1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Matthew 6:9-13
January 30, 2011
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
1 Chronicles 16: 29-36
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come before him. Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth. The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The Lord is king!" Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and rescue us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting." Then all the people said "Amen!" and praised the Lord.
Matthew 6: 9-13
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
One wise person says: “Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of.
God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable… Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.”
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
"Understand what you're talking about when you're talking about God, this is serious, this is the most wonderful and frightening reality that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening that we can imagine." That’s what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
We’re a nervy bunch, starting off a prayer like this. Even if we are just doing what Jesus told us to do. We are speaking God of God’s own holiness! We start off this prayer by talking about something we can’t comprehend, talking TO someone who is beyond comprehension.
St. Augustine of Hippo warns us: “If you think you comprehend, then it is not God you’re talking about!”
Because God is Holy. God’s name is Holy.
We toss that word “holy” around a lot, even when we’re not praying. Doesn’t seem like much is holy around us, but we say it all the time.
Holy cats. Holy cow. Holy Moley. Holy smokes.
Lots of things get labeled holy. Remember how Robin the Wonder Boy, in the Batman TV show, called stuff Holy all the time? Holy roman empire, Batman! Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods, Batman! (really!)
Holy cross, holy name, holy roller, holy war, holy week, holy orders, holy places, holy bible,
Holy God. Holy, holy, holy!
We have to wonder why we’d be taught to start off our prayer with “Hallowed be thy name” - the reminder that God’s name is holy. God already knows it. God does have a history of this, though. God called Moses in the desert, saying “take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.
Through Moses, God spoke to the Israelites, whom God delivered from slavery, saying “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Through the Apostle Paul, God spoke to us, saying “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 NRS) In the epistle of First Peter, God’s word says, “Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
It takes some nerve for us to speak to God like this, because we use first person plural in this prayer – our, us, -- as we pray. We’re approaching a being that is the essence of holiness, and we’re calling this being our Dad.
Not only that, after we’ve presumed on such a being, we compound our enormous presumption by saying, as if we mean it, as if we have something to do with it:
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Let’s imagine for a moment that we DO mean it – thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s imagine that we really truly want God’s righteousness and truth to spread across the face of the earth. Let’s imagine that we really are praying for God’s economy to prevail: the last to be first, the greatest to be the least, the hungry to be fed and the prisoners set free – yeah! THY kingdom come, THY will be done.
That’s what has King David singing and dancing in that Old Testament reading. See, David wanted to build a temple for the Holy One. And God said, no, you’re not building me a house. That is not my will. My will is to build YOU a house. Somebody else is gonna build ME a house. Not you.
Poor David had enough trouble just keeping the Ark of the Covenant where he could keep an eye on it. So in this story in Chronicles, the Ark has at last been re-taken from the enemy. David is so excited that the most holy presence of the God of Israel has been returned, he dances - half-naked! - at the news! He’s dancing with God! Then he tells everybody to plan a worship party, a big holy world rave kind of thing, with the forest singing and the ocean dancing, because Israel once again is IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LIVING GOD!
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done!
So we pray this prayer, and we pray it like we mean it, and we say God, you are holy, and we want your will to be done, here on earth, just the way it is there in heaven, and God says, okay, you are holy too, and you need to get to work on doing my will, there on earth, just the way it is here in heaven!
We’ve gotta wonder what that would look like. I look at the newspaper, I don’t see God’s will being done. I look at my own calendar, and I have to ask, Is this what God wants for me? Is this God’s will? I look at my checkbook, and I say, What is it God wants, anyway?
And I like to pretend I don’t know –we all prefer to act like we haven’t heard what God wants us to do – to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. To be holy, as our Father in heaven is holy. To be creators alongside God, creators of that new heaven and new earth. To live like we are living eternal life, right now, right here, today.
Because our eternal life doesn’t start when we are dead. God’s expectations of our righteousness and holiness don’t sit on the back burner until we are too old to sin! God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, starts now!
This is dangerous, this prayer:
Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
We keep praying this way, we’re going to end up dancing with God, loving our neighbors, feeding hungry children, sheltering the homeless, welcoming strangers, oh my goodness, it is already happening!
This week as you pray this prayer every day, make it a time in which you enter into God’s holiness. As you enter into God’s holiness, you’ll find God’s holiness filling you, and then when you say “thy will be done” it will be your will, too.
Is your heart on fire?
Are your hands willing?
We keep praying like this, the whole world could change!
We keep walking right into the presence of the creating God who spoke a single word and brought the very world into being from nothingness, and whose slightest breath breathes life into every atom and whose very thoughts can elevate us to heights beyond our imagination, we keep doing that, we’re going to see that selfsame God is reaching out a hand to us, holding kingdom come out to us, and saying, “c’mon, I want to make you holy, too, I want to take you by the hand and lead you to this new kingdom where my will is done, and the earth trembles and the heavens are glad, where all the nations shout, "The Lord is king!"
Let’s make a world where the sea roars, and all that fills it the field exults, and everything in it. And all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. “
Our father in heaven, hallowed be THY name!
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!