes when we are removed from this world and these things no longer apply and all of the THY petitions are finally and forever fulfilled.
The thing that we should be sure to understand here, and that should form the way that we pray, even when we use our own words to do so, is that the “THY” petitions come first and the “US” petitions come afterward.
And doesn’t this stand in utter contrast to the way that we would pray on our own, apart from the word of Jesus who says, “Pray like this…”? Isn’t it true that apart from this form for prayer that our Lord here gives to us, we begin with the “US” petitions and more than not, end with them too?
And isn’t it right here that we find “THE LORD’S PRAYER” a very unnatural and hard prayer to pray. We are so self-centered, that without His instruction, the content of our prayers is focused solely on our physical and emotional well-being in this world, with little or no thought to Name and the Kingdom and the Will of Our Father in Heaven.
Because we are so ‘curved in on ourselves,’ when Jesus says, “Pray like this…” we can feel our back being broken as He straightens us out and resets the vertebrae in our neck so that we can lift up our head to “our Father who is in heaven” and ask that in all things, even those temporal and very earthly things of daily life, that THY name be hallowed, that THY Kingdom would come, that THY will be done.
“Let the giving of my daily bread and the healing of broken relationships and the daily struggle with the temptations that surround me in this world, all work to the honor of THY NAME and the coming of THY KINGDOM and fulfillment of THY WILL.”
By 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). And as paradoxical as this may sound, this is precisely what is best for us.
Let us consider then the first of the three THY petitions: “HALLOWED BE THY NAME.”
In his Large Catechism, Luther begins his explanation of the 1st Petition by saying that this is not a common way for Germans to speak. And to that we can say, “ditto.” I would dare to say that we probably never use the word, “hallowed” except when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Which of us cannot sympathize with the child who was heard to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name.”
“HALLOWED” is one of those King James words that wants to cram a whole phrase into one word. The same is true in the Apostles Creed when we say, “from THENCE He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” “Thence” is a combination of “there” and “then” that expresses both the location and the timing of Christ’s second coming. And that’s just fine as long as you know what the word means.
“HALLOWED” is short for “may it be made holy.” A literal translation of the Greek is, “let it be holy, the name of yours.” God’s NAME is how the eternal, invisible God makes Himself known to us. His Name is the point at which men and women are able to approach God and communicate with the God who is completely OTHER than we are.
At the burning bush in the desert, Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Ex.3:13-14) The unpronounceable name, “YHWH.”
In the book of Leviticus, God speaks through Moses saying, “You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2). In the book of Isaiah, the prophet sees the angels in heaven over the throne of God and hears them singing the ending hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” (Is. 6:3). In his Revelation, St. John sees and hears the same thing. “The four living creatures… day and night never cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” (Rev. 4:8).
To be “holy” is to be pure and righteous and set apart from all that is impure and unholy. What is Holy is what is real and true and good and right. And this is who God is.
So, when we pray, “HALLOWED BE THY NAME,” we are not asking God to make His name holy. That would be like saying, “may the water be wet,” or “may the fire be hot,” or “may the tree be wood.” “I am who I am.” “I the Lord your God am holy.”
No, when Jesus says, “Pray like this…Hallowed by Thy name…” He is reorienting our life to its proper relationship with the Father. He directs us to pray that we would regard God as the Holy God that He is. God is holy with or without our prayer.
“But we pray in this petition that His name would be kept holy among us also.” We are directed to pray that we would believe that God is real and true and good and right and that everything that is contrary to God is not real and untrue and bad and wrong and therefore to be rejected and avoided.
So, in this Petition, Jesus is telling us to pray that Our Father in heaven would change the direction of our lives, that we may regard and honor God in our daily life in this world in which we live and move and have our being.
Can we begin now to understand why, in one of his expositions on the Lord’s Prayer, Luther says, “I know of no teaching in all the Scriptures that so mightily diminishes and destroys our life as does this petition.”
How much of my life is devoted to preserving the honor of my name? “Help me to ‘hallow’ Thy Name, dear Father;
except in this area of my life where I am not permitted to Hallow Your Name;
or that area of my life where it will cost me too much.
There are certain areas of my life over which I have a monopoly and where Your Name is not permitted to compete;
areas that I know You could never sign Your Name to because they are not holy?
In fact if you add it all up, there is very little about my life that the Holy God could sign His Holy Name to. That ‘ANYONE,’ who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word and therefore profanes the name of God among us, is me.
And isn’t it true that there is only one man, in whose life the Name of God is ‘hallowed,’ and that is Jesus Christ, the one who says, “Pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” During that week we call “HOLY WEEK” and the hour set from before the creation of the world had come, Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28).
Isn’t it surprising, if not shocking, that Jesus does NOT say, “Pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven, make my name holy…”? Strange isn’t it, that there is nothing in this prayer in which Jesus directs us to ask the Father to make us holier or more devout or more pious or more pure? No petition that directs us to say, “Father, help me to improve my life and be a better person so that “I may be holy as you, the Lord my God am holy.”
No, in fact every petition of this prayer is answered completely and perfectly only in Jesus Christ. It is the only-begotten Son who ‘hallows’ the name of the Father among us and FOR US and IN US. Jesus Christ is the One upon whom the Father has written His holy name.
And as paradoxical as this may sound, it is in that place where the Father withdraws His Name from His Son, His only Son, Whom He loves, and turns His back on Him, that the Son ‘HALLOWS’ the name of the Father most definitely and most clearly. It is in His faithful life and suffering and death in this world, in which we live and move and have our being, that Jesus glorifies the Father’s name.
And we Hallow the Name of the Father through faith in the Son.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, and when we pray in HIS HOLY NAME, we may stand up straight and lift up our heads and pray “hallowed be Thy name,” with the complete and total confidence that it has already been done.