Some years ago I did a series on the Lord’s Prayer. I think this prayer focuses on the heart of our faith and call to do justice, so I am sharing these thoughts again to help ground us in the trying times we are in.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art 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 sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
It will take several posts to really explore the significance of this prayer both in our lives generally and in times of crises or trial specifically.
I am struck by the phrase “hallowed be they name”. Some render this phrase “holy is your name”.
Growing up I heard these words and imagined prayer as sort of coming into some great throne-room. To me then this phrase “holy is your name” was my bowing to the ground before the great king, honoring and respecting one we feared and obeyed. I think this way of viewing “hallowed by thy name” flowed from the fact at the time my family attended the Worldwide Church of God, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists who, as many Adventist groups do, at that time mainly pictured Jesus as a Soon-Coming King, coming to Judge the world and me personally for all our evil, coming to set right the nations with an iron fist. A pretty intimidating scary picture of God for the young overweight unathletic kid I was growing up whose awkwardness welcomed bullies on the playground who, like this picture of God I was learning at church, seemed ready to come at you with an iron fist. As I reflect on that connection today I can’t help but think about the religious folks who end up rallying around preachers or politicians who speak and act like bullies and wonder how much this image of God as harsh King or Judge impacts their willingness to accept and even rally behind such bullies.
I think many outside the Adventist movement of my childhood also grow up with a similar picture of God’s holiness. They grow up with God as the God of fire and judgment, just looking for that area of sin to cast them off forever into pain and torture. They picture a God so different from us that God is all good, and we so much rubbish. They live in fear of not having done enough of the right things, of having missed some sin here or there that is too much for God’s forgiveness, or of not having believed the right ideas, said the right prayer, or joined the right church. God as such a Holy Other is terrifying to consider.
It is hard to justify such a picture of God in the light of how Jesus embodies holiness. How does Jesus embody holiness? Not by sitting high and lifted up, on some distant shining throne, judging those who don’t fit someone’s religious standards. No, by getting right down there with ordinary, average, struggling folks. The Message paraphrase of John 1 tells us that in Jesus God moved into their very neighborhoods – and our own. How true!
In the Gospels, we see Jesus breaking every rule of religious holiness to embrace the other. He touches the untouchables. He holds the mentally ill and they find wholeness. He sits and talks with women, whom his society says are so below men they can only speak to husbands and fathers. He goes to the watering hole with the woman viewed as of the wrong race and religion, the lady of Samaria. Not only does he talk to such as these, but he even lets women like Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha sit at his feet as students of the Word to be trained as teachers, something wholly unthinkable in his day and age. He heals the foreign soldier’s same-gender lover and then lifts up this foreign couple as an example of living faith. This is not the type of holiness my Adventist childhood led me to believe “hallowed by thy name” spoke of, nor the type God embodies.
However, ironically, it is well pictured by a ceremony common in the church of my childhood. That stream of Adventistism, the Adventist “Church of God” movement, joins groups like many Free Will Baptists in including foot-washing in their communion services which at least those Adventist groups only do around the spring-time around the time Jesus died.
This ceremony, like the annual foot-washing some more mainline churches do on Maundy Thursday, is a re-enactment of what John’s Gospel says Jesus did at the Last Supper:
“4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
“7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“8 “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
“Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
“9 Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
“10 Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
“12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. “
I remember distinctly hearing many a sermon in my childhood there leading up to this footwashing at communion service about Jesus showing the example of holiness at that last Supper meal by not lording it over others, but taking on the role of a servant, getting on his hands and knees to wash feet.
Washing the feet of the guests is the job of the lowest member of a household, usually the slave. Here Jesus shows his holiness in taking on the role of the least, of humbling himself and seeking to serve all as if they are royalty and him not. One could say Jesus lives out his holiness by recognizing the holiness of all those around him, however much they may seem to others to be too poor, too different, too broken, too uncomfortable, too irreligious, too foreign.
Taking on this role of a servant is central to how this holiness we speak of in God when we pray “hallowed be thy name” is expressed and known in our faith. As Philippians 2 tells us,
“4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: 6 Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. 7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, 10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The holiness of God is found most clearly in our lives according to such Scriptures not in the ways we know God as distant, fearful, and forbidding but in so far as God is known in all-embracing love, experienced in that sense of us being acknowledged as also beloved beautiful creatures of God brimming with holy potential, known as one’s being served, cared for, and protected.
Seen in this way, this transforms for me how I look at this prayer “hallowed be thy name”. It is an invitation to look for the ways in which I encounter God reaching out, making God’s self known, showing me and others that we are beloved beautiful creatures brimming with potential holiness.
It also is something not just to be seen in the far away and distant, for as I wrote about last time, heaven is not way up there and far away, but rather it is the unseen presence all about us. This God full of holiness known in love is present around us, like the all-embracing womb in which our life forms and develops. This is the presence in which we always live, move, and have our being.
To take time to recognize this holiness that is all around us, then, is to stop and look for where God is at work, where life is breaking forth, where love is truly being expressed. It is to pause to see, to take time to express acknowledgment and gratitude.
How have you been able to do this? Where have you experienced this holiness?
Let’s take time to embrace and celebrate this holiness. Doing so opens our eyes to more fully embrace the goodness present in even the darkest circumstance, inviting us to also live at that goodness all our days.
Your progressive redneck preacher,