If you were to ask any random person on the street about a prayer that they could recite from memory, the Lord’s Prayer would make the top five. It seems that this is a prayer that everyone, whether they attend church now, or only as a child, has committed to memory. And as is often the case when we have committed words and phrases to rote memory, we often quit reflecting on their meanings and purpose.
The disciples asked Jesus to show them how to pray, and Jesus gave them a short and simple prayer, the elements of which are intended to focus our relationship with God, and with each other.
Hallowed be your name
The word hallow isn’t often used in English language anymore, but it is the best word to translate the Greek word, which means to “make holy,” “to set apart,” “to consecrate.” In other words, we are to set God apart as holy, to venerate, respect, and stand in awe of God. And when we say that we wish for God’s name to be holy, what we mean is not just the words we use to describe God – a person’s name encompasses more than just the letters and pronunciation – it is the very essence of who they are. To hallow God’s name means to set God apart as one is worthy of our praise, our love, and our respect.
And what is the opposite of “hallowing,” of “setting apart” and “making holy?” We might think that the opposite would be to slander God’s name, to draw up stories where God did not live up to the reputation, or where God had failed to live up to our expectations. But even in that case, we still acknowledge that God is separate and different – we just don’t like what God has done – but God’s distinction from us, from humanity, is never a question.
The opposite of “hallowing,” the opposite of making holy, is to make mundane, to make ordinary, to make commonplace. To see God not as something to be venerated, praised, and glorified, but to see God as something akin to a Magic 8 Ball, an oracle that can be consulted from time to time, and whose advice is no better than rolling dice or consulting the advice column in a newspaper. It would be, in essence, making the name of God – the very essence of God’s being – no more important than our own thoughts and feelings, an afterthought to our own understanding.
And if God is not Holy, and if God is nothing more than something mundane, then we would have made God’s name – God’s very essence – no more powerful than our own. Or, to be more blunt, we would have considered ourselves equal to God. And when we have succeeded in making God mundane, then we risk making God a tool in our hands that can be wielded to accomplish our own desires and goals.
If God is not holy and venerated in our lives, then the question is, who, or what is?
Your kingdom come
Without a king, there can be no kingdom. And before the world turned to various other forms of government, the world was ruled by kings, and the King’s will was the rule of the land. The king’s will was law. What the king wanted, the king got. So, while it is not present in Luke’s Gospel, the common phrase of “Your will be done” is implied by praying for God’s kingdom to come to earth.
The trouble with humans, with all of us, however, is that we often would rather that our will is the law of the land. Just ask any toddler. We are a people who value self-determination and who value self-reliance. Just imagine what can happen when we have quit hallowing God’s name, and instead made God nothing more than a tool to accomplish our own desires.
Just recently, I was speaking with a coworker about recent events in this country. And as we spoke, my coworker became more and more angry with me because I kept insisting that if we wanted to see real change, that we as Christians had to push for an unbridled love of our neighbor, rather than forcing people to live under the laws we might consider to be the will of God. My coworker insisted that it was clear that the laws of this land should follow God’s moral code, as adherence to God’s moral law was the best way to run any country, with strict penalties for not living up to God’s law.
And then I had to ask, “But then who interprets and decides what God’s will is? Is it only the people in power that can interpret God’s will?”
History has shown us that there has never been a time when people claiming to know God’s will has ever produced good results. For example, take John Calvin, one of the protestant reformers of the 1500s. Persecuted for challenging the church, he fled to Geneva Switzerland where he became one of the leaders in what was soon called “The City of God.” In Geneva, the moral law and civil law soon became one and the same, a man named Michael Servetus was deemed a heretic, and burned at the stake.
People who had at one point been persecuted by the Catholic Church for heresy now killed this man for the same crime. Even the reformers behaved like those they had tried to reform. People who had violence committed against them quickly turned to violence of their own once they held the reins of power.
