The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 2/13/94
Text: I John 4:7-8, 19-21 (Matt. 6:9-13)
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An old, old story has a minister going from Sunday School class to Sunday School class one morning to meet with the students to see how their studies were going. He came into one first-grade group and began to question them as to what they had been learning. They had been studying about God and eagerly, the youngsters shared their knowledge. 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. Needless to say, the pastor was quite pleased with all the responses until finally one little lad piped up, "I know what God's NAME's Harold, same as mine." The preacher looked askance at the little fellow prompting the boy to continue: "Sure, we say it all the time. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name..."

Sad to say, there are many adults who do not have a much better understanding of "Hallowed be Thy name" than young Harold did. About the only time we use the archaic word "hallowed" is in the Lord's Prayer, and "name" to most of us is nothing more than a convenient form of address. The result, of course, is an understanding of this first petition in Christ's pattern of prayer for many that is down near the lowest elementary level. It does not mean much at all.

Start off. What does this word "Hallowed" mean? If we go back to the Greek text, we find that the word we translate "HALLOWED" means to consider something as SACRED or HOLY. The thrust of the word is to treat something as DIFFERENT...different from ordinary things...of a different quality or essence. In our day, we use the word HOLY in a pious sense; we speak of things like the HOLY Bible or the HOLY Grail or HOLY Communion. We use HOLY with a religious connotation, but what we mean is that something is sacredly DIFFERENT. That is why we think of God as THE HOLY ONE; God is supremely DIFFERENT.

To illustrate, all you need do is recall the fourth commandment: "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it HOLY." Is there anything particularly pious about one day of the week as opposed to another? Of course not. The commandment is to keep one day a week DIFFERENT from the rest; by making the Sabbath DIFFERENT, it is moved up a notch from the sphere of the ordinary. Thus, a certain REVERENCE is attached to it.

Perhaps REVERENCE is a good word to use here. After all, we only give reverence to things that are above the ordinary, things that are beyond us, things so specially DIFFERENT that they are worthy of our respect. Perhaps a good translation might be "Our Father, who art in heaven, May you be given that unique REVERENCE that your name deserves."

Sometime back, I saw a "Kudzu" cartoon, the ones that feature the Rev. Will B. Dunn. Will says, "Y'know, I hear a lot of complaints from our young folks that their prayers are not answered..." He continues: "Helpful hint: Don't lead off with `YO, LORD!'"(1) Reverence, indeed!

But we have a second problem. To echo Shakespeare, "What's in a NAME?" A lot! The NAME of God (or anyone, for that matter) is more than a means of identification. As far as scripture is concerned, to know God's name means to know what God is like... God's character, God's nature, God's power.

In reflecting on that, we realize that names in our own society also carry baggage with them. When we name our children, we often select names which are the same as those people we love and respect. We choose those names, not simply to honor someone (although there is an element of that in our choice). We choose names of people we admire in the hope that our youngsters will grow up with the same virtues, the same good qualities, as are known in that individual whose name we have chosen. On the other side of the coin, we AVOID names for our kids which would conjure up traits which we would NOT want them to develop. We do not name our sons BENEDICT ARNOLD nor our daughters JEZEBEL (or, these days, TONYA HARDING); we would not consider giving even a DOG the name JUDAS. Names are chosen to reflect something...they are chosen to reflect CHARACTER.

My name is David Eugene Leininger. My folks told me they chose the name David after Israel's greatest king. Their hope for me was that, like the David of old, I would be "a man after God's own heart." I always liked the name David. I was less thrilled with Eugene. I foolishly mentioned that one day in high school not thinking that I was expressing my displeasure to a large classmate who played Tackle on our football team. His name was Eugene - when I saw the steam begin to come from his ears, I quickly noted that I thought it was a FINE first name, but for a middle name, it left something to be desired. WHEW! I found out that Eugene was chosen for me in part to honor one of my father's seminary roommates, Eugene Osterhaven, who became a renowned author and professor of theology in the Reformed Church in America - I have liked it better ever since finding that out. Names are not chosen willy-nilly but often reflect our hopes and dreams for the potential character and abilities of our children.

Has anyone ever damaged your name? How could they? Erase a few letters from it? Scratch through it on paper? Not much damage. But a slanderous attack on you that leaves people thinking less of you than you deserve, is REAL damage. This Tonya Harding thing is getting old by now, but the final chapters are yet to be written. Consider if she is actually INNOCENT of conspiring to injure Nancy Kerrigan. Possible. If she IS innocent, win or lose in the Olympics, the name Tonya Harding will never be worth what it once might have been before being spread all over the press in this sordid affair. Her name is irreparably damaged.

The reverse is also true. Have you ever MADE A NAME FOR YOURSELF in something? Did that mean you fashioned some new set of letters by which to be identified? Of course not. When you "make a name for yourself," you acquire a certain prestige. Your NAME, good or bad, means something; it is your REPUTATION.

