Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Lord's Prayer 2: Hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...

Hallowed has an old fashioned ring to it. We call Oct. 31 Halloween because it is the eve of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day. The saints are the hallowed ones, that is, the holy ones. So, hallowed means holy. Hallowed be thy name means may your name be holy. But that just begs the question, what is holiness?

If hallowed has an old fashioned ring to it, then holy has a somewhat negative connotation. We generally associate holiness with morality. A holy person is surely a person of unimpeachable morals, and generally, we define holiness in negative terms – a holy person is one who doesn’t lie, cheat, steal, carouse, and so on.

However, I think an old gospel song has something to teach us about what it means to be holy. Do you know the old gospel song, “Take time to be holy”?

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;

Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

What I gather from this old hymn is that holiness is a more positive than negative. It’s about what we do rather than what we do not do. Furthermore, it is not as much about morality as it is about having a close relationship with God.

So back to the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean, then, to hallow God’s Name or to pray that God’s Name may be hallowed? First, we have to realize that in Judaism to speak of God’s Name is just a more reverent way of speaking of God. The rabbis frequently spoke of Ha Shem, that is, the Name, because to speak of God directly was regarded as irreverent or impertinent. So the prayer is really saying, May God be hallowed or holy.

But surely God is already holy. To pray “hallowed be your Name” seems as redundant as saying May earth be round or May fire be hot. So we have to ask, where and when is God’s Name not hallowed? Then the answer becomes obvious: God’s Name is not hallowed on earth.

On earth we hold many things as holy--success, fame, riches, sexual pleasure—but God is seldom on the list. We take time to watch too much TV, have an extra piece of cheese cake, sleep an extra hour in the morning, but we seldom take time to “speak oft with thy Lord; / Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word./ Make friends of God’s children, / help those who are weak…” and so on.

So to pray Hallowed be thy Name is to pray not that God would change but that we would change, that we would become people who will hallow God’s Name by our words and deeds and that our world would become the kind of place where God’s holiness would be acknowledged.

And that leads directly to the next two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer already teaches us that there is a distance between where we are and where God is. God is in heaven; we are on earth. But the third phrase of the Lord’s Prayer—“your kingdom come”-- teaches us that God longs to collapse that distance, to bring heaven and earth together. But this petition is also one of the most subversive prayers we can pray.

In this petition we are acknowledging that our world is not as it should be. One of Jesus’ most outrageous statements was “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Righteousness is that state of affairs when the hungry are fed, captives are freed, the widow and the orphan have an honored place, and we would welcome the homeless poor into our own homes.

This prayer is subversive because it exposes that fact that none of earth’s kingdoms is the kingdom of God. It is subversive because it teaches us to look for and long for the day when God will rule. Earthly kingdoms will come to an end and God will rule alone.

This is a subversive prayer because it reminds us that God does not single out any nation for a special blessing. In 1914 German soldiers marched to war with the phrase Gott mit uns (“God with us”) inscribed on their belt buckles.

When I hear “God bless America” or see it on a bumper sticker, I always mentally add “and God bless everyone else, too,” because righteousness is no more at home in America than anywhere else on earth. The poor, the hungry, and the homeless in our midst show us how far we are from God’s kingdom.

While there is much that we can and should do to make this world resemble God’s kingdom, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that in the end transforming this sad, old world into a place that welcomes its rightful Ruler is not so much our accomplishment as it is God’s gift. We pray, “THY kingdom come”. It is God who comes to us, God who bridges the gap, collapses the great distance between heaven and earth. In the parable of the prodigal son, the dissolute young man wakes up one day and realizes that he is in a “far country” and begins his journey back home. But when he comes within sight of his father, his father rushes out to meet him. And so it is with us. We are in a “far country” but even now the Father is rushing toward us with arms open wide in love.

Finally, we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. In a sense, all three of the petitions we have considered today are saying the same thing. When God’s Name is truly hallowed, and God’s kingdom comes, then God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. But the final petition also touches us in the very center of our being.

We live in a world which exalts individual achievement. The athlete who wins the gold medal in the Olympics gets her picture on a box of Wheaties; the winning team in the World Series is invited to the Oval Office to meet the President; the candidate who fights his way through the primaries, wins his party’s nomination, and has the best sound bites gets to be the President. But the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that there is something more important than the single-minded pursuit of success and self-aggrandizement. “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this petition echoes Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In contemplating the terrible trial that awaited him, Jesus prayer, “:Not my will but thine be done.”

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” may be the most difficult phrase of the Lord’s Prayer for us to say, because we have no idea what God’s will might be. We can only pray this petition because of the second word of the Lord’s Prayer – Father. Jesus has already assured us that we are praying to a loving Parent, a Parent who wants the best for us. The problem is that although we think we know what’s best for us, the truth is that we do not really know. But God does. To pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is to put our trust in the One to whom we pray.

C.S. Lewis said that in the end we can either say to God “Thy will be done” or God can say to us, “Very well, then, THY will be done.” Imagine the consequences of the latter: To prefer our own will to God’s will is to drive down a dark road without headlights, it is to set out into the wilderness without a map. But to say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is to trust that God loves us, that God knows the route that will take us safely through the wilderness, and that God has already made a way and prepared a place for us at the end.

“Hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven…” These three phrases take us from heaven to earth; from the heavenly realm in which God’s will is done, to our world in which anything but God’s will is done, to the assurance that the day is coming when earth will resemble heaven and God will be at home among women and men. So we believe, so we pray, so we act. May it be so. Amen.