by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Only God is holy, just as only people are human. God's holiness is his Godness. To speak of anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God's mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p39
The Holy & Intimate God
One child thought that God’s name was Harold. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name.” Another one prayed, “Our Father, who art in heaven, how do you know my name?”
During Lent I want us to spend some time thinking about the Lord’s Prayer. Most scholars think that Jesus taught this prayer as a guide for our prayers, not as a model that we should copy and never be changed. I hope no one is surprised that the original form of the Lord’s Prayer is not in the King James English that we use today. It probably was in Aramaic.
I have made a deal with the children of this church. If they memorize the Lord’s Prayer I will give to them a coupon for a free Frosty at Wendy’s. They can say either the Lord’s Prayer as we typically know it, or they can memorize the modern version which is printed in our bulletin. We are going to use this modern version during Lent.
Each week we will look at a different phrase from the Lord’s Prayer. This week we are focusing on the first phrase, “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.” Let’s look at some of these words.
The first word in English is a simple pronoun, “Our.” God is our Father. This is a reminder that we are connected to each other. We are part of the body of Christ. We live in a culture that is individualistic to an extreme. The world tells us that we are unique individuals, that we stand by ourselves. Prayer is a private activity and what you do with your life is your own business. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else you can get drunk whenever you want, have sex with anyone you want or spend your money however you want. Those are private matters that don’t impact anyone else. The same is true with prayer – it’s private.
Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that God is “Our Father,” not “My Father.” We belong to the people of God and everything we do impacts our community. Think of a big platter of finger jello. If you touch one piece of the jello the whole platter will begin to shake. What happens to one person impacts everyone else.
Here is another way of saying this. Prayer is a personal act, but not a private act. Our prayers unite us with all other Christians. Our lives and our prayers are always impacted by who other people are, by what they do and how they pray. And their lives are impacted by what we do and how we pray. Our prayers unite us with other Christians and join with all their prayers and rise up as an offering to our God.
Our Father “in heaven.” The word “heaven” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word “heave-on.” It means to be lifted up. You heave something on top of other things. However, the word heaven is not about a location, a place up there in the sky. We tend to think of heaven as up, above the stars. The problem with that is that it means that God is far away from us.
Instead of heaven as a location, the word heaven is a condition that is contrasted with life as we experience it on earth. Life on earth is filled with problems and struggles. Life in heaven is better than life on earth. It is perfect. It is above what we experience here on heart. Saying that God is in heaven is not telling us where God is. Instead, it is a statement of praise. “God you are perfect. You are above and beyond who we are as human beings. You are in heaven.”
“Holy is your name.” If you only had one word to describe God, the word that the Bible would suggest is “holy.” Holy means to be set apart, to be different. It carries with it a sense of something sacred, a sense of mystery. There is a sense of power and danger.
Eugene Peterson tells a story of a man from North Carolina who traveled to Montana to see and experience the beauty and wonder of the mountains. While he was out in the mountains he was attacked by a grizzly bear. He survived, but swore that he would never go back to the mountains. Peterson commented, “He forgot that wonder and beauty can also be dangerous.”
The holiness of God involves God’s wonder and beauty and majesty. It also includes God is dangerous. God is holy.
In the Middle Eastern culture your name gives more than just your identity. It tells something of your character. The name of the God of Israel is Yahweh, a name so holy and so sacred that even today Jews will not speak the name. You remember when God called Moses? Moses saw a bush that was on fire but was not burning up so he went to investigate. God spoke to him out of the bush. God told Moses to take off his shoes because the ground was holy. This was a sacred place because God was there.
Then God gave Moses the job of leading his people out of Egypt. Moses didn’t want the job. He came up with all sorts of reasons why he couldn’t do it. “You want me to go down to Egypt and tell your people that God wants me to lead you to the promised land. They are going to ask me, ‘Who is this God you’re talking about? What is his name?’ What am I supposed to tell them?” Then God tells Moses his name, Yahweh. “I am who I am. I will be who I will be.” In other words, God is not going to be controlled. God is known by what God does. God delivers his people from Egypt and leads them through the wilderness and into the promised land. God sends Jesus Christ, his only son, into the world, to show us how to live, to die for us, and to be raised to new life so that we might live with God. That is who God is and what God does. God’s name is holy because God is holy.
