John 17:1-11; Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 29:1-11; Philippians 2:5-11
Last week we learned that the name of God – the name that God gives to us to use when praying to God – is Father. Jesus went so far as to call God the Father – “Abba.”
On one of my trips to Israel back in the late 90’s, I got up early to take a walk, and there in front of the hotel where we were staying was a street vendor selling his wares. With him was a little boy. And I just happened to be there when I heard this little boy come running up to the man crying, “Abba, Abba.”
And I said to myself, “I know what that word means.” The little boy was calling the man, “Daddy.”
Again, as we learned last week, Jesus has given us the name by which we are to address God, and that name is, “Father.” Or – we can use the term of closeness and intimacy that Jesus uses by calling God, “Abba.” SO when we use either of these two names, “Father,” or “Abba,” we are asking God to be intimate with us. To enter into every area – every arena – every moment of our lives.
And as I said last week, that’s just one reason why praying the Lord’s Prayer can be a dangerous prayer. That kind of intimacy with our loving, Heavenly Father is something that some of us just might not be used to. We want to be close, but not too close.
But still, we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
I like the story about the pastor who was going from Sunday School class to Sunday School class one morning to meet with the kids. In the first-grade class, he asked the kids what it was that they had been learning. One little boy said God created the whole world and everything in it. A little girl said that God loves us very much. Another little girl said that God had a son named Jesus who came to earth to save us from our sins. The pastor was quite pleased with all the responses until finally one little boy piped up, “I know what God's name is...it's Howard, same as mine. “The pastor was puzzled, and said, “Why do you think God’s name is Howard?” And the little boy said, “Sure! We say it all the time. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be Thy name..."
Okay, so you’ve heard that one before. The Forrest Gump version of this joke has Forrest saying that God’s name is Andy. You know – from the old Gospel hymn? “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own.” Okay – so you’ve heard that one too.
AND – I don’t think it’s irreverent – at least not TOO irreverent – to tell jokes like that. On the other hand – when we pray the Lord’s Prayer – we are making a declaration that God’s name is to be hallowed. And that’s no joke!
By the way – that word hallowed – it’s an old English word – and since it is an old English word – who can tell me what hallowed means? And just so that we’re sure – this is not a greeting to your friend Ed. You know – “Hello Ed!” Sorry. So use your outdoor voices; my hearing isn’t what it used to be. Anybody? What does the word “Hallowed” mean?
Ok, holy. And holy can be defined in a bunch of ways. Anybody want to take a stab at it? What does the word “holy” mean? Pure. Without sin. Special. The definition I like best is “Set apart”. Set apart. Something – like for instance – the name of God – that is completely set apart from all other things – or in this case – all other names.
So when we pray this prayer, what we are saying – actually what we are doing – is making a declaration – that God’s name is holy – and that it is our intention to keep it – to use it – in holy ways – in ways that befit God’s character.
Now having said that, I wonder – I just wonder how good a job we do at doing that. For instance, one of the Ten Commandments says “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Well, what does that mean?
Simply put, not only are we to use God’s name in holy ways, BUT we are not to use it in unholy ways – in unholy ways that take God’s name in vain. In other words, for no good purpose.
Do you know the best illustration of this? “O, my God,” do you know the best illustration of this? Thankfully – we now have a substitute for “O, my God,” so if you don’t want to actually say “O, my God,” – you can always get away with “OMG!” All caps. I see that a lot on Face Book. You know – if you want to keep God’s name holy – just use OMG, right? Uhmmm. No. I would say not. Your choice, but…think about whether or not OMG keeps God’s name holy or not.
Oh, and by the way – God’s last name – is not – darnit. Actually – I substituted darnit for that other word – but since this is a family service – I know that you know what word I’m talking about. Are we clear with that?
And it is not my intention in any way, shape, or form to turn this into a guilt session. I’m not beating up on anybody. Are we clear on that?
You see, I am of the belief that we really do want to keep God’s name holy. I really do believe that it is not our desire to use God’s name in any unholy way.
God's name is holy. And what we are praying for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer is that WE might make it holy in our lives by our words and deeds. It is not always easy. Hey! I told you this is a dangerous prayer to pray!
