Rev. William M. Cwirla
Hallowed. Now there’s a strange word! We don’t use it very much. We may occasionally refer to the “hallowed halls” of some historic old building or the “hallowed ground” of a former battlefield or cemetery. Most familiar of all is “Hallowe’en.” (Yes, the apostrophe belongs there!), All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before the Feast of All Hallows (Saints).
To hallow something is to hold it sacred and holy. Hallowed ground is holy ground. To hallow is to set something apart for holy, uncommon, godly use. So it is with God’s Name. God’s Name is holy in itself. We don’t make it holy; it simply is holy. Our prayer is that the Name of God may be holy among us.
God has a name. He went by many titles in the Old Testament, among them El, Elohim, El Shaddai, El Elyon, and Adonai. But those were not names of God but titles and confessions of God’s majesty and transcendence. When Moses stood before the Lord in the burning bush, he specifically asked for God’s Name. “Whom shall I say sent me? What is His Name?” And God revealed His name to Moses: YHWH. “I AM who I AM.”
Jesus puts human flesh on the Name. He is YHWH, “I AM” in the flesh. And so it is at the Name of Jesus, an ordinary human name, that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that this man named Jesus is the Christ and the Lord (YHWH). The second commandment lies behind this petition. “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” What we say and do will bring either honor or dishonor to God’s Name. When we speak lies, engage in falsehood, deception and false theology or treat God’s Name superstitiously like some sort of lucky charm, we dishonor it. When we live lives that are contrary to God’s Word and will, we bring dishonor to God’s Name.
On the other hand, when we believe on God’s Name and call upon it in every trouble, when we pray, praise and give thanks, and when we lead holy lives of faith in Christ, trusting Him for our forgiveness and to help us love our neighbor with works of goodness and mercy, we bring honor to God’s Name.
Do you remember Isaiah, the prophet? When he saw God enthroned, he confessed, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Do you recall what God did? He sent an angel to take a burning coal from the incense altar and touch it to the lips of the prophet.
Unless our lips are burnished by the Word, we will not honor God with our lips. Unless the Lord opens our lips, our mouths cannot declare His praise. The petition involves not only our lips but also our lives. God’s Word must have its way in our hearts, creating and enlivening faith. God’s Name is hallowed, holy among us, when we believe His Word and confess it, and when that Word bears the fruit of love for those around us in our lives of service.
“Hallowed be Thy Name” is the first of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, and rightly so. It begins with our Baptism and our baptismal identity as the children of God. God has placed His Name on us in our Baptism (Matthew 28:19-20), and in Baptism we are permitted to lay claim to the Name of God as one of God’s family.
Name and family go together. Our last names tell something about where we came from and who our people are. My name “Cwirla” is a very unique Ukrainian surname. Anyone I meet in this country by the name of Cwirla is a near relative. My name identifies me as one of the family, linking me to everyone who bears the family name.
When we speak and act dishonorably, we bring shame and dishonor on our family name. Our fathers and mothers would be right in saying, “Remember who you are and the name that you bear.” When we speak and act honorably, we bring honor to our fathers and mothers and all who bear the family name. How much more can we say this in Baptism! In Baptism you are part of God’s family, calling upon your Father in heaven, through your brother Jesus, by the Holy Spirit.
Father in heaven, “May your name be holy. Hallowed be Thy Name.” Father, remind us of who we are as your children. Shape our words and our works by your Word. Put to death the lies of the Evil One and the works of the old Adam in us. Put your Word into our ears and upon our lips, that we may call upon you in every trouble, prayer, praise and given thanks. Grant that we would honor your Name in all that we say and do as your baptized children. Amen.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and the President of Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.