Or, perhaps looming even larger in history, consider the Third Reich. In Germany before WWII, there were Protestant Christians who actively supported the Nazi regime, calling themselves “storm troopers for Jesus Christ.” These were the type of people who believed that Jesus had selected them to bring about his kingdom on earth through violence or power or the rule of law. And, the Nazi Party took advantage of this type of thought and encouraged protestant churches in this belief to such a degree that the German Christian movement eventually released a statement that said:
“the eternal God created for our nation a law that is peculiar to its own kind. It took shape in the Leader Adolf Hitler … This law speaks to us from the history of our people … It is loyalty to this law which demands of us the battle for honor and freedom … One Nation! One God! One Reich! One Church!”
Those that claimed to follow a crucified God, now looked to use Jesus Name to justify the violence and murder of others while they shaped the world to their own desire. It was an evil that had the support of religion to grant it divine legitimacy.
It has never worked well when people use God’s name to push their own will through a political agenda. History is full of examples, from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, from the Ayatollahs of Iran to the Clerics of Afghanistan. In each case, God was nothing more than a tool, a sword brandished in support of the will of those wielding it.
There can be no kingdom without a king. And if God is not king of our lives, our hearts, and our minds, then the question remains: who, or what is?
Give us our daily bread
While the word we use is “bread,” the word is used to indicate everything that we might need to survive. This phrase is a plea for provision, for what we need to live our lives, to survive and be taken care of.
It is not a plea for what we want, because we often confuse what we need with what we want, as evidenced by the immortal words of Janis Joplin: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”
What we need is not always what we want. And what we want, is not always what we need. Praying for God to provide us with our daily bread is an acknowledgement of our complete reliance upon God. If we look further in the passage, the words of Jesus following the prayer speak about how a parent treats a child, or how someone treats a neighbor. How much more will God provide for God’s beloved than people like us providing for those we love?
There is a book which he recounts the stories of the Desert Fathers, mystics and monks who lived in the desert during the 3rd century. In one story, we hear of a disciple and his mentor:
Abba Doulos, the disciple of Abba Bessarion, said: When we were walking along the sea one day, I was thirsty, so I said to Abba Bessarion, Abba, I am very thirsty. Then the old man prayed, and said to me, Drink from the sea. The water was sweet when I drank it. And I poured it into a flask, so that I would not be thirsty later. Seeing this, the old man asked me, Why are you doing that? I answered, Excuse me, but it’s so that I won’t be thirsty later on. Then the old man said, God is here, and God is everywhere.
God is here, and God is everywhere is a statement of ruthless trust in a God who is to be revered, whose name should be hallowed, and who provides. And while I would like to say that I am like Abba Bessarion, it is often more true that I am like the disciple, who would rather put water into a flask for future use because I have not yet entirely come to live within the idea that the God whose name is hallowed will provide all that I need. It is not a bad thing to prepare for the future, but when we trust in our own preparations rather than God’s provision, that is when we step into murky waters. Do we trust God, or do we trust ourselves more? And if we trust ourselves more, then the question remains: who, or what, is king of our lives?
Forgive us our sins – as we forgive those who sin against us
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change takes time, but change will come. He, much like others of his time, were committed to peaceful means to bring about the hope that they wished to see. Despite the violence he and others faced, they continued to forgive those who had wronged them, and continued to love those who persecuted them.
They could have chosen the path of violence, as some others during that time chose to do, but instead they chose to continue peacefully, putting trust in God’s great arc of justice. It was through this continued choice to remain peaceful in the face of violence that other people began to see the evil, and to see the need for change, slow though that change was in coming.
Forgiveness is the most radical form of trust in a God that provides. Because if God can provide for us in all things, then God can certainly provide for us in the face of evil, and provide for us despite that evil. And if we are unable to forgive, then the question remains: who is really king of our lives?
First person plural, not singular
Finally, with all of what we have discussed today, the most important thing to remember is that the prayer is not about “My Father in heaven,” or “Give me my daily bread,” but instead, it is all about the first person plural: Our. Us. We.
Human nature is to harm those who harm us, to seek out for ourselves as much as we can, to prepare our own little kingdom, and to name ourselves masters of our own domain.
But we are not masters of our own domain, we are a community of believers, and a community will not grow without forgiveness, and a community cannot forgive unless it expects God to provide, and we cannot expect God to provide unless God is the king of our lives, and that happens when we consecrate and hallow God’s name.
Our father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come.
Amen.[This sermon was delivered at The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew in Tucson, AZ on July 24, 2022.]
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.