On Sunday, 10 February 2019, I spoke at the evening service of Holy Trinity in our series on the Lord’s Prayer. The readings were Exodus 3:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13. You can either listen to the sermon here, or read it below. There will be slight differences!
“Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…” Hallowed be your name. It is an interesting thing to pray. In English, there has been a resurgence of what the word hallowed even means, because of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and everyone googling what hallows are. Or was that just me? In short, to be holy, to be made holy.
In this second line of the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying for God to make the name of God hallowed, holy. We are praying in recognition that the name of God is holy. And ultimately, we are praying that we will mark our own lives by the holiness of God’s name.
So, what is the name of God? And how is it supposed to be holy? And why do names even matter, the proverbial disciple of Shakespeare may ask. In the first line, we have addressed God as “Father,” which John talked about last week. Here, there is an intimacy being conveyed — to address God in any close relational way would have been and remains today radical, but we also acknowledge God’s transcendence with the phrase “in heaven.” It is also an acknowledgement that God is not kept in the Temple, but is beyond the confines of what ritual and priests offered in Jerusalem.
And this is what the story of Moses, the story of God giving us the name of God, also says. Moses would have passed by that same spot for years. He would have seen that bush; he would have kicked rocks around there, or slept or ate or…you get the idea. But it is only this time, this time of maybe being open more to hearing God or maybe wondering about that God his ancestors used to talk about; it is this time that Moses encounters God and realizes that he is on holy ground. And what makes the ground holy? The very presence of God. And Moses does something really bold, and something we see various figures do throughout the Bible — he negotiates with God.
First he sees the bush, and probably thinks to himself, “Oh, that’s a little weird. I should go check it out.”
And then God says, “Moses!” God calls him by name, and Moses responds in a way that many people throughout the Scriptures respond to God: “Here I am.” If God calls you by name, this is a summons. And the “here I am” is a placing yourself in a posture of receiving from God. It is an open posture. More on that later.
Anyways, God explains that the cry of the people has been heard, and it is time to act.
Moses is hesitant, and he wants some assurances. That is why he asks for God’s name. A name conveys power. If an ambassadors speaks in their own name, that is different than speaking in the name of their government. So, when Moses is going to go and face down Pharoah and his god Ra, Moses wants to know if the God of his ancestors can live up to the challenge. So, what is your name? What is your power? Can you do even it, he is asking, can you deliver the people out of slavery?
God could have responded: and who do you think you are asking that? God could have responded in a similar way to Job 38, where Job is given a verbal smackdown, as it were. Check it out if you don’t know it.
But God doesn’t. God says, “I’ll give you my name. The name of the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things seen and unseen.” Yahweh. In Hebrew, the letters are considered basically unpronounceable. And the name means, I AM THAT I AM, or I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE. The tense is ambiguous. Basically, God will not be definable in relation to any aspect of creation — not the god of the sun (Ra) or death or water or war. God is the God that is defined by the fact that God is God. And everything flows from God. This transcendent, all-powerful God is saying to Moses, “Here’s what you can call me.” And this name refers to the God who has been in relationship with you since before you were aware of it, and the God who will be in relationship with you for generations and generations. That is, forever. And God delivers the people. God acts in accordance with the Name of God.
Hallowed be that name.
We pray that God makes the name of God holy. Isn’t it already? Why are we praying this? To make something holy is to set it apart. Is to recognize in it, as Moses did, something with which ones needs to be in contact. Set apart and in contact. Recognized as other, but its nearness longed for.
We pray hallowed be your name, because we want to remember and to continue to realize the holiness of God’s name. We pray hallowed be your name, because through the holiness of God’s name and drawing close to it we can be made holy. On multiple occasions, Jesus calls himself the I AM. We pray hallowed by your name, because that places us in a posture of receiving from the Holy One, recognizing that it is not our own names that are holy or could be, but that it is God’s.
Just a brief thought on Yahweh, and our response to the name of God. God could have chosen a bunch of different responses to Moses, which are given throughout the Old Testament: El, Elohim, El Shaddai, Mechayeh Metim (Life Giver to the Dead), Melek Mĕlakîm (King of Kings), Yotsehr ‘Or (Fashioner of Light), or even El ha-Gibbor (God the Warrior) — all of which would have accomplished what Moses needed — they all reveal the power of God to defeat Ra and Pharaoh and bring the people out of Egypt. But instead, this name. In full Hebrew, it is Ehyeh asher ehyeh, and shortened to YHWH, because in Jewish culture it is considered too holy to even say. They would say out loud Adonai, the Lord, in prayers that contain the Tetragrammaton. But we believe that the I AM became flesh and dwelt among us and taught us to pray and calls us friends.
So, we pray hallowed be your name. And we say that name — not flippantly, not irreverently — but we call on God, YHWH, because through Jesus we have been told to. We have been brought close to this holy name, to the power behind that name, seen in that name.
Like John reminded us last week, as we pray “Our Father in heaven,” there is both a relational closeness and a holy transcendence. And if you have heard me preached before, you might have heard this interpretation of the name, YHWH, since I bring it up probably too often. There is disagreement to how it sounds. Some rabbis say it is unpronounceable, and if it could be correctly pronounced it would grant you a direct audience with God. Others say that it comes closest to the sound of breathing. Yod hey vav hey.
Hallowed be that name.
God’s name is holy and transcendent, filled with glory and smoke and light, but it is also very close. Perhaps, it is in every breath. In and out. Perhaps, we may already be praying the very name of God. And perhaps, we are already so close to God’s name that we only need to acknowledge it. Perhaps, we could always already be praying, hallowed be your name. Perhaps, that’s our first prayer, our first breath; and our final prayer, our final breath. And if we acknowledge this, if we pray this, perhaps the actions and the holiness of God will deliver us from the different kinds of slavery that we find ourselves in. Perhaps, God may call out to us, and we can respond, “Here I am.”
May we breathe and pray this week, hallowed be your name. May we acknowledge and be transformed by the holiness of God, the holiness of the God that delivers, the God that saves, that God that has came among us to bring us close to the very heart, the very name of God. May we learn to receive from and to worship the One who is worthy of all glory, all honour, and all praise. Amen.