So the name of God – the name that we can use to pray to God – is “Abba. Father.” And what we are asking is that God would help us to keep His name holy.
Now – when Jesus addressed God as, “Abba,” or “Father,” it shocked the people who listened to him. To address God in such a personal and intimate way went against everything they knew about God. It is this intimacy that Jesus has with God that totally shocks the listeners of his day. Until Jesus came along – no good Jew would dare use the intimate name of Abba to address God. Nobody. When Jesus prayed with such deep intimacy that He is able to call God, “Abba,” the disciples are stunned! Even more stunning is that Jesus gives them permission – in fact – he expects them to pray this way too.
You see, the divine name – the holy name – by which the disciples and the people of Jesus’ day knew God is the name that was given to their Old Testament hero, Moses. And the name that was given to Moses was so holy – that practicing Jews even today will not say that name. They will instead substitute the name Adonai – which means Lord – in its place.
The reading from the book of Exodus that we heard a few moments ago tells the story of God calling Moses to go to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into the freedom of the Promised Land. Moses balks. He does not feel worthy. Quite frankly, he just doesn’t want to do it. So after offering every excuse in the book as to why God should send someone else, he caves, and says, “Well, alright then. But when the people ask me, ‘Who sent you?' whom shall I say sent me? What is your name?”
And God answers, “You tell them that “I am who I am” or simply “I am” has sent you. This “I am” name is used by Jesus in John’s Gospel as a reference to himself, thus Jesus lets us know that he himself is God.
The name – the holy name that God gives to Moses – the name Jewish people even today will not say – in the Hebrew language is a name made up of the four consonants, “YHWH.” There are no vowels in this name. The closest we think it was pronounced is “Yahweh or Yahveh.” Some pronounce it Jehovah. But quite frankly – Jehovah is not the name of God at all. Jehovah is a poor substitute for God’s name. Someone a few centuries ago took the vowels out of “Elohim,” – another Jewish name for God – inserted the vowels in between the Y and H and W and H – and came up with Jehovah. By the way, I threw that little tidbit in for free. So – you can scratch that. Jehovah is not a name for God.
The point of this is not to fill time in this sermon, but to let you know that God's name is so holy that the ancient Jews did not pronounce it at all. When we read the Psalm earlier, you may have noticed that the word LORD appeared in all caps. In some English translations when you see LORD in all caps, that tells you that in the Hebrew that’s where the name YHWH appears. So even some of our English language Bibles will substitute LORD for YHWH.
The good news for us is that we can call God by this new name – using the name that God has given to us. Abba. Father. And just as JHWH was the name for God under the Old covenant – Father is the name given to us under the New Covenant – the new covenant made with us by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now – even though the New Covenant names, “Abba, Father,” are names of deep intimacy – this does not change the fact that God is still God – and we are still human. Be careful not to think that this intimacy with God means we can control God when we pray – as though God were some cosmic Santa Claus – there to give us everything we want. That’s not who God is. Even so – by addressing God as Father – by calling Him Abba – we can approach God with the same intimacy that Jesus did.
Folks – the name that God has revealed to us is, “Father.” Or “Abba.” That makes all the difference when we pray. Again, as I said last week – no earthly father can possibly be a model for the father image we have in God the Father. Especially if your father was – well – not very good at being a dad.
And if you like, you can still call God, “God.” But just remember that God’s name is not Howard, or Andy. And please – please do not refer to God as “the man upstairs.” Really can’t stand that. The thing is is that when we approach God – when we pray to “Abba, Father,” as Jesus teaches us to do – we do not need to do so in fear. Respect yes – keeping God’s name holy, yes – but we do not need to be afraid to come to God, our Heavenly Father, in prayer.
So there you have it. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name...” We keep God’s name holy when we treat God and God’s name – when we treat Jesus and the Holy Spirit – with respect and honor. When we – well – when we remember to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Because it’s not just in showing respect to God that we keep God’s name holy – but we show we really mean it by how we treat others.
Yes, this is a dangerous prayer to pray. But still we pray that somehow, someway, with God’s help – we will have the desire to keep God’s name holy in all the ways that we are able – in order to bring the praise and honor and glory that are due His name.