Monday, October 06, 2008

Naming Rights

(This is the third message in a series, A Declaration of Dependence: The Lord's Prayer.)

Julie and I had fun choosing our son Ian’s name. There were two Ians who made an impact on my life: Ian Pitt-Watson was my preaching professor in seminary. He was the son of a famous churchman—James Pitt-Watson gave Queen Elizabeth her Bible at her coronation—but he was also an accomplished scholar and professor, and was the founder of the Edinburgh Singers. I met the other Ian when I worked at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. Ian and Jean McCallum were members of the church, and they had me over for meals and looked out for me during my time there. They met Julie not long after our wedding, and we’ve been friends ever since.

When Julie and I found out that our baby was going to be a boy, it was a pretty easy choice to name him Ian.

Names are important—and they’re also an easy place to get carried away. There’s a website devoted to bad baby names that had me laughing pretty hard last week. Clearly there are parents who have forgotten that in elementary school you learn Darwinian theory on the playground and not the classroom. Right now, somewhere in the world, there’s a kid getting beat up because of what his parents named him.

Names are important. They say a lot about who we are—where we’ve been—and mostly what our parents are like. Sometimes we have to grow into our names—just imagine what it must be like to be 4 years old and be named John D. Rockefeller the 5th. My nephew was born with the name Michael Lloyd Holmes III, but for years we just called him Mikey. Now at 19 he’s just beginning to fit his whole name.

In the Bible names play a crucial role in some of the most important stories in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament we find all kinds of names for God, depending on what he had done or provided or offered in a particular story. There are the basic names for God in Hebrew—Yahweh, Elohim and Adonai, but there are also more complicated or specific names like: ‘Elyon’ means God Most High, and ‘El Shaddai’ means God Almighty or God the Destroyer. You also see names like ‘The Lord who Provides’, or ‘heals’ or ‘protects’. ‘The Lord of Hosts’ shows up in our hymns and songs, and the first line of the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’, is really a name for God.

Most of you know that I spend part of my career raising money for Christian organizations. I worked on major gift projects and capital campaigns along the way, and it’s fairly common in fund raising to offer naming rights in exchange for large donations. At one place we had an internal document with a floor plan of the building, with notes in red stating what gift size was required to name a room, or a hallway, or some other part of the building.

The Lord’s Prayer, as the heart of our faith and the interruption of all we do, gives us a different kind of naming rights. It gives us the gift of being able to name the one who is the source of everything—who frees us and redeems us—who promises to make all things new—the one who calls us to worship and serve in his name.

That brings us to our text for this morning—it’s an interruption, like last week, that knocks us off of our chairs and reminds us that we’re doing something special when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name. Your name is set apart from every other name.

We continue our journey through the Lord’s Prayer this morning. We’ve been talking about the prayer as the heart of our faith—taking us in wherever we are, no matter how depleted we become, and restoring us to life and renewing us for service. Last week we talked about how the prayer begins with a statement of faith that interrupts our lives and startles us with a reminder that God truly exists. This week we move ahead in the prayer, and come to the idea of the holiness of God’s name.

What does it mean for God’s name to be holy? Mostly it gets defined as being set apart, but there’s a problem with that. Being set apart can mean God is separate—or isolated—or somehow disconnected from something or even everything. To be set apart like this reinforces the lie that God is distant and uninvolved in the world and in our lives.

But holy means something different from that. God’s holiness doesn’t define him, it defines how we understand him. God is what God is, but his name is connected to how we experience him—how we learn to know him—how we live in relationship to him. God’s name is God’s reputation, and part of the Lord’s Prayer—right after we acknowledge that God exists: ‘Our Father, the one who is really there.’ Right after that statement of faith in who God is, comes this affirmation of what God is like.

Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name. Your name is set apart from every other name.

In the Old Testament, the word holy is almost always used to describe God’s delivering presence. It describes God as he is in relationship to his people: creator, protector, sustainer, redeemer. The holiness of God’s name represents how we experience God in our relationship to him.

There are plenty of complicated theological definitions of who God is. The holiness of God reminds us of what God is like.

When the people of Israel talked about their relationship to God, they understood that it came with a call on their lives to be holy themselves—holy to God, holy toward each other, and holy to the world.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer—when we say ‘Our Father in heaven, holy is your name’, the challenge to us is to live out the same call in our own lives.

What does that mean? If ‘holy’ describes how God acts in relationship to his people—if ‘holy’ represents how we experience God—then for us it describes the way we keep our end of that covenant.

We're called to be holy to God. We live out being holy to God when we worship and spend time praising him—when we enjoy his presence in our lives with reckless abandon. Being holy to God happens in our prayer, in our study of the Scriptures. There’s a cognitive side to this—there’s no getting around that—but closeness to God happens when we translate what we know about God into truly knowing God.

We're called to be holy to each other. When we gather in God’s name and build relationships together, we’re being holy to each other. Fellowship, community, the koinonia we’ve talked about before—when we learn to show authentic love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, we're being holy to each other. Jesus never said that we’d be measured on our precise doctrine, or our ordered churches, or even our balanced budgets. He said: ‘the world will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.’

We're called to be holy to the world. This is not just about how we are toward God and others who believe as we do. Being holy to the world—representing our end of God’s reputation—means that we’re called to a life of service and mission and compassion and peacemaking. That’s a tough one, but it’s been the case since the earliest pages of the Scriptures—God calls out people and groups and blesses them, so that they will be a blessing to the rest of the world.

Being privileged to call on God’s holy name in the Lord’s Prayer means being a part of his plan for his creation. It’s a symbol of God’s work in our lives and our experience of God along the way.

As we come to the Table this morning, think about how the Lord’s Prayer prepares you to share in this meal. Make this prayer your prayer as we seek to grow in being holy to God, holy toward each other, and holy to the world. Let’s pray the Lord's Prayer together...

1 comment:

  1. Hello John
    Just had to say Hi - I have a google alert set up for the name Pitt-Watson and was delighted to see this. Ian was my Dad - I know he would be thrilled and honoured to be remembered in your son's name!
    All best wishes to you and your family
    (PS you may have met my childhood rag-doll in one of Dad's sermons!)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.