May Your Name be Holy: H.C. Lord’s Day 47

 Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 47

Q 122: What does the first petition mean? 
A 122: “Hallowed be your name” means: Help us to truly know you, to honor, glorify, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.

And it means, Help us to direct all our living—what we think, say, and do—so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.
 
The “petitions” of the Lord’s prayer begin with a phrase: “Hallowed be Your Name.”  This has typically been seen as a declaration that God’s Name is Holy, and that is not necessarily wrong.  God’s Name is Holy, far and above every other name that has ever been or ever will be.
 
However, as we think about the Lord’s prayer, we always should keep in front of us that this isn’t a set of magic words that God gave us to repeat mindlessly so as to earn His favor.  No, in the moment that Jesus speaks these words, He is teaching His disciples to pray.  Like everything else, Jesus doesn’t impose a sort of “law” on them, but instead, it is a lesson on the direction, content, and purpose of our prayers.
 
So, while a statement that God’s name is Holy certainly stands on its own, what this phrase is teaching us flows much deeper.  Beginning here reminds us not just of who we are talking to, our Holy Father in heaven, but it also speaks the purpose of the moment of prayer into our thoughts and minds.  What is that purpose?  To glorify God.
 
It is very easy to come to the Lord in prayer with our requests, our worries, our fears, and our need for forgiveness.  In fact, far too often we treat God as a sort of “cosmic vending machine” that will give us what we think we need when we ask.  The reality, for us, however, is much deeper and much more important than this.  When we come to God in prayer, it should be our desire and ultimate purpose that God’s name is glorified and honored through our words and actions. 
 
Prayer is a worshipful experience.  In all worship, our desire is that the object of our worship is the one person/thing that is receiving all of our attention.  For believers, that one person is always God; there is nothing and no one else.  Anything being worshipped apart from God is an idol.
 
Traditionally, we teach our children that they should “fold their hands” and “close their eyes” when we pray.  There is nothing Scripturally sound about this teaching as far as I know.  God doesn’t listen to us more when we intertwine our fingers or close our eyes.  It is possible, however, that we might listen to Him more when we do.
 
Current trends in Christianity are moving toward a sort of “me and Jesus” mentality, where church and other ‘religious’ things don’t necessarily matter so much.  There are some great things that have come from this, like the idea of prayer as a conversation and relationship builder.  Others have not been so great, like Christian individualism… but we’ll talk about that another time.
 
Prayer as a conversation is a wonderful image.  We aren’t just going to God with our lists, but instead, we are to Him to hear from Him and talk to Him.  In a conversation, the person we are talking to has our full attention; when we are distracted by phones, people, or objects, we both lose focus and dishonor the relationship.  Sadly, this has become normal for us in human-human interaction and these bad habits have crept into our prayer life as well.  Perhaps there is something to a sort of devotional prayer that involves silence, eyes closed and hands folded.
 
In any case, the purpose of the first declaration is both to declare to God our intentions in the moment and to remind ourselves of its purpose as well.
 
We have a tendency to do things out of habit; sometimes we even call it “tradition.”  Have you ever thought about the holidays?  There are so many things that we do during the Thanksgiving & Christmas seasons, but why?  We put lights on our houses and on trees… we buy loads of gifts of things that will probably be discarded within months… but why?  We run from house to house, family to family, worried about seeing all the people but not actually being present with them or our own families… but why?
 
Does all of that honor the coming of our Savior?  Or do we just do it because we’ve always done it that way?  When we come to our Lord in prayer, do we honor Him with that time, worshipping Him and giving our full attention?  In the same way that we need to “remember the reason for the season,” we need to remember the reason we come before our heavenly Father in prayer.  We don’t just come to Him because His Name is Holy, we come before Him to glorify the Holiness of His Name.


Luke 1 – History

Read Luke 1

Every story needs a context, and for Luke, who was not an eye-witness to Jesus’ life, miracles, or any of the events that took place, the context is extremely important because it provides and introduction to Jesus’ coming.  While Luke’s audience was largely Gentile, it is clear that he has a firm grasp on Jewish history and draws from that history to set the stage for Jesus’ coming.

There are many parallels between Luke 1 and Old Testament events.  Zechariah and Elizabeth have a child, though they are quite old, just like Abraham and Sarah.  That child is to be set apart, like the Priests and many other prophets of the Old Testament.

Both the song of Zechariah and Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, draw heavily on old testament passages including 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 9 & 40, Ezekiel 29, Jeremiah 23 & 31, Micah 7, Malachi 4, and about 20 different Psalms.  Luke is clearly drawing the Old Testament Scriptures forward knowing that, while God declares that He is “doing a new thing,” in Isaiah 43, that new thing is not wholly different from how God had acted in the past but is intimately related to the continuing work of God to bring about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation to a fallen world.

All of this history falls right in line with the charge of John the Baptist too, preparing the way for the Lord.  It wasn’t something that began specifically with John, but had been going on for thousands of years prior to this moment.

God’s work in our lives doesn’t begin at the moment we recognize He has been working on us.  We too can take a look back over what we have experienced and see that God has been working on us since the beginning and continues to do so through the Holy Spirit each and every day.



