Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.
Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)
The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalise “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.
None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.
We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,
My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.Job 42:7 (NRSV)
We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.
Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.
One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.
We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judaea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we dishonour Jesus when we imagine him as a Conservative, Liberal, or NDP, Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.
The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:
Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)
Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honoured. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!
In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honoured, is forgotten.
We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.
We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.
Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.
We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.
Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.
(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. Warning – being on a hike in the buggy woods there are bloopers at the end of this one! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)