Hallowed Be Thy Name

Sermon on the mountPart 4 in our series on the Our Father.

“Hallowed,” of course, means “made holy.” In English, as in the Greek of the New Testament, it is in the passive voice: the focus is not on who in particular is making God’s name holy, but just that it be made holy.

This is, obviously, a strange statement. We don’t make God holy. God makes us holy. But this is not the only such strangeness when we talk about God. God is hard to talk about, because everything flows one way: we are always the ones who benefit. Even our worship – and this petition of the Our Father has much to do with worship – does not help God, it helps us. Philosophically – and Biblically – this is really what defines God: he is the Creator, the one from whom everything else receives everything that it is. But if we have received everything from him, we have nothing to offer in return. We just receive. God is sheer generosity.

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One traditional way of interpreting “hallowed be thy name,” then, is to begin by ignoring the direction of the statement, and turning it around more towards, “Hallower be thy name”: God is the one who makes others holy. The place of holiness in the statement is nice, because it points us to the highest gift God gives us. Yes, he gives us our daily bread, forgives us, delivers us. But far more, he shares with us his nature, lets us enter into his very life.

This, as we have said before, is the real meaning of holiness: sharing in God’s happiness, sharing in God’s love, sharing the internal life of the Trinity.

God’s name, we could say, is “Holy-maker.” First, “maker”: that is, he’s the one who makes everything else, the giver, the generous one. But second, the ultimate making he does is to make us holy: to give us infinitely more than this created world, to give us himself. That’s a pretty good definition, a pretty good name, for the Christian God. And a pretty good place to start, and to rise to, in our prayer: to know that “hallowing” is what God is all about.

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On the other hand, the line in the Gospel does say “made holy”: as if other people (us) are the ones making God’s name holy. Granted the obvious fact that we can’t literally make God holy, what could the statement mean?

Perhaps it simply points to our keeping an attitude of worship toward God. First, in prayer, “hallowing God’s name” means rising above our begging for things, above even seeking his will for us, to a simple recognition of God’s holiness, of God being God. Be still and know that I am God.

And then, in relation to other people, to do the same: to make clear in all our actions that what we really live for is the good God, the generous God, the God whose ultimate purpose is not, for example, political, but holiness: the sharing of his goodness with us.

(“Not political,” by the way, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, Christianity is not ultimately about winning political battles. On the other hand, it’s also not about winning popularity contests by our tolerance. True Christian politics works for the true good of people, which is found in union with their Creator. But that’s far too big a topic for here.)

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Finally, names are interesting. What does a name do but point to the person himself? There is “my son,” or “the four year old,” or “that person who is hungry,” or “the sweet little snuggler” – but then, deeper than any of these partial descriptions, there is William, himself. To hallow God’s name is to single out not some particular aspect of God, but God himself.

This is the power of the name of Jesus: to look to him. The power of the name Our Father, which points down to the depths of who God is (the sanctifier, sheer generosity). The power, too, of the Hebrew name I-am-who-am. To contemplate God himself, to love God himself, beyond all other goods.

This holds an important place in the way the Our Father gradually moves outward. Beyond God himself (“Our Father”), and beyond heaven (“who art”), on the one hand, but more intimate than those who merely seek forgiveness, or bread, or even his will or his kingdom, there are those who know his name, those who care about his kingdom and his will, and even their daily bread, etc., above all because they love Him, his name.

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How do you hallow God’s name?

eric.m.johnston

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