Matthew 15 – What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Read Matthew 15

Sticks and Stone can break my bones but words… well words define what is in your heart.  It’s not quite how the childish saying goes, but it certainly illustrates exactly what Jesus is talking about here.  The Pharisees were quick to point out an infraction of the Law by Jesus’ disciples while ignoring their own trespasses and their families for the sake of personal gain.

Jesus talks a lot about how words are a direct reflection of what is going on in our hearts.  While what we do can seem pure or unpure, that which comes out of our mouth is the true identifier of where our heart is truly placed.

The religious leaders of the day focused so much on tradition when it suited them, but they were also very willing to overlook parts of it when it didn’t.  Jesus calls them out in front of everyone.  Later, this actually becomes the basis for eating what was traditionally considered “unclean” by the Jews.

Matthew accents this teaching with a story about the Canaanite woman, someone who was considered dirty and sinful by the religious leaders.  But her heart is revealed through what she says to Jesus.  She isn’t asking for much, she doesn’t care if Jesus gives her any attention.  All she asks for is the “scraps” of Jesus’ ministry knowing they would be more than enough for her.

At this point, everything seems to be backward.  Those that should be at the front of the line, who the world would consider to be righteous, are nothing more than exposed hypocrites, while others that the Jews would not never consider a “part of the Kingdom of Heaven” are looked at as having ‘great faith,’ all because of what they have said.  What does your speech reveal about your heart?

 

Below is audio of a sermon from a couple years ago:



Day 284: Matthew 15-17; Contrast of Faiths

There are a lot of things that happen in today’s reading; a great deal of different mini-stories that are seemingly disconnected.  Jesus is talking to different people, healing different people, and doing miracles for many.  Though they kind of seem like a disconnected bunch of micro-narratives, these are actually quite connected as a continuing contrast of those who think that they have faith, and those who actually do.

Our reading starts out with a question from the Pharisees regarding the breaking of tradition.  They were concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples were not doing the ritual washing before they eat.  This was one of the “laws” that we talked about when we discussed Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  They considered this as being something akin to faith, showing that they followed the rituals as a way of obedience.  Jesus’ response?  He calls them hypocrites and points them to the real Law that they are actually breaking.  More than that though, He again quotes Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew then contrasts this story, the faith of the “righteous,” religious leaders of the day with that of an outcast.  In that day it would have been completely inappropriate for a woman to approach a male teacher like Jesus.  Moreover, it would have been absolutely out of the question for a Gentile to approach a Jewish person in that day.  Yet despite Jesus seeming to ignore her (Matthew’s point being that Jesus was saying that He is the Messiah sent to Israel, not that He is heartless and cruel) she shows her faith in Jesus through her words and her persistence, knowing that she was unworthy but also that Jesus was the only one who could help her.  Jesus even points out her great faith and what happens?  Her son is healed.

A few verses later we see the narrative of Jesus feeding four thousand people.  Because of His compassion, Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowds.  I can only imagine the look on their faces when he said that.  Each of them could have worked their entire life and not made enough money to feed 4,000 men (plus women and children).  Jesus doesn’t chastise this question, neither does he tell them how it will happen, He just sends them to feed them with the few loaves and fish.  The disciples obey and what happens?  They feed the people and there are seven baskets of leftovers!  Now, there are a bunch of different themes here including the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Lord’s Supper, etc. We will talk about these, and the Transfiguration at another time.  However, I want to point out that the disciples listened to Jesus and obeyed even though the didn’t understand, and in that things happened!

So this brings together three narratives, all having to do (on some level) with faith.  As we proceed in our reading today we see (in some ways) the results of these interactions.  The Pharisees have connected their “faith” with the traditions, believing that what they do and how they follow the “law” is the same as belief.  Like we talked about, they even set up laws to protect the laws, just to make sure that they didn’t transgress any of them.  For them obedience to the law was an end in itself and the result of their “faith” was that they came back to Jesus asking for more signs.  Though it was clearly in front of them, the could not see it with their eyes, or hear it with their ears, because their heart was dull.  They wanted to see it their way and hear it their way… and it wound up with them being lost in their “faith.”

We also saw the example of the Gentile woman, whom we don’t hear from again, but we saw the contrast of her and the pharisees in that healing touched her because of her faith.

The final contrast comes in the story of Peter’s declaration of faith.  After the feeding of the Four Thousand, and the return and dismissal of the pharisees, Jesus asks His disciples who people say He is.  While it is a bit of a leap to say that the event of the feeding was the turning point of Peter’s faith, it is not so much of a leap to say that Peter’s accumulated experiences with Jesus had helped to bring him to the point of this declaration.  Though he may have not understood all that was going on at the time, Peter followed and listened, he was open and obedient to Jesus and his faith grew.  Now we see Peter declaring, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, at which point Jesus says that it is on him (and presumably a faith like his) that the church (the Greek word ἐκκλησία) will be built and the powers of hell will not be able to shake it.  This is the kind of faith that Matthew is setting up as the right faith for the Jews.  Their hope does not rest on the law, the land, or their traditions, but in the coming Messiah whom he is showing us in Jesus Christ.