Back in 2017, the musician Bruce Springsteen did a solo show on Broadway where he played some of his songs and told the stories behind them. You can listen to this show on his album Springsteen on Broadway. Near the end of the show, Springsteen introduced his final song Born to Run, and he began talking about going back and standing in the shadows of his old church building where he was raised. And then he says that the words of a benediction came to back to him. And then Springsteen began to recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
This is a prayer that people who go to church know and it is a prayer that people who don’t go to church know. People say this prayer on Sundays. People pray this prayer during a crisis. People pray this prayer at night, in the morning. When his disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer.
During the Sundays of Lent, we will explore the Lord’s Prayer.
Our sermon series during Lent is called Hallowed. Each Sunday we will talk about a different part of this prayer. Because here is the point of this series: God forms us through the Lord’s Prayer to become more like Christ. God gives us this prayer so that we can become more like Jesus.
But what do we mean when we say the Lord’s Prayer? How does praying the Lord’s Prayer change us?
For example, what do we mean when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name”? Hallowed means “holy.” And holy is one of the attributes of God. Holy is an attribute of God on the moral level: God is fully good, and God is completely just. But holiness is not just an attribute of God on the moral level. It is an attribute also about God’s very nature: God fills all creation, and God transcends creation. God is infinite in power and glory. God is eternal. Even though God revealed God’s self to us in the person of Jesus Christ, there is lots about God that is beyond our comprehension. God is not us.
When you read the Bible, you see that God’s presence could fill people with fear. That’s why in the Old Testament, the temple—the building that signified God’s presence with Israel—had barriers to keep people from getting too physically close to God, because getting physically close to God was like approaching a downed, hot powerline or, as one commentator, “a blast furnace.” Physically approaching God could be dangerous, not because God wants to hurt people, but because God is holy—infinite and mighty.
Here is another thing. Objects and even people were set apart for God’s good purposes, and that made them holy. The clothes the priests wore in the temple, the lamp that lit up the sanctuary, all these became “holy” and couldn’t be used for everyday purposes, because they were set apart for God.
God wants to make us holy. In Leviticus 19:1, God says to the people of Israel: “You must be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” This part of Leviticus contains instructions on how the Israelites are to live so that they will represent God well in this world. The Israelites are to live in ways that set them apart, ways that make them different from the way the world is.
Today, we are also God’s people through Christ Jesus. Many of these rules in Leviticus no longer apply to us: rules like eating certain foods or wearing certain clothes. But the moral rules in Leviticus—the rules about loving our neighbor as ourself and rules about treating others fairly (read Leviticus 19:1-18) still apply to us, because as followers of Jesus, we are to live in ways that are different from the world’s way of living. We are to live in ways that give glory to God. As followers of Jesus, we are set apart for God’s good purposes, to love as God loves. We are to be holy as God is holy.
Of course, we can’t be holy in the sense of becoming infinite and eternal as God is. But we can embody more and more God’s love and grace. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Our names matter. Our names are about our identity, and praying “Hallowed be thy name” means that we want God’s identity to be glorified and honored.
The opposite of making something holy is to profane it, to treat it with disrespect. We don’t want to profane God’s name. We don’t want God’s name to be treated cheaply, as too many do whenever people use God’s name as a cuss word. We want God to be loved and respected throughout the world. That’s why we pray, “Hallowed by thy name.”
Thus, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to honor God? Am I living in such a way that I am treating God’s name with respect? Or am I acting in ways that discredits God’s name or even bring shame to God? In a recent episode of his podcast The Bible for Normal People, the Old Testament scholar Peter Enns compared bringing shame to God to children bringing shame to their parents. You know how kids embarrass their parents at times. When they are toddlers, they can throw tantrums in the aisle of the supermarket, screaming and refusing to get up. You’ve seen parents embarrassed, haven’t you? As children grow older, parents at times are called to the principal’s office because their child did something bad. That’s embarrassing for a parent. Imagine how parents feel when they see a mugshot of their adult child on the front page of the newspaper.
Now, God doesn’t get embarrassed. God is beyond being embarressed because God never worries about losing face. God is God. But God’s still heart breaks whenever we act in undignified ways. Therefore, when we pray to God, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are not just asking God to do something. We are committing ourselves to do something, to act in ways that bring honor to God.
So how are you honoring God’s name? I heard an interview with the church historian Justo Gonzalez in which Dr. Gonzalez pointed out how praying the Lord’s Prayer changes us. It forms us, because as we pray this prayer, we have to ask ourselves, “Am I doing the things for which I am prayer?” I mean, what’s the point of praying “Hallowed be thy name” and then acting in ways that dishonor God?
Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we make the commitment to live a certain way, to put our lives in line with the request that we are making.
When we ask God to do those things that bring God glory and honor, we, too, agree to do the best we can to represent God well. Thus, God changes us as we pray the Lord’s prayer.