By William M. Cwirla
“You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” (Small Catechism, Second Commandment)
I have a funny family name–Cwirla. It’s pronounced as though the “C” were an “S.” It’s Polish/Ukrainian in origin, probably reflecting the Cyrillic alphabet in which the letter that looks like our “C” sounds like an “S.” My grandfather’s brother, who immigrated to Canada, saved people the trouble and simply spelled it Swirla. My grandfather, who ended up living in Chicago, spelled it Cwirla. Remember, the C sounds like an S.
It sounds a lot like “swirly,” the thing junior high boys do when they stick someone’s head in a toilet and then flush. You can imagine why they call it a “swirly.” I’ve neither given nor received a swirly, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called “Swirly,” by junior high boys and even by adults who act like them. It’s not funny, but I’ve gotten used to it. It goes with having a unique name, which I’ve grown to like. People never forget my name.
What in a Name?
We hate it when people make fun of our names. It hurts. It makes us angry. God hates it, too. Unlike our names, His Name has power to save. To have God’s Name is to have God Himself fight for you. That’s why Moses was so interested in finding out the name of the God who was sending him to the Egyptians to free the Hebrew slaves (Exodus 3:13-14).
God gives His Name to save, and He hates it when people use His Name for other reasons. “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His Name. . .” God hates when we use His Name to curse instead of bless: when we swear to “tell the truth so help me God” or “I swear to God” and then we tell anything but the truth; when we use God’s Name like a good-luck charm or a magic word (the German word in the catechism is zaubern, “make magic with or incant”); when we lie and deceive in the Name of God. Among the worst misuses of God’s Name is when we tell lies and half-truths through false theology.
Yes, We Misuse His Name, Too
It’s not only God-haters and deniers who misuse His Name. It’s also those who claim to love God. Members of God’s family. Christians. We’re guilty, too. A Muslim friend once remarked, “I might take the Christian claim that Jesus is God more seriously if Christians would take His Name more seriously in their speaking.” To hear some talk, you would think that “Jesus Christ” is a curse word rather than the Name of our Lord and Savior. God be merciful to us, and grant us repentance in our use of His Name!
God gives His Name for blessing and salvation. We are baptized in the Name. We are forgiven in the Name. We are blessed in the Name. To have God’s Name is to have God’s commitment to be our God who keeps us as His treasured possession (1 Peter 2:9). In Baptism, God has placed His Name on us. Having God’s Name, we are permitted to call upon Him in every trouble. Whenever anything or anyone frightens or threatens us, we can say, “Lord, have mercy upon us” or “Lord Jesus, help me.” We can pray, recognizing that whatever we ask in the Name of Jesus, the Father will hear and act according to His good and gracious will. We can praise. Worship begins in the Name with the Invocation and ends in the Name with the Benediction. Where two or three are gathered in the Name, there Jesus is in their midst. We can give thanks in the Name, for all the blessings of creation, redemption, and salvation.
Again, we must repent. We have God’s Name, yet we don’t use it. It’s like a tool sitting idly in the toolbox. We do not call upon God in every trouble. More likely, our old Adam will damn the world and our fellow man in every trouble. We are slow to pray, praise, and give thanks. We easily forget to Whom we belong, whose Name we bear in our Baptism as God’s children, marked by Christ the Crucified One.
His Name Won’t Be Silenced
The devil, the world, and our old Adam would rather not hear the Name of God and they take great pains to suppress it. We say, “Good-bye” and forget that this is short for “God be with you.” We say “Bless you” when someone sneezes rather than “God bless you.” We look forward to Christmas and forget that it is Christ’s Mass. The Name of Jesus is almost “banned” in some areas of public life, which, in a way, testifies to the power of Jesus’ Name. The devil, the world, and our old Adam want it silenced.
Yet God is persistent and stubborn to save. He’s given His Name and the promise to save in Christ His Son. He’s put His Name upon us that we might proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). “Hallowed be Thy Name,” we pray to our Father in heaven. May His Name be holy on our lips and in our lives as we call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, CA and is a president emeritus of Higher Things.
This article was originally published in the summer 2015 issue of Higher Things Magazine.