When You Pray, Say: "Hallowed Be Thy Name"
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[Jesus said]: “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one. While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:11-19).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.
How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
So goes the Small Catechism with the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer and its explanation regarding the hallowing of God’s name, of keeping it holy.
But perhaps we should first back up, for we certainly cannot speak of keeping God’s name holy if we do not know what God’s holy name is…. can we?
What is God’s name? God’s name is everything we can know about Him; it is the sum and substance of who God is and what He does. Here, in our text, God’s name clearly implies His power that marks us as His own and saves His followers from the forces of evil. “Holy Father,” Jesus prays, stressing the reverence that is due God’s name. Then He calls for the Father to protect His disciples. “Keep them in Your name so that they may [continue to] be one as We are one.”
When the disciples were brought to faith in Jesus, they were made one with Him and the Father. This wasn’t the oneness of essence that belonged to the Father and the Son exclusively, and it wasn’t merely an outward or symbolic unity. It was the spiritual oneness of all who have eternal life in Christ, to all who have been called to salvation by the power of His name.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus has set aside His own divinity and has used only the power of God’s name to protect His disciples. It has worked. They have been kept safe. Not one has been lost, except the one foretold (Psalm 41:9), who is the son of perdition. Instead of becoming a child of God by faith in Jesus, that one, Judas Iscariot, remains a child of unbelief headed for damnation. Even at that moment, Judas is out doing the work of one who is damned.
The message, first meant for the disciples, should not be lost on us. By the name of God, Jesus’ disciples are kept for God. But those who reject His name in unbelief are on the road to destruction. By God’s grace, we believe and live!
Jesus’ time has come. He is to complete His work of salvation and return to His Father. But now while He is still on earth with the disciples, He prays that they might have the fullness of Jesus’ joy in themselves. Just hearing the prayer will help sustain the disciples in the troubled hours ahead, and it lays the foundation for the joy to follow. Jesus’ joy is to complete the work the Father gives Him and to return to His glory. The disciples receive the full measure of that joy in the assurance that Jesus will succeed for them and for all people.
The disciples can depend on Jesus’ Word, which is also the Father’s Word. Through that Word, they are separated from this unbelieving world and set apart for service for God. As followers of God’s Word, however, the disciples are hated by the unbelieving world. They are not part of the world any longer, just as Jesus is not part of the world. They need the Father’s protection.
Notice that Jesus does not pray to God to take His disciples out of the world and keep them safe. They have work to do for God following Jesus’ departure. Instead, Jesus prays that God might keep them safe from the evil one. The disciples, in carrying on their mission from God, will face fierce, hellish opposition. They can expect no less hostility than Jesus has encountered. They need Jesus’ prayer. They need God’s holy name. And so do you!
Where God puts His holy name He promises to be there in order to bless you. That’s Exodus 20:24. With His name He promises to be God for you! To help you. To be merciful to you. To seek the lost. To save the damned. To raise the dead. With His name He dares to interrupt and interfere in your life, cleanse you from your sin, raise you from the dead, and give you eternal life.
Did you notice in our text how Jesus Himself prays? “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name—the name You gave Me . . .” God graciously gave His name to Moses in the burning bush. In the tabernacle in the wilderness wanderings. In the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. In the temple. And in the very Body of the Word made flesh—Jesus the Christ. Yes, Jesus is the very embodiment and ultimate revealing of God’s holy name.
But that’s not all. In the divine service God gathers you around His name—in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “Where two or three are gathered in My name”—Jesus promises—“I am with you”. With His name, God is by your side fighting for you! Feeding you with His holy body and blood as He comes to you in the name of the Lord.
Without God’s name you could not pray to Him. You could not praise Him. You could not thank Him. Without God giving you His name, all your worship is idolatry—not matter how beautiful, contemporary, transformational, liturgical, or historical. If God didn’t give you His holy name, you’d be naming idols to be your own gods—false gods that crack and break under the pressure you put on them.
But God has given you His name! In Holy Baptism! You are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And so you belong to the Holy Trinity, the Triune God. You are His. And He is yours! He gives Himself entirely and completely to you with His name!
God’s Name is holy! By His holy name given to you—you are His holy people! A holy and royal priesthood!
The holy and royal priesthood prays. So when you pray, say: “Hallowed be Thy name.” That is to say, you beg God to let His name be kept holy among you! It’s not that God’s name is not already holy in itself. You’re praying that it may be kept holy by you also. You’re asking that it be done with your lips and your lives, with correct teaching and God-pleasing actions.
How is God’s name kept holy among you? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity. And when you, as God’s children, lead holy lives according to God’s Word.
False teaching (of any kind) done in God’s name is the worst way to defile or profane God’s holy name. Let me illustrate. To contend in God’s name that the crucified and risen Jesus doesn’t save sinners desecrates God’s name. To proclaim that what Jesus did on Good Friday isn’t enough to reconcile you to the Father, but that you must do something too, tarnishes—diminishes, God’s holy name.