As you can see, a name, even in our society, MEANS a great deal more than a way of distinguishing one person from another. In a very real sense, we look to the name to tell us WHO a person is: character, ability, reputation. It is the same with God. "Hallowed be Thy NAME," because Thy name says who and what you, O God, are.

All right, the terms are understood - HALLOWED means to give reverence; NAME implies everything that God is and does. So what exactly are we doing when we pray, "Hallowed be Thy name?"

Obviously, we are PRAISING God. We are affirming that God is indeed One who should be considered as above the sphere of the ordinary, One who is supremely different. We say we RECOGNIZE that difference, and we celebrate it before we ever get into any other subject.

We are also making a CONFESSION. We confess that sometimes God is NOT held in appropriate reverence. After all, if God WERE, there would be no necessity to bring the subject up.

Then, we are making a REQUEST. We are asking the Lord to let the "HALLOWEDNESS," the DIFFERENTNESS, be made real in our own lives. And this element of request says that we need divine help.

What will that reverence entail? True reverence will involve our holding beliefs about the character and nature of the one we revere which would show why we bother. In other words, what we believe about God must be WORTHY of God.

For example, some in our Reformed tradition have believed that God consigns certain people to eternal damnation before they are ever born. Is that worthy of God? I don't think so. On the other side, there have been some who have believed that God is some kindly old grandfather smiling down from a cloud somewhere who lets people get away with anything. Is that kind of thinking worthy of a righteous God? I think not. There have been times when God has been presented as being on the side of one nation or another in time of war - we have done it ourselves. Does such a belief fit the God who says ALL of us are loved? Certainly not.

I recall hearing of a Christian denomination some years ago engaged in theological debate. It seems that, up till this time, they held the belief that unbaptized babies who died without benefit of the sacrament went directly to hell. In the course of their reflection, they realized that such a position was inconsistent with their strong belief in the God of love. After considerable argument back and forth, they decided that they could no longer hold that unbaptized infants were lost for all eternity because of the oversight or apostasy of their parents - from here on out, they would believe that these little children were SAFE in the arms of the Lord. At the conclusion of the discussion, one wag stood up in the back of the hall and asked, "Can we make this retroactive?"

The point is simply this: WHAT we believe about God will show how much reverence we have for God. We hallow God's name by believing things that are worthy of God. As John Wesley said to one who held some of those UNworthy beliefs, "Sir, your God is my devil."

But, certainly, true reverence (just like true anything else) will not be content with an intellectual exercise. Our reverence will be SHOWN in the way we live. Our life will bring God honor and attract others to God.

Sociologists tell us that America is the most religious free nation on the face of the earth. Far more Americans worship regularly than the British or French or Germans or anyone. But from one week to the next, only about forty-million of us out of a population of over 250-million...less than one-sixth...are in a house of God. The other FIVE-sixths are not blind. They can see when people who claim to be "God's people" live immoral or unethical lives, and they are turned off.

One of the worst results of the scandals of the televangelists a few years ago was the negative effect they had on those OUTSIDE the faith - for all the pious pronouncements over the air, the preachers appeared for all the world to be going out to sow their wild oats then coming into the TV studio to pray for a crop failure. People were not stupid - they saw what was going on, and thought, "Ha! Why bother with the church?" The German philosopher Nietzsche - an atheist - said, "Show me that you are redeemed, and then I will believe in your Redeemer." If for no other reason than the witness it presents to those who are there to see, genuine Christian LIVING gives reverence to God.

One more note - we hallow God's name, we give reverence to God, when we treat God's family - each another - properly. After all, you take great pleasure when someone honors your children, and you take great offense when someone attacks them. Our children are an extension of us. It is the same with God.

One of the first Bible verses that any of us learned in Sunday School was "God is love." We read it again a few minutes ago. But we also read, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God...Whoever does not love does not know God...Those who say `I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen." Hmmm. A word to the wise.

"Hallowed be Thy name." By now I hope you see that this is not just a pious phrase. We CONCRETELY hallow, give reverence to, God's name only when we extend that to God's own children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus told the twelve on his last night with them, "By THIS everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have LOVE for one another."(2)

"Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name..." It is true that many people do not understand what they pray when they repeat these words - it is not "Harold be Thy name" - but for those who DO understand, they present a challenge to Christian action and an invitation to real commitment. We will hallow God's name by holding beliefs that are worthy of God, by living lives that are obedient to God, and by treating God's children with the love for them that we say we have for God.

In Luther's Larger Catechism, the question is asked, "How is God's name hallowed among us?" And the answer he provides is simply, "When our life and doctrine are truly Christian." Then, with the saints throughout the ages we can join with a full heart in the song,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty;
All Thy works shall praise Thy name
In earth and sky and sea.(3)


1. Doug Marlette

2. John 13:35

3. Reginald Heber, 1826

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