The Greatest Martyr on Earth Teaches us Nomen Dei est Deus ipse
You know why Luther called the Lord's Prayer "the greatest martyr on earth?" Because we pray it mindlessly, carelessly, unbelievingly, or superstitiously. And when we do we are martyring God Himself because nomen Dei est Deus ipse the name of God is God Himself.
That Latin phrase ought to give us pause. If the name of God is God Himself, no wonder the Lord "will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name." No wonder God regards misusing His name as being more serious than lying, stealing, adultery, or even murder as shown by the fact that the 2nd Commandment comes before all these. Misusing the name of God is misusing God Himself.
You use God's name carelessly, wrongly, without thinking and that's what you're doing to God Himself. Many get mad if their name is merely mispronounced. Most get mad if their name is purposely mangled to make a joke. All get mad if their name is wrongly put on a contract, a petition, or even a magazine subscription. Yet, we think God almighty turns a deaf ear to our "O my Gods" or "Lord's sake."
God's name should be valued as holy and grand as the greatest treasure we have (LC, III, 38). Do you casually let alone carelessly use your treasures? I never wear the watch I got for my 20th anniversary in the ministry hunting or fishing. I don't use at all my grandfather's Model 12 shotgun. But what do we do with God's name? A guy I knew owned a gas station in Detroit. A car pulled in smoking. The driver rushes in asking for a fire extinguisher. The guy says, "I need 25 dollars to get it refilled." The driver curses him, runs out, takes off his 200 dollar leather jacket and tries to beat out the car fire with it. That's what we're doing when we misuse the treasure of God's name. We use a 10 billon dollar name to express our 10 cent wrath or joy.
God's name is not only our greatest treasure, but our greatest sanctuary. Because the name of God is God Himself, it's our access point to God. This is why Scripture says, "There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved other than Jesus." And if every knee not only on the earth but above the earth and under the earth bows before Jesus' name, it must be a sanctuary. Indeed Proverbs 18 tells us, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe." When you say, "Jesus Christ," "Lord have mercy," or "Christ Almighty" as an exclamation you're not running into a sanctuary, you're running away from one. Indeed, you're mocking one.
Many of you struggle with this. I struggle too. When I've been fishing on a boat with members, get a strike, and miss the fish, all heads turn to me to see what I will say. The error they're making is that if it's not audible it isn't there. The misuse of God's name is one of our primary sins because only in His name is there salvation, sanctuary, comfort for sinners. Why don't we say, "O my Santa," or "Allah damn you," or "For Buddha's sake"? These aren't sacred because these names aren't God Himself.
The Lord's Prayer to the rescue. Jesus gives us a prayer where the very first petition is what God does for His name. The first 3 petitions are formed in such a way that we aren't really praying for them. They are all passives "Hallowed be Thy name," "Let they kingdom come," "Thy will be done." They are God's business, so we don't directly ask for these things but pray that God Himself do them. Luther's explanations reflect this, "God's name is certainly holy in itself;" "The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer;" and "The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer."
Before we turn to what we need the 4 our' and us' petitions of the Lord's prayer give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil we go to the realm where God's name is always hallowed; His kingdom always comes, and His will is always done. Although we don't sing the Gloria in Excelsis during Advent, that is its function at the beginning of our liturgy. To untether our hearts and minds from all that ties us to down here. "Glory be to God;" where? "on high." We praise, bless, worship, glorify, and give thanks to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost who are far above and untouched by what vexes us so.
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go" (Hamlet, III, 4). That's from Hamlet, and it fits here. In teaching us to pray, Jesus doesn't start with focusing on how easily and often we misuse our heavenly Father's name. He doesn't tether our thoughts to our sins. He ties our thoughts to words describing what our Father does with His name, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name." Yes, no matter what happens here; no matter how my plans might get frustrated, or I might get in the way of God's plans, His name that is my salvation, treasure, and sanctuary will be holy.
