When I was a little boy I was terrible at spelling. Spelling tests were embarrassing as I struggled to spell even the smallest words correctly. But not as embarrassing as writing “Holly, Holly, Holly.” on my Children’s Bible’s cover. Thankfully there were no girls named Holly in my Sunday School class and everyone thought I liked Larissa anyway (which I did, but I couldn’t tell everyone). But there was the evidence of my poor spelling on the cover of my Bible. Even as I attempted to worship God and give him glory echoing the words of the angels in Isaiah 6 my words fell way short. While attempting to call God holy I ended up calling him by the wrong name, Holly. I fall short even in my best attempts to worship God with my mouth and hands. God is HOLY. I am not. And Holy is His name. Not Holly.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name.” Translators do some funny things when they translate, sometimes they don’t translate enough. You see the Lord’s Prayer is recorded for us in Matthew 6 and some Bibles even print this section in red to help us see that these words were spoken by Jesus. But they were originally written in Greek, so we translate the Greek into English and a whole bunch of other languages (the whole Bible is currently translated into 698 languages, the New Testament is translated into 1548, but there are 7,353 languages in the world, so we still have a little ways to go) Where was I? Oh yeah, translators don’t always translate enough because a word may be in a familiar passage (like the Lord’s Prayer which people grew up memorizing and saying together) or it’s translated into a spiritually packed word like “propitiation” great word, but still needs some translation if most people are going to understand what it means. Also like the word “hallowed” we don’t use that word very often, and probably the last 10 times you’ve used that word was while praying the Lord’s Prayer. So what does “hallowed” mean? Hallowed is translated from the Greek word ἁγιασθήτω, it means to be made holy or sanctify. It’s kinda strange because God is holy, nothing I say or do or pray is going to make God any more or less holy. So what are we praying when we say, “hallowed be your name”? We are not making God more holy, rather we are praying, recognizing God’s name is holy, set apart, sanctified. We pray that we would worship God as God, that he is holy. That as we pray, we would sanctify God’s name, set it apart as special because God is holy and special. God is holy and worthy of our praise, He is sanctified.
And yet, even as God is holy and set apart, he does not keep himself removed. No, even as Jesus was teaching the disciples to pray, the Son of God was standing with them. The Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) The holy Son of God walked with people, ate and drank with them, and taught them how to pray. God is holy and we make his name holy, but He sent his Son to be one of us. The Holy One came to us, and made his home with us and even died in our place, in the flesh. In the flesh he offered Himself in our place as the perfect sacrifice. Jesus says to the crowds in John 6 that He is the living bread that comes down from heaven. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) The Holy One offers his flesh to us that we may live. “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” (57) And even still he offers His flesh to us in Communion. “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28
Our Heavenly Father is holy and holy is His name. Nothing we pray can make this any more true and even as Jesus the Son of God took on flesh and lived among us and offered Himself to us so that we may receive forgiveness and eternal life does not diminish God’s holiness. Nothing we do can increase or decrease God’s holiness. So why do we pray, “hallowed be you name”? Because prayer is for us. Because WE need to pray that God is holy, that his very name is holy. I need to be reminded daily that God is holy and I am not, that his name is holy, so I won’t shout his name in an unholy way when I stub my toe or when things don’t go my way. Because I do. We do. We misuse God’s name in very unholy ways, we allow his name to be anything but set apart. We use God’s name in ways that we don’t even use our name or our mother’s name. There’s a crazy thought, try substituting your mom’s name every time you’re tempted to use God’s name in an unholy way. My mom’s name is Betti, I can’t imagine shouting “Betti Damn it!” when things don’t go my way. But that’s what we do with God’s holy name. Why do we do that? It seems so unholy of us to use God’s holy name to curse or for some mundane exclamation. I don’t think we are actually asking God to send some poor thing or person to Hell every time we let it loose from our lips, no, but we are using God’s holy name in a way that is anything but holy.
As we pray “hallowed be your name” we are praying that we may keep the second commandment. Luther in his small booklet says of praying “the Second Commandment likewise in four strands, like this: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," etc. First, I learn that I must keep God's name in honor, holiness, and beauty; not to swear, curse, not to be boastful or seek honor and repute for myself, but humbly to invoke his name, to pray, praise, and extol it, and to let it be my only honor and glory that he is my God and that I am his lowly creature and unworthy servant.” So we see that even as we pray, “hallowed be your name” we are reminded of who God is, that He is holy and who we are, not-so-holy, and that we get to use God’s name in holy manners.
We pray and confess that God is holy, set apart, sanctified, because He truly is. As we pray the Lord’s prayer we worship God’s holiness, we join with angels who continually worship God shouting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)