Up to this point, nothing in Jesus’ prayer is significantly different from typical prayers that other Jews would have prayed in Jesus’ time. However, when Jesus called God “Father” that was beyond the comprehension for the Jews. As I said, they wouldn’t even mention God’s name. God’s name was so holy, so awesome, that they wouldn’t dream of calling God, “Father.” In the time when Jesus lived, both Jews and Gentiles had an image of God as distant and threatening. There was no intimacy with God. You feared God. You had to follow God’s laws and offer just the right sacrifices so that God didn’t get mad at you and destroy you.
Jesus came along and affirmed that God was the creator of the universe. God was the majestic, eternal and infinite Lord, the Almighty God. Yet God was also a father who longs for an intimate relationship with us. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he even called God “Abba” (Mark 14:36). In my Bible there is a footnote next to the word Abba. It says that Abba is the Aramaic word for Father. That isn’t accurate. Abba is Aramaic for Daddy. God, who is holy, who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, God, who is the sovereign Lord of the universe, is a God who wants to be your Daddy. As Psalm 103 claims, God is like a father who wants to have compassion on his children.
The year was 1970. One of the most popular movies of the year was “Love Story.” Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw were college students who fell in love with each other. They were the typical opposites attract. Ali was from a poor, yet loving family. Her dad was warm and funny and they had a great relationship. She called him Phil. Ryan couldn’t imagine calling his dad by his first name. Ali asked him, “What do you call your dad?” Ryan said, “I don’t call him anything at all. We don’t talk very much.” When they did talk he usually called him “Sir.” Ryan’s family was very wealthy. They had everything money could buy. But there was no warmth or laughter, and no love in the family.
Eddie’s dad was even worse. When I met Eddie his dad was in jail for drunk driving. Eddie told stories about going to bars with his dad. His mom was working and Dad was supposed to be baby-sitting, but he wanted to get drunk and took Eddie with him to the bar. Eddie talked about watching his dad, in a drunken stupor, beating his mother’s face to a pulp because she wouldn’t give him money to buy more booze. Eddie used to burn the hair off his arms with a cigarette lighter, a trick he learned from his dad, though his dad sometimes burned more than just the hair on Eddie’s arms. There were stories of Eddie being beaten by his dad. The crazy thing is, in spite of how terrible his dad was, Eddie’s biggest dream was that his dad would get out of jail and he could go live with him again. The longing for a relationship with our father never dies.
Some of you may have had a dad who was similar to Phil, Ali McGraw’s dad – loving and fun. Praying the Lord’s Prayer and calling God “Father,” or even “Abba” may not be hard for you. Some of you probably had a dad like Ryan O’Neal’s. They provided for your physical needs but weren’t emotionally involved with you. You never knew them as loving and warm. It may be difficult to comprehend God as a Father who loves you and wants an intimate relationship with you. Some of you may have had dads who were absent, because of divorce, or death, or work. Some of you may even have had dads who were abusive and alcoholic.
The truth is that no one had a perfect father. I don’t know where your dad is on the spectrum from good to horrible, but I know that because they were human, they were sinful and probably hurt you. For some people that pain is so great that praying the Lord’s Prayer is impossible.
I wish I had a magic want that I could wave over every one and heal your painful memories of your dad. I wish I could mend all those broken relationships and agonizing memories. But I can’t.
The one thing I can do is tell you about our heavenly Father, a perfect Father, a holy Father, who longs for an intimate relationship with you. God knows everything about you. He knows your needs, your hurts, your weaknesses and gifts. He knows all of your sins. God knows all the ugly things about you and still wants to wrap his arms around you. He wants to hold you in his lap and whisper to you, “I love you!” God is holy, the Lord God Almighty, and God wants to be your Daddy!