God is not as the Masonic Lodge claims, "The nameless one of a thousand names." Muslims praying to Allah, Hindus praying to Vishnu, or Americans praying to God are not praying "Hallowed be Thy name." God's name is Father which a person can only know through the Son. Scripture is very clear about this. Matthew 11:27 says, " No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."
The fact that the name of God is God Himself can make you back away from that name because God in His essence is unknowable, unapproachable, only fear, dread, and judgment. But in Jesus God's name is not too mystical to know or too terrible to use. "How sweet the sound of Jesus' name in a believer's ear," we sing. The name given to the one conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary is Jesus. Why? Because the angels says He will save His people from their sins. The name Jesus' literally means "Jehovah saves."
Confirmation kids will often ping pong between God and Jesus. They will answer my question with, "Jesus, no God," or "God, no Jesus." Jesus is the saving name of God. In Jesus, we learn that the God, who drowned the world in righteous judgment, plagued the nation of Egypt, cowed a nation at Sinai, and laid waste the nations of Canaan saves me.
Hallowed be the Name of the God who sent His only beloved Son into my flesh and blood to do what I can't do. Jesus never misused the name of the Father. Jesus always prayed, praised, and gave thanks. In Jesus' name, the Father sees me as always doing that. And the fact that I never, ever do that is also taken care of in Jesus' name. Earlier I spoke of how mad we sinners get when someone misuses our sinful name. We can't imagine how mad the holy God gets at the misuse of His holy name. Jesus didn't have to imagine. He saw, felt, smelled, heard, and tasted it.
In Jesus God's name doesn't preach to me what I should be doing or what I deserve for having failed to do what I should. In Jesus' name, I'm guiltless for misusing God's name. In Jesus' name, I have a strong tower that I can run into and be safe from judgment. In Jesus I have the only name under given among men whereby I MUST be saved. In Jesus' name every knee in heaven, on earth, and under the earth must bow to me. Think that's too much? It's not, and preaching, believing, and living like this is keeping God's name holy because it's not only teaching God's Word in truth and purity but leading a holy life according to it.
It comes back to the distinction between Law and Gospel that we are studying in Sunday Bible class. The Law of God is His alien work, yet that is what most people primarily associate with God's name. "Do this; don't do that; you better do this; you should do that; you must do this." Always, and here me clearly, ALWAYS when people resolve to get serious about their faith; rededicate themselves to church; be more of a Christian they turn to the Law, to God's alien work. The work that God does for a time, as a means to an end, not an end in itself, they turn into a goal.
The very petitions we start with to comfort ourselves that our Father is in charge and everything is fine they turn into commands. You must hallow God's name; you must work to see that His kingdom come and His will be done. No, no, no. The glory of the Father's name is not that He drowned the world, plagued Egypt, thundered from Sinai, or conquered Canaan. God the Father's glory is that He saved His Church. The Father with the holy name, who brings His kingdom, and does His will, wants to be worshipped and glorified as Savior. The One who is tenderhearted and forgiving, whose mercy endures forever.
God's name is kept holy among us when a person's life bears witness to the gracious activity of God in Christ. It's not that billions were drowned in God's name but that 8 were saved in Jesus' name. It's not that the firstborn in Egypt were slain but that God sacrificed His only perfect Son for the sake of a world of sinners. It's not that millions cowered before Him thundering from Mt. Sinai but that God proclaimed there "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself" (Ex. 19:4). It's not that He conquered Canaan but that He planted His Promised Seed which would bear the fruit of salvation.
You hallow God's name when you trust in Jesus for salvation. You hallow God's name when you rejoice in His name all day long especially on those days you feel sinful and cast aside. You hallow God's name when you rely on your Baptism in the name of the Triune God for salvation. You hallow God's name when you refuse to see your sins on you any longer but sent away in Jesus' name. You hallow God's name when you eat and drink salvation in the communion of His Body and Blood. In short, you hallow God's name when God's name is the saving God Himself in your life. As sure as you have His name on you, over you, and in you, so sure do you have Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek II (20131211); Lord's Prayer 1st Petition