What if the pastor on Easter morning declares that Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead? That it is just a spiritual metaphor? He lies! Flat out deceives! Same if you believe the lie. Then God’s name is sullied among us!
What if the pastor declares in God’s name that homosexuality is God pleasing? And that we dare not offend someone’s “bound conscience”? And that the important thing is that two people in such a relationship are “committed to one another” and that “they love one another”? And what if you believe it and defend such thing? Or what if you just fail to speak out against such falsehood, such heresy? Then God’s holy name is degraded among us.
Those are two obvious examples. But sinners are experts. Skillfully twisting the Scriptures to say just the opposite of its clear meaning. Advanced degrees are given, high church offices are bestowed, and worldly success is granted as God’s name is blasphemed by false teaching. By lies. By deceit.
Speaking of which: Do you know who Eva Brunne is? You probably don’t. Well, she’s about 60. And she’s a Lutheran. A practicing lesbian Lutheran. She lives with her lover, in a “registered domestic partnership.” And she is proud of it.
“So what?” you say. “That’s happening all the time, especially over in Scandinavia. But it has nothing to do with you and me.”
Well, a few years ago she was consecrated as the bishop of Stockholm with the full support of the Swedish Lutheran Church. You don’t dare speak out against such things in Sweden these days because the authorities will put you in jail for such hateful thoughts let alone speech. It’s bad enough out there in the world, but all of this in being done in Christ’s Church by those in positions of ecclesiastical authority. All of this done in God’s name, ostensibly with His blessing!
But another bishop, Walter Obare, the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Kenya, one of our sister Lutheran churches, did denounce it. He dared to do it so that God’s name would be kept holy among the dear African Lutherans under his care. So that it might be kept holy somewhere in this topsy-turvy world that calls wrong “right” and open sin “an alternative lifestyle.” And of course, his faithful correction of this defilement of God’s name was well received, right? Not!
No wonder, so many pastors are afraid to warn their congregations against false teaching. They’re under heavy pressure to compromise on the truth of God’s Word. After all, warning against false doctrine is called impolite. Overbearing. Not a team player. Some even call it: “lording it over the people.” Get convicted of this “sin” in the court of public opinion and then you’re done for as a pastor.
The opposite of all this is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in its truth and purity. Contrary to the opinion of some critics, we are not interested in “incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of souls of men and women for whom Christ died.” We are not concerned with pure doctrine just for pure doctrine’s sake. It’s all about God’s name being kept holy among us. It’s all about God remaining God for His people. About Him continually being God for us and for our benefit. Remember Jesus’ prayer? “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name—the name You gave Me . . .”
But openly wicked and evil lives, dear children of the Father, defile His name. They profane it. That is, they treat it not as something sacred but something ordinary and throw away. It is a shame and disgrace for a flesh-and-blood father to have a bad, perverse child that opposes him in words and deeds. Because of that child a father suffers contempt and reproach. In the same way also, it brings dishonor upon God if we are called by His name and receive all kinds of good from Him, yet we teach, speak, and live in any other way than as godly and heavenly children. People would say about us that we must not be God’s children, but the devil’s children [1 John 2:29]. And they would have a valid point.
What about you? Does your life look any different than the unbelievers around you? Or do you, as a member of the holy and royal priesthood, proudly live as idolaters, adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, gluttons, slanderers, liars? Are you too proud to confess your sin to Jesus? Too conceited to receive the Lord’s forgiveness with His name? Too busy to spend time listening to God’s Word being preached and taught? Or do you insist on answering for your sin without Jesus? Without His absolution? Or without His promise of forgiveness in the Sacrament? Then God’s holy name is profaned among you.
No wonder Jesus teaches, when you pray say, “Hallowed be Thy name.” He teaches you pray it against yourself. Against your sin and your old Adam. This turns you inside out, back from being curved in on yourself to faith in Jesus who died for you, and to a life of love for others. Faith clings to Jesus’ name. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved. Jesus. He was given the name Jesus, which means, “Savior,” for He would save His people from their sins. Jesus would save sinners! Sinners that profane God’s name with their lips and lives. Sinners like you and me.
Jesus hallowed His Father’s name, And He did it for you, with His lips and His life, and with His death! As He goes the way of the cross for you, He has you and your salvation uppermost in His mind and heart, and He prays for you: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name—the name You gave Me . . .”
The Father answered His Son’s prayer for you. And He is delighted to hear yours too. He is your Father and you are His dear children. He’s given you His name. He sticks with His name that He put it on you to hallow it among you with your lips and lives.
“What name is that?” you ask. In this name: In the name into which you were baptized into His death and resurrection. In the name by which you come into His presence for worship. In the Triune name of God by which you have salvation and eternal life, indeed, the name in which you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon series presented by Brent Kuhlman at a pre-Lenten Preaching Seminar on Luther’s Small Catechism the 3rd chief part—The Our Father.